18 Mar 2015

Is that an automobile or a car?

6:04 pm on 18 March 2015

Generally, it is our policy not to use Americanisms. We say footpaths, not sidewalks, cars, not automobiles, aircraft or aeroplanes, rather than airplanes.

150714. Photo Diego Opatowski / RNZ. Generic radio studio. Microphone, Onair, console

Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

However some words have been absorbed into New Zealand English to an extent that they cannot be ignored. Examples include trucks instead of lorries, movies for films, etc... Americanisms such as burglarise for burgle are not deemed acceptable. And it is our preference to say oriented, rather than orientated.

Similarly, it is our policy to pronounce schedule as SHED-yool, [IPA: ˈʃedjuːl] rather than the American pronunciation of SKED-yool [IPA: ˈskedjuːl].


In English, the old word gotten has dropped out of use, except in such phrases as ill-gotten and gotten up. In American English, gotten is frequently used as the past participle of get, meaning obtain. Regardless of the merits or otherwise of the word, we tend to discourage use of the word at Radio New Zealand.


Two pronunciations have currency in the medical profession: men-NING-goh-kok-uhl and men-NIN-juh-kok-uhl [IPA: məˈnɪŋɡəʊˌkɒkl & məˈnindʒəˌkɒkl].

We believe that both pronunciations are acceptable. However, research shows that the latter pronunciation is used more widely by the public and the medical profession. Consequently our preferred pronunciation is men-NIN-juh-kok-uhl [IPA: məˈnindʒəˌkɒkl].

Disinterested and uninterested

These words often get confused. Disinterested means neutral or impartial. It is not the same as uninterested which means simply not being interested.

Diphtheria and diphthong

These two words are often mispronounced, though hopefully not here. They should be pronounced DIF-thee-(uh)-ree-uh and DIF-thong - [IPA: dɪfˈθɪərɪə & ˈdɪfθɒŋ] Note that the words begin with "diph", not "dip".


A place name often said incorrectly. The Chinese capital should be pronounced BAY-jing [IPA: ˌbeiˈdʒɪŋ]. The j at the start of the second syllable is pronounced as it is in jam.


A correspondent asks why we pronounce Paraparaumu the way we do ie pah-rah-pah-rah-oo-moo. We are aware that some pronounce it differently.

There is a simple explanation and it relates to the widely accepted and recorded meaning of the name, literally, parapara meaning scraps or waste and umu meaning earth oven. The syllables are divided so as to reflect the integrity of the meaning. To connect the final two syllables ie paraumu would alter totally the meaning of the name.

Note: IPA refers to the universal system of international phonetic symbols and provides a more exact notation of how we say things.

* Hewitt Humphrey is Radio New Zealand's Presentation Standards Manager. If there are any words you would like him to address in future please send your query to rnzwebsite@radionz.co.nz and put in the subject field: Attention, Hewitt Humphrey.

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