The most mispronounced words of 2018

Green wheat is roasted and used to make freekeh, a Middle Eastern cereal dish that’s now a US health food trend.
Green wheat is roasted and used to make freekeh, a Middle Eastern cereal dish that’s now a US health food trend.
Image: Reuters/Mohamad Torokman
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Every year, current events bring new names, words, and concepts into our collective consciousness. And every year, newscasters and reporters struggle to pronounce strange language when they first encounter it.

The language learning app Babbel commissions an annual list of the most mispronounced words on television from the US Captioning Company. The list is interesting not only for linguistic purposes, but because it provides a window into contemporary culture, revealing which people and ideas that were previously relatively unknown became mainstream in 2018. This year’s collection reveals an array of new heroes and villains, fresh foods, and increasingly influential cultures.

The year of eating insects

  • Entomophagy (en-to-MOF-o-jee) is the practice of eating insects, dead or alive, and it’s done by about 2 billion people worldwide. Of late, dining on bugs has also been promoted as a lifestyle trend and demonstrated by  celebrities like Nicole Kidman and Kanye West.
  • Freekeh (FREE-kah) is a cereal made of roasted green wheat, originally from the Middle East, which is high in protein and fiber. Consider it this year’s quinoa. Foodies are freaking out about freekeh. 
  • Mukbang (MUCK-bahng) is an online broadcast during which a host eats copious amounts of food. That’s it. They just eat a lot. But it’s a popular genre, which originated in South Korea and has made its way around the world. Originally a Korean word, stemming from a combination of muok-da (eating) and bang song (broadcast), mukbang became an international pastime this year as YouTubers posting videos of themselves eating were streamed by millions.
  • Xhosa (*click* O-sa) is an official language of South Africa and Zimbabwe, and was the native tongue of Nelson Mandela. It was used in the movie Black Panther as the language of the fictional country of Wakanda, and in fact is spoken by around 8 million people in Africa.

Punk rock politics

  • Beto O’Rourke (BEH-toe oh-RORK) is a Texas state senate Democratic representative and former punk band frontman. O’Rourke lost the US Senate race to incumbent Ted Cruz, but became popular nationwide nonetheless. He is now being discussed as a contender for the presidential race in 2020, and pretty much everyone has gotten used to pronouncing his name.
  • Brett Kavanaugh (BRETT KAV-a-naw) is now the freshman associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. He joined the bench in October after contentious and emotional Senate confirmation hearings, during which he defended himself against accusations of sexual violence in high school by Christine Blasey Ford and revealed that he really likes beer.
  • Jamal Khashoggi (ja-MALL ka-SHOW-gi) was a Saudi Arabian dissident and Washington Post journalist assassinated in October in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, Turkey. On Dec. 11, he was named one of Time magazine’s people of the year, along with 10 other journalists who fought “the manipulation and the abuse of truth” around the world. Before his brutal murder, Khashoggi explained why he had to speak out against the Saudi monarchy’s abuses of power, saying, “I have left my home, my family and my job, and I am raising my voice. To do otherwise would betray those who languish in prison.”
  • Saoirse Ronan (SIR-shuh ROE-nin) is an actress who was nominated for an Oscar in February for her performance in Lady Bird and is now starring as Mary in the film Mary Queen of Scots. Born in New York to Irish parents and raised in Dublin, she’s a dual US and Irish citizen who has starred on Broadway and Hollywood films. She lives in the small coastal town of Greystones in Ireland, with a population of about 18,000.
  • Halapoulivaati Vaitai (ha-la-poo-lee-VAH-tee VIE-tie) is the massive offensive tackle for the Philadelphia Eagles, part of the 2018 Super Bowl-winning team in February. Born in Texas to parents originally from Tonga, a Polynesian kingdom made up of more than 170 South Pacific islands, Vaitai is a force to be reckoned with. He is 6-foot-6-inches tall and weighs 320 pounds.

In 2019, we will no doubt hear more about everyone from O’Rourke to Ronan and entomophagy to mukbangs. Perhaps next year’s big trend will be posting videos of oneself eating lots of insects. More likely, it will be something we can’t predict or pronounce that changes the cultural conversation.