An oft-used pronunciation

14 Jan

When I work with folks on their accents, inevitably we reach a moment when we encounter the word often.  As a hopeless pedant (if you don’t know what that word means, look it up —  preferably in a real, not a virtual, dictionary), I must let my client know the “correct” pronunciation of this word:  offin.  But wait, isn’t there a “t” in that word?  Yes, but it’s silent.  Really?  But I hear people say the “t” all the time?…

Yes, unfortunately, many people do now pronounce the “t” in often.  I cannot swear to this, but I am pretty sure that when I was a young girl, no one said offtin.  I now hear Americans saying this all the time — on TV, in film, in songs, and yes, on the street.  What’s going on?  It is a case (and there are many others which I will probably blog about eventually) of people being “hypercorrect.”  This means that people think they are being correct, but they are correcting something that is actually not incorrect, but then it becomes incorrect — or “hypercorrect.”

Don’t ask me why the “t” in often is silent.  It is similar to the silent “t” in listen and soften.  I know it is related to the prefix oft, as used in the title to this post.  Of course, in oft, the “t” is pronounced.

So you’ve been saying offtin?  I would really prefer that you didn’t, but if I am being totally honest, I must let you know something important about language:  it changes.  Yes, meanings change, grammar changes, and pronunciation changes.  If everyone starts saying offtin instead of offin, well, then, I hate to admit it, but offtin is correct.  So go for it.  Pronounce that “t” if you must.  But are you sure you want to do that?  Wouldn’t it be fun if you, the one with the foreign accent, could correct all those Americans who are saying it wrong?   Ok, I don’t recommend that, but just say it right anyway, as often (offin) as possible.  You’ll feel better.