According to The Captioning Group – a closed-captioning company that has compiled the list on behalf of language platform Babbel since 2016 – this year’s list of mispronounced names and words brought together a unique mix that newsreaders, politicians, public figures, and the public alike all struggled to pronounce correctly on TV.
From politicians and athletes to high-profile celebrities and fictional characters, as well as geological and astronomical phenomena this year, people were noticeably stumped by pronunciations.
The list of names notably included Travis Kelce, the NFL Kansas City Chiefs tight end who shot to higher echelons of fame this year after going public with his relationship with pop star Taylor Swift. SZA and Cillian Murphy both made the list after their star power skyrocketed this year due to the former’s sophomore album’s popularity, and the latter starred as the titular character in Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, which was a part of the movie event of the summer, Barbenheimer.
Burgeoning political figures like Vivek Ramaswamy also made the list. In November, the polarising GOP presidential candidate responded to a clip of Real Time with Bill Maher, calling out political strategist Donna Brazil for “intentionally” mispronouncing his name,
After moving the judges of American Idol to tears this year, Hawaiian native Iam Tongi, who performs under the stage name of William Tongi, made the list. When he won ABC’s singing competition in May, Tongi became the first person from Hawaii, and the first Pacific Islander, to win.
Names of volcanoes like Kīlauea, a volcano in Hawaii that erupted in June, and Popocatépetl, an active volcano in Mexico that almost erupted in May, were among some of the geographical locations that had people stumped. The latter reportedly means “Smoking Hill” in the indigenous Mexican language of Nahuatl.
As for the words that were twisted, one word in particular – “psammophile” – made waves after 14-year-old Dev Shah spelled the word to clinch his victory at the National Spelling Bee in June. The word is used to describe plants that thrive in sandy soil.
Meanwhile terms like “nepo baby” were pervasive in the pop cultural consciousness, but confusion led to many mispronunciations of the viral term. Short for “nepotism baby,” the term refers to the offspring of famous and successful parents who notably have a leg up from their contemporaries. At the end of 2022 and the beginning of 2023, the term became ubiquitous after a New Yorker cover story declared 2022 as “the year of the nepo baby,” leading to heated debates across social media platforms and digital media.