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Centimeter vs. Centimeter
2009/08/07
11:30am
heathbug
Plano, Texas
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Do you pronounce the above word sent-imeter, or sawn-timeter? I, being of a scientific persuasion (doctorate in medicine) have always (as far as I can remember) pronounced it as sawn-timeter. However, when I once used the word with that pronunciation with my brother, who had only a high school education, he honestly did not understand me. When I gave him the sent-imter pronunciation, he understood, and berated me for being a snob. Was I (unconsciously) “showing off” my “superior” education, or was it just a product of what I had been exposed to most of my life? Are both pronunciations correct, or is one wrong? Opinions?

2009/08/07
3:45pm
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Glenn
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Several dictionaries have both pronunciations listed. So both are fine.

You might be interested in this previous discussion of “kilometer.”
. Kilometer

Personally, I use the penny or fragrance version of the pronunciation. The scientists I have known use the same. I have heard your pronunciation from medical doctors — particularly obstetricians, but that’s as far as I am willing to open up!

2009/08/07
9:19pm
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Ron Draney
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Since the French came up with the metric system in the first place, there’s some historical justification for the “aw” vowel in the first syllable.

That said, if they’re going that far, I think they’re obliged to use the French pronunciation (and spelling!) for the entire word, or as close to it as they can manage in English: SAWN-ti-mett-ruh.

2009/08/08
9:52am
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harmonicpies
Texas
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I’ve never thought about it before, but I use both pronounciations. I’m also in health care, and I use “sawn-timeter” at work or for health care related discussions. But I tend to use “sent-imeter” for my DIY projects, etc.

2009/08/10
12:20pm
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Tru
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Hmmm…

Given your “level of education” you ought to know, that centimeter pronounced to rhyme with rent/vent/lent is the most common English pronunciation.

So I’m going with your brother on this. Keep your pronunciation, but…curb your snobbery.

2009/08/10
3:37pm
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Glenn
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I’ll be a jury hold-out on the attitude verdict, since I know how difficult it is to switch pronunciations from one context to another. However, I propose we create a new unit for quantifying snobbery: the vauntimeter. Or is that the instrument used to get a reading? This one CLEARLY rhymes with “sawn” and not “sent.”

2009/08/16
5:16pm
Parsa
Escondido, CA, USA
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As a science teacher I try to force myself to say kilo-meter rather than rhyming it with barometer and thermometer. That is hard enough. I show the students the proper international spelling of metre and litre, but say that meter and liter are standard in the USA. Since I am not just teaching milli- and centi-, but also micro-, Mega-, Giga-, as well as other prefixes, and combining them with all sorts of base and derived units, I try to be consistent. Hence my struggle to say kilo-meter. I do pronounce cent as “sent.” This goes way back in the US. Ironically, the US was the first nation to adopt a metric monetary system. 100 cents in a dollar… There have even been mill or mille coins defined in the coinage acts. Dime (and disme) comes from “decima”, and relates to the deci- prefix. Oh, and there is no “penny” in the national US system. That’s from Colonial pence.

2009/08/20
10:26pm
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tromboniator
Alaska
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I have sat through innumerable science classes, high school and college: biology, physics, chemistry, geology, and probably a few more I can’t remember any more; and I don’t believe I’ve heard the sawn- pronunciation outside of French class.

Glenn, thanks for opening up. I never heard sawn- in the delivery room at all, but other than my wife and me, eventually joined by another family member, we only had nurses and GPs.

Is that VAUN-ti-me-ter or vaun-TI-me-ter?

2009/08/20
10:40pm
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tromboniator
Alaska
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my wife and I

2009/08/20
10:50pm
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tromboniator
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Never think–just do.

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