Whether you're giving a presentation or just trying to sound smart at cocktail parties, problems with pronunciation can rear their ugly...

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Whether you’re giving a presentation or just trying to sound smart at cocktail parties, problems with pronunciation can rear their ugly heads.

To the rescue comes R.W. Jackson’s “You Say Tomato: An Amusing and Irreverent Guide to the Most Often Mispronounced Words in the English Language” (Thunder’s Mouth, 249 pp., $21). And a quick flip through it shows me I’ve been mangling certain words all my life.

For instance acumen. According to Jackson, it’s uh-KYOO-mun, not AK-you-mun.

Then there’s diphthong, which Jackson says should be DIF-thawng (“The popular but incorrect DIP-thong should in no way be associated with the formal footwear of Southern California”).

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Never tell a friend you’re going to KO-pun-hah-gen, or even KO-pun-hay-gun. The capital of Denmark, Jackson insists, is ko-pun-HAY-gun.

And think anal when you say banal.

Hold on, there. Webster’s Dictionary gives be-NAL as a perfectly legitimate pronunciation alternative. And I don’t say, CAY-n’l when I’m walking in Amsterdam, do I?

Call me a prig.

Just don’t call me BAY-n’l.

Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times book critic