I'm hoping you can settle a wee phonological tiff with a co-worker: She says the "p" in "-corp," as in "U.S. Bancorp," or "PacifiCorp," is silent. I say hogwash—these companies aren't French! Who's got the correct pronunciation?


I'll bet you're a barrel of laughs on a long car trip, Charles. That said, you will no doubt be almost insufferably pleased to learn that you're right. But before the rest of the reading public drifts off into a grammatically induced coma, I should point out that your workplace disagreement has larger implications than just who owes whom a Cup o' Noodles from the office canteen.

In fact, your wee contretemps is an example of an endemic linguistic phenomenon called hypercorrection, which is when you learn a snooty grammatical rule and then try to show off by applying it where it doesn't belong.

For example: People know that, if you're clever, you don't pronounce the "p" in, say, "Mercy Corps." "Bancorp," a totally different word, doesn't provide an opportunity to show off that knowledge. But so what? Drop that "p" anyway, says the hypercorrector! Don't let your erudition go unnoticed!

In fairness to your friend, she probably heard this core-for-corp locution from some seemingly trustworthy source. Portland newscasters—even some of those golden throats over at OPB—say "Pacifi-Core" all the time.

In extreme examples, folks seem to decide that the more letters you don't pronounce, the smarter you are, period. This leads to errors like "coup de grace" ("coo-duh-GRAHSS") coming out more like "coo-duh-GRAH."

Unfortunately, this latter pronunciation is how you'd say "coup de gras," meaning "blow of fat." Unless you're in the habit of delivering your killing stroke by smacking your opponent across the face with a slab of whale blubber (and if you are, I'm your biggest fan), you're just embarrassing yourself.

QUESTIONS? Send them to dr.know@wweek.com