Poinsettia: Poin-set-ah or Poin-set-ee-ah?

Poinsettia: Poin-set-ah or Poin-set-ee-ah?

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SALT LAKE CITY -- How should the word poinsettia be pronounced? Most of the Utahns I spoke with dropped the long "E" sound, opting for "poin-set-ah" as the official pronunciation.

If you ask them why they pronounce it that way, they might not have a reason.

One man said, "It's just the way I've always said it."

A Salt Lake City woman said, "'Poin-set-ee-ah' sounds weird."

But which one is technically correct? Is it "poin-set-ee-ah," or "poin-set-ah?" One professor says they both could be slightly off.

"My guess is that it was closer to what a British pronunciation of the word would be, and that's ‘poin-set-ya,'" says Vincent Pecora, chairman of the English Department at the University of Utah.

Pecora says the word was coined in the early 19th century by a French man named Poinsett. An "ia" was added to name the plant, so it's safe to assume the "I" is supposed to have a sound.

The professor says the two different pronunciations probably came from regionalization. He says his friends in New York add the long "e", but people in the south leave it out.

"If you say it like ‘poin-set-ya,' you could see how, perhaps, some people took that to mean ‘poin-set-ah' and other people turned it into ‘poin-set-ee-ah,'" Pecora says.

He says it's not uncommon for us to say something wrong so often that the wrong word can feel like the right one.

"Think of how many people will say, instead of saying ‘regardless,' they'll say ‘irregardless.' Now, ‘irregardless' doesn't exist as a word," Pecora says.

For the final say, let's consult the dictionary. It says both pronunciations are acceptable. So, the dictionary is no help.

E-mail: pnelson@ksl.com

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