This pet peeve deserves a separate post! How hard is it to say “NOO-klee-er?” It’s not hard at all. In fact, it is easy. It does not require any tongue-twisting or difficult shaping of the mouth. And yet, it is estimated by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary site editors that as many as 50% of the American population pronounces the word “nuclear” as “NOO-kyuh-ler.” Among these are educated people who should know better, such as scientists and politicians.
We all know that President George Bush is the most famous perpetrator of this mispronunciation. He has probably said “NOO-kyuh-ler” for such a long time that it sounds right to him. Do Mr. Bush and these other educated people also say “NOO-kyuh-less” when pronouncing “nucleus?” Most of them probably do. The worst thing about this error is that it is accepted by those who commit it as being unimportant. But they should realize that saying “NOO-kyuh-less” and “NOO-kyuh-ler” gives the impression that they are illiterate. Their credibility as intelligent, educated, and self-respecting people is damaged when they do nothing to correct the mistake.
I must admit that if I pronounce the first syllable of “nuclear” as “NEW” (rhyming with “few”), it does take an effort to follow it by “klee-er” and it is tempting to fall into the easier way and say “NEW-kyuh-ler.” But I don’t hear people using this “NEW” sound when they say the word incorrectly.
So there is no good excuse for saying “NOO-kyuh-ler” when it is just as easy to say “NOO-klee-er.” If you have been making this mistake, now is the time to correct it. Talk this way: