Anyone who reads more than they talk is going to learn some new words – but if you’ve never heard a word before, how are you supposed to know how it’s pronounced?
Why, some kind friend should tell you. Kindly.
A clip of Jake Gyllenhaal correcting Dan Gilroy, the director of the star-studded new Netflix movie Velvet Buzzsaw, did the rounds this morning:
The moment is at about 12 seconds in: Gilroy says star Rene Russo has “a touch of meh-lahnk-ly”. He means “melancholy” (mell-en-kolly), but you’d spend a good few moments trying to work that out without Gyllenhaal jumping in with the right word.
Typos and misspoken words aren’t the end of the world, but they can distract from what you’re actually trying to say, or even change the meaning.
So when is it polite to correct someone?
It’s not. But sometimes it’s worth doing anyway.
Gyllenhaal’s correction in the video is clearly at the point of an affectionate, roasty in-joke between co-workers about a little blind spot for Gilroy (“It’s not even the first time today!”) so he gets a pass.
But generally speaking, never do it in public.
It’s kind of like telling someone their fly is down: yes, you’re helping them out so they don’t look silly even though it’s a bit awkward for both of you, and it’s really nothing to be embarrassed about. But nobody wants to have the whole room’s attention drawn to the fact that their knickers are showing, so do it discreetly.
It also depends on what they’re actually mispronouncing, and how off-base they are. If it’s a one-off kind of thing where you don’t see them using the word all the time, and/or it was more a weird inflection than a totally unintelligible covfefe-level mangling, then consider whether this is a hill you want your relationship with this person to die on.
And if English isn’t their first language, it’s gotta be really important, or you’ll sound at best super patronising and at worst kinda xenophobic.
However, if it’s, say, a word that’s pretty crucial to a project they’re working on, they’re going to be using it a lot. Possibly in front of a lot of people.
So it’s not totally out of line if you pull them aside or send them a quick DM saying, “Hey, just FYI, when you’re talking about fruits and veg it’s PROduce, not proDUCE! Sorry to be that guy, but just thought it might be helpful to know before that big supermarket pitch…”
Just always try and make the vibe more “Did you mean…?” than “Hahaha, you messed up.”
And again, pick your moment – saving your boyfriend from sounding a little silly in a meeting is one thing, but constantly nitpicking is another.
There’s just no way to guarantee that the person you’re correcting will be 100% grateful for the hot tip, and feel 0% embarrassed, annoyed or patronised.
Hermione Granger was right that “leviOsa” would work better than “levioSAR”, but she still sounded like a pain in the bum.
The other major exception, though, is if someone just can’t say your name properly. You’re not the rude one if you politely correct them as often as you can be bothered. Mess it up once or twice, that’s understandable; constantly getting it wrong, though, is rude (and an especially bad look when it’s a white person who can’t get their head around an “exotic” name).
It’s no wonder someone named Jake Gyllenhaal knows a little about correcting pronunciation.