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TWTS: Our bona fide take on Latin pronunciation

This week we're getting back to our roots. Our Latin roots, that is.

A listener named Seth Epstein asked us how to pronounce the Latin phrase "in situ." He says, "I've heard it as in-sigh-too, or in-see-too, but I learned it as in-sit-choo."

This is just one of the Latin phrases that have become part of English with variable pronunciation.

In fact, pronunciation of some phrases has become so variable that not only do we not all use the same vowel sounds, we sometimes don't even use the same number of syllables.

"In situ" has been in English since the 1700s and means in its natural or original place. In Latin, it would sound something like "in-SEE-too." As Seth notes though, many English speakers don't pronounce it that way. The first pronunciation that Merriam Webster provides is "in-SIGH-too." You'll also hear people pronounce it the way Seth, "in-SIT-choo," as well as "it-SIT-too."

With all of the vowel and consonant variation, it's hard to know which pronunciation of "in situ" is correct. Professor Anne Curzan says not to worry too much about it.

"I would say at this point, we need to consider all of those [pronunciations] within the range of standard in English. So, perhaps one could argue, you can't go wrong," Curzan says.

While we were looking into "in situ," we started to wonder about the varied pronunciations of other Latin phrases in English, including "bona fide" and "vice versa." We found pronunciations that varied not only in vowels and consonants, but also in number of syllables. To find out more, listen to the audio above.

Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.
Rebecca Kruth is the host of All Things Considered at Michigan Public. She also co-hosts Michigan Public's weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.
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