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The pronunciation /aks/ for ask is an example of metathesis. See Examples and Observations, below. (Quotation from Let the Church Sing! by Thérèse Smith. Univ. of Rochester Press, 2004)


The transposition within a word of letters, sounds, or syllables. Plural: metatheses.

"Although metathesis occurs commonly in many languages, the phonetic conditions for it can be identified only in very general terms: certain sound combinations, often involving [r], are more susceptible to metathesis than others" (D. Minkova and R. Stockwell, English Words: History and Structure, 2009).

See also:


From the Greek, "to transpose"

Examples and Observations:

  • "Wasp used to be waps; bird used to be brid and horse used to be hros. Remember this when the next time you hear someone complaining about aks for ask or nucular for nuclear, or even perscription. It's called metathesis, and it's a very common, perfectly natural process."
    (David Shariatmadari, "Eight Pronunciation Errors That Made the English Language What It Is Today." The Guardian [UK], March 11, 2014)

  • From Orpah to Oprah
    "The order of sounds can be changed in a process called metathesis. Tax and Task are variant developments of a single form, with the [ks] (represented in spelling by x) metathesized in the second word to [sk]--tax, after all, is a task all of us must meet. . . . The television personality Oprah was originally named Orpah, after one of the two daughters-in-law of the Biblical Naomi (Ruth 1.4), but the rp got metathesized to pr, producing the well-known name. The metathesis of a sound and a syllable boundary in the word another leads to the reinterpretation of original an other as a nother, especially in the expression 'a whole nother thing.'"
    (John Algeo and Thomas Pyles, The Origins and Development of the English Language, 6th ed. Wadsworth, 2010)

  • Typical Shifters
    "Other typical shifters are nasal sounds. For example, if [m] and [n] find themselves in the same word, they might swap places, too--'renumeration' in place of remuneration, 'aminal' in place of animal and 'emeny' in place of enemy. Most of us, I suspect, are guilty of the pronunciation 'anenome.' These days, historically accurate anemone is rare and to many sounds rather odd."
    (Kate Burridge, Gift of the Gob: Morsels of English Language History. HarperCollins Australia, 2011)

  • Spaghetti / Psketti
    "We played well together in the earliest days, though occasionally our jocund recreation became antagonistic. Tony might hound me about a particular piece of verbal stupidity, some word that I could not get my mouth around, such as 'spaghetti" or 'radiator' (which came out 'pisketti' and 'elevator')."
    (Christopher Lukas, Blue Genes: A Memoir of Loss and Survival. Doubleday, 2008)

    "The /sp-/-/ps-/ metathesis in English can occur in the onset of an unstressed syllable as in spaghetti--psketti."
    (D. Minkova, Alliteration and Sound Change in Early English. Cambridge University Press, 2003)

  • Cannibal / Caliban
    "A famous example from Shakespeare's The Tempest is the figure of Caliban whose name originates from a phonological metathesis of /n/ and /l/ in cannibal."
    (Heinrich F. Plett, Literary Rhetoric: Concepts-Structures-Analyses. Trans. by Myra Scholz and Frederik Heinemann. BRILL, 2009)

  • Metathesis in the Pronunciation of Ask as /aks/
    "While the pronunciation /aks/ for ask is not considered standard, it is a very common regional pronunciation with a long history. The Old English verb áscian underwent a normal linguistic process called metathesis sometime in the 14th century. Metathesis is what occurs when two sounds or syllables switch places in a word. This happens all the time in spoken language (think nuclear pronounced as /nukular/ and asterisk pronounced as /asteriks/).

    "Metathesis is usually a slip of the tongue, but (as in the cases of /asteriks/ and /nukular/) it can become a variant of the original word. . . .

    "In American English, the /aks/ pronunciation was originally dominant in New England. The popularity of this pronunciation faded in the North early in the 19th century as it became more common in the South. Today the pronunciation is perceived in the US as either Southern or African-American. Both of these perceptions underestimate the popularity of the form."
    ("ax-ask," Mavens' Word of the Day. Random House, Dec. 16, 1999)

    "Metathesis is a common linguistic process around the world and does not arise from a defect in speaking. Nevertheless, /aks/ has become stigmatized as substandard--a fate that has befallen other words, like ain't, that were once perfectly acceptable in educated society."
    (The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style. Houghton Mifflin, 2005)
Pronunciation: mi-TATH-ah-sis
Also Known As: permutation
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