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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

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Showing 54 comments
  • rjhanby

    I wrote a private email system once and tried to make it as user proof as possible, so I used a soundex expression to match names. The owner of the company’s name was Berny Dohrman, In the course of testing, I found that the term “Brown Dorknob” would match for his name. I never sent him an email with any other name after finding that.

  • texasdan

    Let’s get down to brass tacks. If it moves, and shouldn’t…use duck tape. If it doesn’t move, and it should…use WD-40. Simple, quick, and easy. And the sales people don’t care how you pronounce either!!!

  • msiemsen

    Mark Twain summed it up about spelling, “I never had any large respect for good spelling. That is my feeling yet. Before the spelling-book came with its arbitrary forms, men unconsciously revealed shades of their characters and also added enlightening shades of expression to what they wrote by their spelling, and so it is possible that the spelling-book has been a doubtful benevolence to us.”
    Why not the same for pronouncin’

  • mjbains

    As a female woodworker, and longer textile worker, you’ve got a problem with crochet. Your pronunciation is correct, however knitting involves two straight needles and having open working space across the entire length of the piece. Crochet involves one hook and working one stitch at a time no matter how wide the finished piece. The comment about knitting needles not having hooks is right. Crochet is a very different thing, and not something most people know about these days.

    Most people don’t know about hand cut dovetails either.

    An analogous problem would be suggesting the use of a nail where a nut and bolt would be the correct fastener.

    I’ve learned a lot here and don’t know enough to contribute much to the woodworking comments. On the other hand I like to know as much as I can about all sorts of fabrication, wood, fabric, yarn, words, beads, wire, whatever. I love to see when more than one craft come together.

    Thanks for a informative article.

  • TFink

    I expected “winding” to be in the top 10. My guess is that it is WIN-ding, not WINE-ding. Don’t know why. Maybe knowing the history could give us a clue.

    English is funny (and confusing.) One can make the argument that “ghoti” is pronounced FISH: Take the “gh” sound as it is pronounced in cough, add the “o” sound from women and the “ti” from motion and you get f+i+sh = fish!

  • JJohnston

    More of an informational post than a pet peeve: Jatoba, aka Brazilian cherry. I never knew how this was pronounced until I heard it spoken by an actual Brazilian on an episode of “Extreme Homes” on HGTV. He’d floored his treehouse with it. He pronounced it “ZHA-toe-BA”.

  • Crance

    Is the “T” silent in Schwartz?

  • Hugh Knox

    Chris: Knitting needles do not have hooks according to the specialist with whom I share the household.

  • jeberle

    Someday we need to meet face to face
    Your sarcasm is close to mine

  • Paul in Plymouth

    1. “Robo” makes me smile too, so “Robo” it is. Frenchified vowel sounds are an exercise in futility, because most of us English speakers cannot form the “R” sound like a French speaker or get the rhythm of the two syllables right.
    2. Should simply be pronounced “VURR-tas” as in “Murrca,” where we live, and “Murrcan,” the values we hold dear. The only question is should the “v” sound like “w,” as my Latin teacher would have had it. Probably not in this day and age.
    3. På Norsk.
    4. Who cares?
    5. “Early English books” may say one thing, but my current OED has them the same.
    6. An idiosyncratic spelling of someone’s name, not in accordance with modern German, but so what?
    7. Ça depend. Unless you can form your mouth around the “Cr” like a French-speaker, get the subtle “o” and “e” sounds right, and get the rhythm and punch right between the two syllables, you might as well say “crotch-it” like all the rest of us Murrcans. See #1.
    8. “Dorky” has it, the best comment about this entire posting.
    9. Mr. Abraham is a masterful craftsman and superb meeting organizer who well deserves the respect from all of us to pronounce his name exactly as he wants it pronounced.
    10. Speechless.

  • themavericktexan

    Man, welcome to my world.

    I know Jameel Abraham’s pain all to well. My last name is easy to pronounce, if a little intimidating to try to read thanks to its Germanic origin, but people can’t pronounce it even after I’ve corrected the four or five times.

    My senior year of high school a couple guys were having fun with the different mispronunciations and trying to come up with new pronunciations based on mispronunciations.

    The one I still remember is “Horny-Rottweiler”.

  • Joel Jacobson

    … and I’ve heard of folks “cutting mortises and tendons” …

    I explained that’s not desirable outcome.

  • BridgeCityMike


    There is weird phenomenon of many people west of the Rockies saying “length, width, heigth”.

    Drives me crazy!

  • christopher mitchell

    Ahhh this is where I have been going wrong all along. ” Thump”, that the sound
    Of me hitting myself in the Knogin “Ive been
    Subscribing to a proper english speaking magazine v’s a woodwrking magazine.
    Build a project
    Learn to pronouce an ancient word,
    Build a project
    Learn to pronouce an ancient word,
    Buil_____ ok ok already I get the message!!
    Looks like we need add spelling to lessons as well. Lol

  • 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.

  • 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

  • MarkLWells

    Three more:

    1. winding sticks

    2. arris

    3. fillet


  • hobomonk

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

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.”

  • Jim McCoy

    As long as I get the jokes I’m happy!

  • cvhvala

    May the Schwarz be with you!

  • Old Baleine

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

  • 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.”

  • damien

    Roubo as robo but then with the rou of ‘baton rouge’?

  • Miller

    Always thought veritas was an itchiness of the ver.

  • 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?

  • keithm

    Or mortis and tendon joints?

  • 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.

  • 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. 🙂

  • 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.”

  • esincox

    Just heard a presentation last night by a guy who did “segmated” turning.

  • bradrubin

    11. “Schwarz” as “Schwartz”

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