February: Notice the first “r”?


Graphic by Elliot Sheets

The first “r” has been thoughtfully colored to remind you of its existence.

The new month is here, and there are many things to anticipate in the coming weeks: cold temperatures that remind you of what it’s like to know warmth; heavy snow that reminds you of what it’s like to be a kid; a snow day or two to remind you of what it’s like to have free time.
Unfortunately, there is one thing that grinds my gears about the second month of the year — the people who pronounce it “Feb-YOU-ary.” Consider this a public service announcement from your local Februarian (a.k.a. person born in February).
F-e-b-r-u-a-r-y. Notice that first “r”? As I type this article, the word “Febuary” is accompanied by a jagged red line underneath it. Why? Because “Febuary” is not a word.
I wish there were a jagged red line that appeared whenever someone said the name without pronouncing the initial “r.” If voices had spell check, no one would make this all too common but completely avoidable mistake (just look at the first “r”).
That being said, I can semi-understand why some people mispronounce “February” — like the analogous “-ember”s at the end of the year, people see “-uary” at the end of both “January” and “February,” and their brains subconsciously drop the “r.” There is also the fact that “February” has two “r”s in it that are separated by just two letters, causing a dissimilation of the first “r” as it’s easier to pronounce the word that way.
In other words laziness has caused the destruction of an otherwise beautifully named month (it comes from the Latin februa, meaning “purification”).
At the end of the day, there is no orthographical nor phonetic argument for why the “r” should not be pronounced. Seriously, name one other word in the English language that has a silent “r” — you can’t. There are none.
I will give you this: there are some online dictionaries that acknowledge “Feb-YOU-ary” as one way in which the word is pronounced, but the catch is that they do so while essentially identifying it as an incorrect pronunciation. (Also, many of these dictionaries that bother to mention the topic additionally acknowledge “ain’t” as a word — it isn’t one.)
There are many things that make February the most unique and lovable month: it’s the month of the Super Bowl; it’s the month of Groundhog Day; it’s the shortest month of the year; it’s the coldest month of the year; it’s the only month that doesn’t always have the same number of days.
So, as February kicks off, show your appreciation for it and learn how to pronounce the name of the best month of the year.
Signed, your local Februarian.