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Why do Americans pronounce centaurs "centars"???

I've been mulling over the OP's question, and I think it's just that the "proper" pronunciation of "centaur" — something approximating the Latinized Greek word centaurus, after having gone through the antiquity-to-medieval-to-modern wringer (i.e. ken- > chen- > tsen > sen-TAU-roos) — as "sen-towr", with that diphthong now in an unstressed syllable and flanked by consonants like it is, is just super awkward in English.

And so most people are going to collapse that aʊ sound into either an unrounded "a" or a rounded "o" — and that's how you get "SEN-tar" and "SEN-tore". With the stress on the first syllable, there's some acceptable variation in how that last vowel gets pronounced (or glossed over and mumbled, as the case may be). And since the word isn't frequently in common use, there's no standard.

Backing this hypothesis up, I hear both "MIN-ə-tar" and "MIN-ə-tore" with about the same frequency. But dinosaur, which is a much more commonly used word, is always "DINE-ə-sore," never "DINE-ə-sar" (at least in the Great Plains and Midwestern dialects of American English that I'm routinely exposed to).

Then again, maybe there's just something about that diphthong, because nobody I know pronounces "taurus" (either the constellation or the vehicle) as "TAU-russ." It's either "TAR-us" or "TOR-us" — usually the latter, such that "taurus" and "torus" are basically homonyms in American English. ("Me? I drive a Ford Torus. Yeah, the cabin volume is 2π²r²R, what of it?")
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Blue Orange

I do realize there are major differences between American and British English, though I admit my defense of my country's spelling is lacking color and seems on the anemic side and I have failed to fulfill my patriotic duties, even though this thread has swelled in a quite edematous fashion. I personally find linguistic differences marvelous and would never have dreamed of seeing them go away.

Fun fact: the term 'a language is a dialect with an army and a navy' has as its most obvious counterexample the US and UK--both are separate countries with quite competent armies and navies and are still considered to speak the same language.
Other fun fact: the original version seems to have been a Yiddish scholar talking about his own language in 1945. His people would get their army and navy, but speak a different language!


Staff member
Right now, the only thing stopping me from making a filk of L’trimm’s “Cars with the boom” into “Centaurs with the boom” is I can’t figure out why centaurs would be associated with anything vaguely “boom” related.

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