Have you ever taught yourself something only to realize that you like, kinda sorta taught yourself the wrong thing? Here’s my example: when I was 24 and working at Apple, I discovered through an errant typo that the shift key could be used to capitalize letters. I had taught myself how to type as a kid and being a child, I took things very literally. I saw the caps lock key, decided that you needed to use it to capitalize a letter and then hit it again to return to lowercase, and figured that this was how everyone also typed. After my discovery almost 20 years later, I still remember walking around the Cupertino office proclaiming “YOU CAN USE SHIFT TO CAPITALIZE” while everyone was like, “yeah, duh, wow, are you the dumbest person to ever work here???”
So to that end, I realized that this thought process has proliferated my life a little bit – when I’m reading design terms, I use context clues or I sound it out and I just assume that it’s right, and it turns out that I am oftentimes VERY, VERY WRONG. Today, I wanted to walk you through some very commonly mispronounced words so you can really dazzle folks with all your knowledge.
But before we really dive in, I just want to clarify that this isn’t written to shame anyone! I’m generally of the opinion that if you’re trying your best and folks can understand what you’re saying, it’s all good – perfect pronunciation or not. That said, I’ve tried MY best to break words down for ya, but keep in mind that I’m not a dialectic expert and that some things are best pronounced with a little accent or affect and some confidence. In any case, maybe remembering the Swedish pronunciation of “Ikea” or the correct way to say “Thonet” will come in handy at a bar trivia night one day. WE COMMENCE!
What It Is: A handwoven, pile-less, flat-woven rug from Turkey or the surrounding area.
How to Actually Pronounce It: Key-leem, with the main focus on the second syllable – the “key” sound is pretty quick.
How I Used To Pronounce It Incorrectly: Kill-‘im, like I was some sort of disaffected mob boss. OOPS.
What It Is: A glossy Moroccan ceramic tile with a handmade, perfectly-imperfect charm.
How to Actually Pronounce It: Zil-eehj, with the second syllable pronounced like “legion.”
How I Used To Pronounce It Incorrectly: Uh, turns out that Zelle-lig is not a thing, but thank you to everyone who listened politely and just used their context clues to figure out what I was talking about.
What It Is: An upholstered 18th century armchair with a wooden frame.
How to Actually Pronounce It: Brr-zhehr, like you’re cold AND about do to some professional zhushing. (“Me? I’m not a stylist. I’m a full-time zhehr.” – you, maybe, if you wanted to take some creative liberties with job titles.)
How I Used To Pronounce It Incorrectly: Even a broken clock is right twice a day! I did know this one. (That said, the bar is low.)
What It Is: A French industrial designer most famous for his mid-century insect-inspired lighting.
How to Actually Pronounce It: Sairge Moo-yay – with an “air” sound in the first name and said with the last name said with an air of confidence.
How I Used To Pronounce It Incorrectly: Ser-jay Mool-yay, which, upon writing it out, makes me feel SO AMERICAN that it hurts a little bit. I’M SO SORRY, I TOOK LATIN IN HIGH SCHOOL.
A Side Note: I have been told by two native French speakers that even they can disagree on the pronunciation of this one, so…this is our consensus for now, but I’d love to hear any feedback!
What It Is: A chair with a lengthened seat used for reclining.
How to Actually Pronounce It: Chez lawng, like “pez” and “long.”
How I Used To Pronounce It Incorrectly: Hello, reporting live from the “chase lounge” convention, where it appears that ::checks notes:: everyone has said this at least once.
What It Is: I know that you’re thinking of a really specific piece of furniture – you know, like a decorative bookcase – but technically, an etagere is any piece of furniture with open shelves for displaying objects.
How to Actually Pronounce It: Eh-tuh-zhair, and it rhymes with “chair.”
How I Used To Pronounce It Incorrectly: Et-a-gere. But like, as “gere” as in Richard Gere. It’s been tough over here.
What It Is: A small apartment or house kept for occasional use.
How to Actually Pronounce It: Pea-ay-duh-tear, which I promise sounds better than it looks once you say it out loud.
How I Used To Pronounce It Incorrectly: Despite my horrifying American accent that I’ve made very clear over the last few examples, I actually also knew this one! NBD.
What It Is: A fabric made using an Indonesian decorative technique where threads have been tie-dyed before weaving.
How to Actually Pronounce It: EE-kaht, so basically the hard “e” sound from “bee” combined with a softer version of “cot.”
How I Used To Pronounce It Incorrectly: EYE-CAT. To be honest, I still read “eye-cat” every time but I do now know how to say it out loud when I talk to others.
What It Is: A decorative object meant to be exhibited. (EHD calls these “smalls” in our neck of the woods.)
How to Actually Pronounce It: Uhb-jay, like the first syllable of “obsidian” meets “jay.”
How I Used To Pronounce It Incorrectly: Ob-jet, but like…the first syllable of “obstetrician” meets “jet.” Wrong and strong.
What It Is: While “toile” technically means “fabric,” it’s evolved to encapsulate a design aesthetic depicting pastoral scenes, floral arrangements, or other nature-inspired images.
How to Actually Pronounce It: Twaal, like ball.
How I Used To Pronounce It Incorrectly: I do need to pepper in a few easier ones – just for my own ego – so you don’t think I’m a total lost cause.
What It Is: The thin, pliable stems from a palm plant used for furniture and wickerwork.
How to Actually Pronounce It: Ruh-tan. I still remember seeing a video of Nate Berkus pronouncing this word and my jaw DROPPED.
How I Used To Pronounce It Incorrectly: Rat-in, as in “there’s a rat in the middle of the sidewalk.” OH GOSH. Someone else please commiserate with me, I can’t be the only one who thought it was said this way!!!
What It Is: A Mexican agave with huge leaves that’s cultivated for fiber production and used for ropes, mats, and rugs.
How to Actually Pronounce It: Sigh-sul, as in “sigh” and “sulk.”
How I Used To Pronounce It Incorrectly: Uh, well up until writing this post, I thought it was pronounced as see-sal or sis-all so…cheers to being a perennial learner, I guess.
What It Is: An western interpretation of Chinese or east Asian motifs in furniture, decor, or wallpaper.
How to Actually Pronounce It: Sheen-wah-zuh-ree – for what it’s worth, once you get through the “sheen,” the rest feels easy breezy.
How I Used To Pronounce It Incorrectly: Chee-noise-air-ee. I apologize for my crimes against the French language.
What It Is: Everyone’s favorite meatball retailer (I guess they sell some other stuff, too).
How to Actually Pronounce It: Ee-kay-uh, which is truly mindblowing.
How I Used To Pronounce It Incorrectly: I LOVE this example because enough people in the English-speaking world just started saying eye-key-uh that a whole brand was like, “well, sure, I guess we can roll with that.” Apparently different pronunciations of the name are run in commercials in different parts of the world, too.
What It Is: A Danish word referring to cozy, comfortable design that creates a feeling of contentment.
How to Actually Pronounce It: Hue-guh (sometimes thinking “hyoo” can also help!).
How I Used To Pronounce It Incorrectly: Hi-ghee, like a friendly greeting for a butter substitute. (TBH I still read “hi-ghee” every time I see the word written online.)
What It Is: A painting intended to create the illusion of a three-dimensional object.
How to Actually Pronounce It: Tromp loy
How I Used To Pronounce It Incorrectly: I had a very strict and cool European history teacher in high school who also taught art history, and by some miracle, I did retain this information.
What It Is: The Danish designer who brought us the iconic wishbone chair, the Flag Halyard chair (as seen above), the Papa Bear chair, the Circle chair, the shell chair, and more.
How to Actually Pronounce It: Hans Veg-ner, but more like “hands” (vs. like, uh, Han Solo, or Kathryn Hahn, depending on your entertainment taste).
How I Used To Pronounce It Incorrectly: Hahns Weg-ner. A rookie mistake for any vintage furniture lover!
A Note: Apparently inside Denmark, the folks who still manufacture Wegner products say “Vee-ner,” but they use “Veg-ner” abroad. FASCINATING.
What It Is: An early 20th-century design style with a focus on streamlined design, simple and geometric shapes, basic color schemes, and industrial materials.
How to Actually Pronounce It: Bow-house, but it rhymes with “wow” (or as in Lil’ Bow Wow, since I’ve entered the “extremely esoteric entertainment descriptions” part of the post).
How I Used To Pronounce It Incorrectly: A lifelong obsession with music means that I locked this one down early. Bless.
What It Is: Wooden flooring arranged in a geometric pattern.
How to Actually Pronounce It: Par-kay, as if you’re on the phone trying to say “I’ve been circling for hours and I can’t find a park-ay!!! I got one!”
How I Used To Pronounce It Incorrectly: Par-ket. I do almost feel like I need to be at a barbecue and like, shooting off fireworks for how flat and stereotypical I am when it comes to pronouncing French words.
What It Is: The 19th-century cabinetmaker who invented bentwood furniture.
How to Actually Pronounce It: TOE-NET. WHAT!!! Incredible!!!
How I Used To Pronounce It Incorrectly: Tho-nay. Doesn’t everyone, though? I still can’t get “toe-net” through my thick skull, TBH.
What It Is: Chips of marble or granite set in concrete, used for tiling, flooring, or slab surfaces.
How to Actually Pronounce It: Tuh-rat-soh, but with an “uhhhh” and a nice little mellifluous transition between the “rat” and “soh.”
How I Used To Pronounce It Incorrectly: Ter-ahs-oh, which has become VERY commonplace – even terrazzo retailers have adopted this pronunciation!
That’s it for me, but WHAT AM I MISSING? Anyone else struggle with a word or recently correct a pal on their pronunciation? Any surprises on the list? LET’S CHAT. xx