Variant pronunciations of "posthumous"

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Nick Kaldis asks about the pronunciation of "posthumous":

On NPR this morning, and once a few weeks ago, both announcers pronounced it "pōst-hyooməs"; I can't recall ever hearing this pronunciation before.

I'm with Nick.  I've never heard anyone say "pōst-hyooməs".  Most people I know say /ˈpɒs.tʃə.məs/ or /ˈpɒs.tʃʊ.məs/, although some (myself included) consistently say the word without the "ʃ", so it comes out sounding something like "ˈpɒstjʊməs", as given in the Collins English Dictionary.

But listen to it here on the Oxford dictionaries website.  It sounds somewhat like what Nick seems to have heard.


  1. Brian W. Ogilvie said,

    June 1, 2019 @ 11:39 am

    I noted that pronunciation too. I’ve never heard the adjective pronounced like that, but there was a teacher in my elementary school, Mrs. Posthumus [sic], whose name was pronounced similarly.

  2. Dick Margulis said,

    June 1, 2019 @ 12:07 pm

    Merriam-Webster offers numerous pronunciations here:

    Click the second speaker icon for the variant.

    During the Cuban Missile Crisis, I was watching the UN Security Council debate. US Ambassador Adlai Stevenson pronounced espionage as es-PIE-uh-naj (sorry, I don't remember IPA well enough to attempt it here), which sent me scurrying to the unabridged Second International. Sure enough, it was there as a variant.

  3. Sili said,

    June 1, 2019 @ 12:41 pm

    It makes sense if you're unfamiliar with the word but can guess the etymology, doesn't it?

  4. Ellen K. said,

    June 1, 2019 @ 12:46 pm

    "pōst-hyooməs" is the pronunciation that came to my head first when I saw this post, but followed by the idea that "ˈpɒstjʊməs" is the correct pronunciation. I think the former is how I hear it in my head when I hear it, but not sure how it would come out if I had reason to say it.

  5. Andrew Usher said,

    June 1, 2019 @ 2:30 pm

    That post-humus is just an illiterate guess (which apparently is not new); the etymologically soundest way is pasta. As the link: from Latin 'postumus', last.

    k_over_hbarc at

  6. Tom davidson said,

    June 1, 2019 @ 3:07 pm

    I am from Michigan. All I ever heard was the hyoo pronunciation. Might be a Midwest thing…

  7. David Marjanović said,

    June 1, 2019 @ 3:27 pm

    Yes, the h in the spelling is a hypercorrection, like the one in author (Latin auctor, "one who increases something", from the verb augere).

  8. Paul Turpin said,

    June 1, 2019 @ 5:19 pm

    This is quite interesting:
    posthumous (adj.)
    mid-15c., "born after the death of the originator" (author or father), from Late Latin posthumus, from Latin postumus "last, last-born," superlative of posterus "coming after, subsequent" (see posterior). Altered in Late Latin by association with Latin humare "to bury," suggesting death; the one born after the father's death obviously being the last. An Old English word for this was æfterboren, literally "after-born."

  9. Bathrobe said,

    June 1, 2019 @ 7:55 pm

    A tangent: I was very taken aback several years ago to hear people pronouncing 'homage' as though it were French. That is, 'hoMAAZH' rather than 'HOMij' (sorry for not using phonetic alphabet). A very literate illiteracism, it seemed to me.

  10. Geoff M said,

    June 1, 2019 @ 8:40 pm

    Bathrobe's comment has made me realize that I (L1 CanEn, L2 CanFr) for whatever reason use the French-style pronunciation in artistic contexts (Homage to Magritte) and the English one in political or religious contexts (Mt 2:11 in many English bible translations).

  11. Tim Rowe said,

    June 1, 2019 @ 10:15 pm

    As a Brit, the Oxford English Dictionary sounds like the only correct pronunciation.

  12. cliff arroyo said,

    June 1, 2019 @ 11:34 pm

    " That is, 'hoMAAZH' rather than 'HOMij' "

    for me those are two different words…

    homage (non-count) HOMij

    an homage (count) oMAAZH (no h in this boy's pseudo-French affectations)

    It's probably a bit more complicated but that's my basic breakdown

  13. AntC said,

    June 2, 2019 @ 1:25 am

    As a Brit, the Oxford English Dictionary sounds like the only correct pronunciation.


  14. Thomas Lumley said,

    June 2, 2019 @ 2:02 am

    The song "My name is John Wellington Wells" from Gilbert & Sullivan's "The Sorcerer" has the line "…and for raising a posthumous shade…", and the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company recording ( has what sounds to me like the Oxford Dictionary pronunciation.

    The D'Oyly Carte company was notoriously conservative, so there's a reasonable bet this is how Sullivan thought it should be pronounced, in late 19th century BrE.

  15. RP said,

    June 2, 2019 @ 3:26 am

    "But listen to it here on the Oxford dictionaries website. It sounds somewhat like what Nick seems to have heard."

    Not to me, I have to say.

    "As a Brit, the Oxford English Dictionary sounds like the only correct pronunciation."

    As this is LL, we should really reserve the term OED for the actual (unabridged) Oxford English Dictionary. In fact, Oxford Dictionaries Online isn't even an abridgement of the OED – it's based on the text of the Oxford Dictionary of English, which wasn't based on the OED.

    Also, Oxford Dictionaries Online comes across as a slightly shoddy piece of work. I'm not sure if something went wrong in the translation to HTML, but take for example this usage note at "alright", and note that neither italics or quotation marks are used to mark off "all right" and "alright" from the rest of the text of the text: "There is no logical reason for insisting that all right should be written as two words rather than as alright, when other single-word forms such as altogether have long been accepted. Nevertheless, alright is still regarded as being unacceptable in formal writing" (sic – the usage note ends without a full stop).

  16. RP said,

    June 2, 2019 @ 3:35 am

    I too was surprised was I first heard "homage" pronounced in a pseudo-French way (the word has been English since circa 1300 and is spelt differently in modern French).

    In the latest (online) OED, the pseudo-French pronunciation is there as an alternative with the note "also, chiefly in sense 3b". 3b is what Geoff M called the "artistic" sense.

    In the 2nd edition of the OED, there was no pseudo-French option. Nor is there in the British pronunciations at or . For American pronunciation, ODO and Collins both give an h-less variant but retaining the short "o" (/ɑ/) – whereas the pronunciation I tend to hear from American speakers has a long "o" as in the American variant of the OED's "chiefly in sense 3b" pronunciation /oʊˈmɑʒ/.

  17. David Morris said,

    June 2, 2019 @ 5:44 am

    I can't remember the first time I heard the word 'posthumous' and thus discovered the pronunciation, but I have a strong memory of reading it in Robert Graves' 'I, Claduius'. Claudius's best friend was the son of the general Marcus Agrippa and Augustus's daughter Julia, and was named Postumus. I have a moderate memory that Graves explained that this was because he was born posthumously (ie, after Agrippa's death). I have a small memory that the word fell at the end of a line, and was type-set as 'post-/humously'. But I have just skimmed through the first few chapters and can't find it, so I may be misremembering. Seeing things hyphenated across line breaks doesn't help figure out what the spelling is.

    How many other words beginning 'post' are not accented on that syllable? I can't think of any off-hand.

  18. David Morris said,

    June 2, 2019 @ 5:47 am

    Aha! The full text is available online, and I searched, then found the corresponding page in the book. 'Posthumously' falls in the middle of a line, so either it's another occurrence in another book, or I'm just making things up. Can I trust any memory now?

  19. AntC said,

    June 2, 2019 @ 6:49 am

    As this is LL, we should really reserve the term OED for …

    OK, and Prof Mair said "Oxford dictionaries website". Whether's entries are shoddy in general, for 'posthumous' their pronunciation is exactly the only way I've heard it (as a Brit). The merriam-webster pronunciations I accept as US, but I'd never heard such before. It sounds especially weird to my ears to put the stress on the second syllable.

  20. Coby Lubliner said,

    June 2, 2019 @ 8:02 am

    I always thought that for the "homage" word to be pronounced the French way (in the artistic sense) it had to be written the French way, hommage.

  21. cliff arroyo said,

    June 2, 2019 @ 8:11 am

    " it had to be written the French way

    Okay, now you're just showing off….

  22. unekdoud said,

    June 2, 2019 @ 8:29 am

    Consider the pseudo-French version an homage to fromage.

  23. Bathrobe said,

    June 2, 2019 @ 9:49 am

    Now you've exposed my ignorance. It didn't occur to me that people saying oMAAJ might actually be saying "hommage"… Still, it's an affectation that I hadn't noticed before.

  24. Lynette Mayman said,

    June 2, 2019 @ 11:49 am

    Maybe it's just a case of an attempt at hyper-correctness. People I know will say some pretty funny things when they have to speak in public, like /ˈkrɪstməs/. That said /ˈpɒstʃjʊməs/ just sounds nasty even though sanctioned by Merriam Webster. /ˈhɒmɪdʒ/ is good. /o'mɑːʒ/ is pretentious.

  25. Bloix said,

    June 2, 2019 @ 4:46 pm

    Americans say "gahrAZH" where the English say GA-rij. Also, we sometimes drop initial H where the English don't: erbs vs. herbs. So I wouldn't rely on English sources for the proper pronunciation of homage. Merriam-Webster gives o-MAZH as acceptable, and in my experience it's what most Americans actually say.

  26. bratschegirl said,

    June 3, 2019 @ 2:33 am

    +1 to cliff arroyo's "two different words" with two different pronunciations. I don't think I actually pronounce the H in either one, though. I use o-MAZH when I'm talking about, say, a piece of writing that's done in appreciation of a particular person, or a piece of music that's intentionally in the style of some other composer with the intent to honor said composer in so doing, that could be considered "an homage" to that person; I use "(h)AHM-idj" when I'm saying that X paid homage to Y.

  27. Rodger C said,

    June 3, 2019 @ 8:09 am

    Shakespeare, in The Winter's Tale, seems to scan the name of the character Posthumus both ways at different times.

  28. Bloix said,

    June 3, 2019 @ 11:06 am

    On reflection I agree with bratschegirl. Once I thought of Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, I realized that I too have two words, both with a silent H.

  29. Bloix said,

    June 3, 2019 @ 11:09 am

    Rodger C – Cymbeline.
    In a series called Shakespeare Scanned, one scholar concludes that the character is always Post-HU-Mus.

  30. cliff arroyo said,

    June 3, 2019 @ 1:11 pm

    "I don't think I actually pronounce the H in either one, though"

    For me and HOM-ij it's like the h in 'he' – it tends to disappear after a consonant but appears in isolation and after a vowel.

    o-MOZH does not have an h and would sound (even more) ridiculous with one

  31. BZ said,

    June 3, 2019 @ 3:40 pm

    I've always said o-MAZH and had no idea there was another pronunciation until reading the comments on this post.

  32. Rodger C said,

    June 4, 2019 @ 7:48 am

    Bloix, thanks. Cymbeline of course. Though in note 71, Leed acknowledges my view.

  33. Andrew Usher said,

    June 5, 2019 @ 7:28 am

    Yes, the Shakespeare character is an exception to the rule for pronouncing this word (although it should still have a short o in the first syllable, following normal Anglo-Latin convention).

    Since the etymology is undeniably post-umus (which could have been spelled in Latin post-imus, the second vowel being reduced), I see no reason we should say it with a yod. That's why I said 'like pasta' is the historically correct way, and that is listed as a variant in dictionaries. If we were going to incorporate the spurious H into it, we should say it with a dental fricative as happened with author, Anthony. So /pɒstəməs/ or/pɒsθəməs/ by etymology, but I can't be strict on that point – just keep the stress on the first syllable, which has a short o.

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