Pronouncing prescient properly

Watching the new Netflix series The Chair, I was struck by two metalinguistic comments, both made by the main character Professor Ji-Yoon Kim, chair of the English department, who consequently comes across as being a bit of a pedant. The first comment is about who/whom (which I’ll be speaking about tomorrow in my presentation at the sixth Prescriptivism conference in Vigo, Spain). The second is about the pronunciation of prescient.

David Duchovny, who is to substitute for a teacher who was penalised for having allegedly made the Hitler salute in class, pronounces the word prescient as /ˈprɛsɪənt/, upon which he is corrected by professor Kim, who says: “I think it’s pronounced /ˈprɛʃənt/, unless we’re English.” By which she means British, as indeed Duchovny responds by retorting: “Aren’t we speaking English?”

Professor Kim is right: the Oxford English Dictionary neatly distinguishes between a British and American English pronunciation. But I couldn’t helpt checking the Internet, and found an amazing number of YouTube videos giving advice on how to pronounce prescient, dating between 2015 and 2020. Does this signal the birth of a new usage problem?

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