Chris Schwarz's Blog

Things that Get Mispronounced in Woodworking

A "Robo" bench I am building with the help of "Lee-Nelson" planes.

A “Robo” bench I am building with the help of “Lee-Nelson” planes.

When you learn woodworking through reading – books, magazines and websites – you often have no idea how certain words are pronounced. And so when you finally encounter fellow woodworkers in the flesh and have a conversation, there can be a language barrier.

Here are some of the common mispronounced words I have encountered at woodworking shows and classes.

1. Roubo pronounced as “Robo,” as in “Robocop.” It makes me chuckle every time because I think of what a boring movie “Robobench” would be.

2. Veritas as “Vur-IT-ass.” Just remember the accent is on the first syllable and you will get it righter.

3. Lie-Nielsen as Li-Nelson with a long “I”. Very common. It’s pronounced “Lee-Nealson,” and it would be funny if a competing planemaker named his company that.

4. Sapele. Heck, I don’t know how to pronounce this one.

5. “Rebate,” the English spelling of the American word “rabbet.” Early English books say you should pronounce this word like “rabbit” not “rebate.”

6. Holtzapffel. It’s not an easy one to say. Say “holtz,” then “apple.” That’s close enough.

7. “Crochet.” It does not have the word “crotch” in it. Just say it like the word for a knitting needle. Yup, the word means “hook” in French.

8. Roorkhee pronounced as “rookery.” Think of it instead as rhyming with “dorky.”

9. “Jameel Abraham” of Benchcrafted. There is no end to the wacky ways people say his name. While I was with him in Georgia this week, someone sent a package to him that was addressed to “Jamal Alabama.”

10. We had an editor at Popular Woodworking who always pronounced “mortise” as if he had an outrageous French accent: “mor-TEESE.” And tenon was “TEE-non.” Oui oui, we made great fun of him.

— Christopher Schwarz

54 thoughts on “Things that Get Mispronounced in Woodworking

  1. willynilly

    “You can call me what you want just don’t call me too late for supper”. I was champing (chomping) at the bit to say that.

    1. willynilly

      I like Schwarz as Shvaahts. But, its better as “The Schwarz” as in “The Bears” by the late Chris Farley and Akroyd on SNL.

  2. Bill

    I’ve met folks that say ‘carecase’ rather than ‘carcass’

    I have a lot of sympathy on the pronunciation and spelling of Schwarz both because a lot of my family is of German descent and because of my own last name — Rainford — two simple English words (though I think the name actually dates back even earlier than the English town with that name to some viking settlements from the Germany/Denmark area) and every time I have to give my name for a reservation or similar people always want to spell it some special way throwing in ‘e’s or ‘g’s or other things that don’t belong. So rather than spell it out it’s been fast to say ‘Rain like the weather, and Ford like the car’ :-S

    1. Christopher Hawkins

      And how should we pronounce “winding?” What is the rationale / source?

  3. hobomonk

    Try this trifecta of oft mispronounced chair-maker names:
    Michael Thonet
    Kaare Klint
    Mogen Koch

  4. St.J

    The Oxford Dictionary of English records that the word rebate meaning “to pay back a sum of money” and the word rebate meaning “a step shaped recess cut in a piece of wood” have different origins.
    The financial rebate comes from the French “rebatre” and the joined rebate comes from the old French “rabbat” meaning an abatement or recess, via the North American “rabbet”.
    “Rebate” and “rebate” are homonyms, not homophones.
    Having, for years, pronounced both rebates the same way I shall now use different pronunciations when shouting at my cable provider and discussing woodwork.

  5. GregMiller

    Language is a dynamic thing, both in meanings and pronunciation. Thanks to Australian kids watching too much American TV and films, they are adopting much of your meanings, spellings, and pronunciations. Why call a Toilet a bathroom when there is nothing in that small room but a ceramic bowl and cistern? I would never take a bath in it!!? Call it what it is, a bloody toilet!! … But I digress…

    In Australia, there are no “rabbets or rabbits” ( they sound the same) in the joinery shops, as we still have Rebates (said: Ree-bates) with emphasis on the first syllable. Let’s hope the rebate does not go the same way as the humble toilet.

    Enough US cultural imperialism!! In the spirit of the Anarchist’s Toolchest, why should we have to conform? Besides, we never threw our English heritage overboard like you mob did.

    Fair dinkum, Cobber! Ha ha!

  6. Paul Moldo

    Sapele is one of the many African Mahoganies (others being Acajou & Tiama). I’ll try and help with the pronounciation of Sapele: Sup-ee-lee, with the accent on the “ee.”

    1. Derek Cohen

      I grew up around Sapele panelling, a common choice where I lived as a child in Cape Town. It was always pronounced “Suh-pee-lee”.

      Regards from Perth


  7. Old Baleine

    Sweet, Jamal Alabama!
    Sounds like he should be playing halfback for the Crimson Tide.

  8. Phred

    Chris gets to pronounce it as he wishes, because it’s his name. However, the pronunciation “Schwartz” is at least defensible; the name is of German origin and in German the letter “z” is pronounced as if the T were present. For example, “Zimmer” is pronounced “tsimmer,” and “schwarz” (meaning black) is pronounced “shvarts.”

    1. Christopher SchwarzChristopher Schwarz Post author


      Indeed. Since my last five trips to Germany, I’ve stopped caring how my name is pronounced (as long as they don’t say “shart”). The German pronunciation sounds much more like “Schvartz” than anything.

      Anyway, at least my name isn’t Sue.

  9. Brett

    I’ve read that “Arkansas”, as in Arkansas stone, should be pronounced like the words “Are Kansas”, not “Ar-ken-saw” (as the state name is pronounced). Has anyone else read that?

    1. Steve_OH

      As I understand it, the name of the stone is derived from the river rather than the state, and the name of the river is more often pronounced as Are-kansas. But from a historical perspective, I don’t think you can say that either pronunciation is more “correct” than the other, as both pronunciations (as well as that of Kansas) come from the same root, and have simply drifted in different directions over time, based on the language habits of those using the names.

      It’s like the fact that Ojibwe and Chippewa are different romanizations of the same name, although they certainly don’t look like it.

      On the flip side, those famous sharpening stones come from a mountain range that is either spelled Washita (if you’re English) or Ouachita (if you’re French), but pronounced more or less the same in either case. Wichita is also derived from the same name.


    2. Hugh Knox

      In CO and KS, the Arkansas River is pronounced R-Kansas River. Never read it, just heard it.

  10. keithm

    Channel surfing this week and found a cooking show where they were making “naw key” Never heard of it until I realized that was how you pronounced gnocchi. Glad I never ordered it from a fancy Italian (that would be EYE-tal-yun) restaurant.

    1. Rudolph

      I don’t think that’s how you pronounce gnocchi, I believe it’s more like “nyoh-key”. The “gn” makes a “nyuh” sound, like a Ñ in Spanish.

      To avoid posting two comments, I’ll tack this one here:
      “Menuisier”, as in _L’Art Du Menuisier_ by Roubo. Hell, I think I’ve heard Roy Underhill pronounce this one at least two different ways. I think it’s “mon-wee-zee-ay”, which is how St. Roy says it most often. But I’m sure I’ve heard him say it “men-ooh-zee-ay” at least once.

        1. keithm

          When I took French, one of my TAs said that French was easy to pronounce because it is uniform. Unlike English that has stolen language from all over the place. Oui.

          1. Steve_OH

            I beg to differ. While French is certainly not as bad as English, it’s not even close to being uniform. For example, the final consonant on a French word is sometimes silent, but there is no obvious rule to tell you when it is and when it isn’t; you just have to know. (And especially in the case of a final s, it often varies from one part of France to another.)

            Spanish and Italian are far more phonetic. (Finnish is supposedly the most phonetic language of all alphabetic/syllabic languages.)


  11. Jonathan Szczepanski

    It reminds me of high school. I had to read “The Three Musketeers” for Summer reading. I read the book (one of my all-time favorites), pronouncing the main character as D-ARE-TIG-NAN. During class people kept talking about D’artagnan (pronounced the correct French way). I kept flipping through the book to find out who this D’artagnan was. I didn’t realize it was the main character until the second day of class. 🙂

    1. Shawn Nichols

      Nice. The exact same thing happened to me when I watched Harry Potter. I thought Hermione rhymed with pheromone for ages. This happened with nearly every character.

  12. gatsby1923

    If the British call the Battle of Ypres and the Belgian City it took place in “Wipers” I can call a British chair named Roorkhee as “rookery.”
    As for “mor-TEESE” that would drive me nuts and is as bad as people who say homage as “HO-mage.”

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