Earlier this evening, I sent out some email that contained the following sentence, “Paul Krugman wrote a column that I think is really insightful and enunciates a lot of the frustration that I feel about the Obama administration.” But before I did, I spent a half-hour fretting over whether to use the word “annunciate” rather than “enunciate.” Other people spend their evenings watching TV or visiting with friends. These options are not available to me, having neither TV nor friends close by. So I get enunciate and annunciate.
Normally, such a question would be easy to settle. A hare has hair and not the other way around. But the definitions of “enunciate” and “annunciate” are frustratingly similar. What’s more, reference to Fowler and other usage guides were, in this case, useless—I dare say because “annunciate” is effectively obsolete and literally archaic.
I will get to the differences between these words, but I would like to point out that the Internet—as I find increasingly—provided at best flawed and at worst simply wrong information on the subject. One Step Forward provides a nice overview of the two words—including the etymology of the words, only half of which I could corroborate, but provides a highly misleading definition of “enunciate.” Much worse, Mighty Red Pen rightly blasts a Huffington Post column about Perez Hilton for using “annunciating” where “enunciating” is required, only to provide a ridiculously limiting definition of the latter.
Everyone seems to understand that “annunciate” means “announce.” Thus, it is wrong to say that Perez Hilton over-annunciates. (Although it might be all right to say that Thomas Paine over-annunciated Common Sense. Maybe.) The problem is “enunciate.” Again, everyone seems to understand it as an intransitive verb: to utter articulate sounds. We run into trouble when we deal with it as a transitive verb: to make a definite or systematic statement of. This definition is, in most cases, identical to “annunciate.”
In addition to these problems, the two words have pronunciation issues. “Annunciate” is pronounced with a soft-E, “enunciate” hard. In my experience, “enunciate” is pronounced with a soft-I. This places it right in between the sounds of these two easily confused words.
I think we should jettison “annunciate.” It has many problems:
- It is almost never used.
- It means exactly the same thing as “announce.”
- Its meaning is roughly the same as “enunciate” when used the same way.
- Enunciate and it are too easily mixed up in spoken English.
Regardless of what the rest of the foolish world does, I plan never to use “annunciate” again.