See ‘n Say is an educational toy created by Mattel in 1965 after the success of its talking Chatty Cathy doll. The concept for the doll was pretty simple: Kids repeat what they hear. The concept for the See ‘n Say was to use this same idea to help kids learn to read. And to talk.

I could have used such a device twice last week.

I love words. I love their spellings, their meanings, their shades of nuances. I love word play, and I love finding just the right word with just the right meaning to communicate EXACTLY what I’m trying to say. In high school, one of my nicknames was “Ms. Roget” because I carried around a thesaurus and read it FOR FUN.

Unfortunately, as it was brought home to me on two occasions last week, reading and understanding words is not quite the same as pronouncing them.

After a round of golf, I was in the clubhouse flipping through a local tourist guide while my golf partner was relaxing with a beer. The headline of one article spoke of “leviathans” along our coast. Now I KNOW what that is. Strictly speaking, it could be a large sea animal, a political state, or something large or formidable, but this article was limited to whales. Yet when I started to read the title to my friend, my mouth stumbled on the word. “Lev… Leave… Lava… Leevuh… Levith… Levath… “

My friend, a very educated man, pronounced it for me, twice, and then gave me its entire etymological history. A very humbling experience for someone like me.

However, that brief moment of embarrassment was nothing compared to the scarlet-faced humiliation I felt when attending the local play try-outs.

The word was “winoceros.” It is “a person who takes extreme pride in their ability to recognize and describe the complexities of a particular wine by simply inserting their nose into a partially filled glass and sniffing.” (This word is not in my Websters’ Collegiate 10th Edition Dictionary; I had to look it up on the Internet.)

Go ahead… Try to pronounce “winoceros” all by yourself. I dare you.

I was reading aloud when I first came across the word, and I gave it my best shot. Using all I know about phonics, and knowing the piece was about wine, I jumped right in and pronounced it like it rhymes with rhinoceros. I said, loud and clear, “Wine-os-cer-us,” and quickly learned that the “I” has a short vowel sound and the word is actually said something like “win-o-sair-us” (My Internet search did not help with this, I’ll have to take the author’s word for it.)

In my defense, I do not drink, and I had never, ever, come across that word before. My ego took a direct hit, but fortunately was salvaged when the next four people to say the word ALSO went with rhinoceros as their key to pronunciation.

Turns out we all could have benefited from a little lesson from the See ‘n Say.