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Psmith Psyndrome
"I didn't spell it like that when I said it!"
Alan Davies, QI

Some people spell their names differently from the usual spelling. Some people not only spell their names differently from the usual spelling, but can tell when somebody saying their name is spelling it wrong in his head. It's as if they can infer the other person having an "incorrect" Funetik Aksent.

Hollywood Spelling is the inverse of this trope to some extent. Compare It Is Pronounced Tro PAY. Can overlap with Painting the Medium or Medium Awareness.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • This trope is infamously well-loved by manga creators. Because Japanese names can be drastically different despite using the same kanji, characters are often seen stating that they use a rare reading. It's a level up on reading Smith as either "smith" or "smythe". On the other side of this trope, in which the same name can be written with sometimes wildly differing kanji, even characters in manga not known for breaking the fourth wall can express an unusual writing of their name in speech bubbles, so it comes across as if other characters can actually read what they're describing.
  • The villain Goda from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig manages to exemplify a Japanese take on Psmith Psyndrome. In his first appearance, he points out to Aramaki that most people read his name wrong and that his given name, written 一人 (normally read as "hitori"), is actually "Kazudo."
    • He also likes it, because after having been corrected once, people have a much easier time recalling his name later.
  • When Ishida is introduced in Bleach, Ichigo reads his given name "Uryu" (雨竜) off the class roster as "Ametatsu"—the correct first-level reading for the kanji, but only if the person in question is female. Ichigo's classmates take the opportunity to Lampshade his horrible memory for names.

    Comedy 
  • George Carlin's 1973 album Occupation: Foole as he explains:
    Originally this job was called "foole." Put it down on the job application, "occupation: foole." Think I'd spell it with a final "e" just to piss 'em off, man.

    Comics 
  • Deadpool can and has done this thanks to Medium Awareness.
  • The Psmiths in Buck Godot: Zap Gun for Hire spell their name(s) this way not only as a possible Shout-Out to Wodehouse's Psmith, but to indicate their telepathically-linked Hive Mind status (the Greek letter Psi is parapsych shorthand for Psychic Powers).
  • Tintin's indistinguishable twin detectives Thomson and Thompson made use of this on occasion, for instance:
    Thompson: Hello, this is Thompson, with a P, as in Philadelphia.
    Thomson: And this is Thomson without a P, as in Venezuela.
  • Foxtrot has an example of this when Paige babysits a child:
    Paige: Hi there! You must be little Catherine!
    Mrs. O'Dell: Um, it's "Katherine", with a "K".
    Paige: That's what I said.
    Mrs. O'Dell: No, you said "Catherine" with a "C". I could tell. Hold on — I'll be right back.note 
    Paige: Hi, there! You must be the little girl who's going to need massive therapy in twelve years!

    Fan Works 
  • Inverted in Colbert Report fandom. Since the T in Colbert is silent, fans have had to invent new ways of spelling the name to indicate when a character in fanfiction is pronouncing it wrong. "Col-bert" is perhaps the most commonly used, although "ColberT" is also seen.

    Film 
  • Scott ffolliott (played by George Sanders) in Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent, whose family dropped the first capital letter following the death of an ancestor at the hands of Henry VIII. Apparently it's pronounced as a straight 'fuh'.

    Literature 
  • The Trope Namer is P. G. Wodehouse's character Psmith, who can always tell when people say his name without the P, despite the P being silent.
    • Nor should one forget the classic exchange from Wodehouse's Meet Mr. Mulliner:
    "Sir Jasper Finch-Farrowmere?" said Wilfred.
    "ffinch-ffarrowmere," corrected the visitor, his sensitive ear detecting the capital letters.
    "Ah, yes. You spell it with two small f's."
    "Four small f's."
  • It happens occasionally in Piers Anthony's Xanth series.
  • Robert Asprin's Myth Adventures has neophyte magician Skeeve as the protagonist, with a demon from the dimension Perv as a mentor. There are few ways to get under Aahz's skin faster than referring to him as Oz the Pervert.
    • Inverted in the comic, where Skeeve addresses a Pervect correctly, but the fellow is so used to people getting it wrong he "corrects" Skeeve anyway: "HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO SAY IT? IT'S NOT PERVECT, IT'S... Say, that's right. What can I do for you, kid?"
    • Also, in the first book, Skeeve's previous mentor is killed by an imp employed by Isstvan. Skeeve relays this to Aahz, who claims to have never heard of him. Later, another character tells the two that he is also employed by Isstvan, whom Aahz recognizes. Skeeve can't tell the difference.
  • Thursday Next character Jack Schitt once mentioned that he can tell when it's being mispronou... misspe... let's go with audibly misspelt. This happens frequently, his name being as appropriate as it is.
    • Pteppic from Pyramids (a reference to the Ancient Egyptian Ptolemaic Dynasty, named after Ptolemy). Going from this, some readers refer to Pratchett as "Pterry".
      • Played with, in that while initially Pteppic pronounces every "t" word with a "p" in the beginning, by the time he's finished his education in Ankh-Morpork, even he doesn't include the "p" in front of his own name, thinking of himself as Teppic.
      • Ptraci, on the other hand, determinedly hangs on to her accent, invoking Rule of Sexy.
      • This is rather irritatingly averted in the audiobook, where usually-reliable narrator Nigel Planer pronounces it Pa-Teppic and Pa-Traci, despite the jokes about others pronouncing that way and being wrong. He also hits the D in Djelibeybi, ruining the pun.
      • In Real Life, some people believe Ptolemy's name was pronounced with a bit more of a "click" than a normal t-sound.
    • During the initiation in Going Postal, Moist thinks to himself that it's amazing that he can hear the capital letters in "Let him don the Boots!", but this is only one of many occasions in Discworld novels where someone audibly pronounces capital letters or punctuation (for example, quotation marks or italics for the particularly unhinged).
      • "!" said Rincewind.
    • Let us not forget the Igors, half of whom are named Igor, while the other half is Igorina, and they know which Igor you mean. "Oh, you mean my cousin Igor."
    • When William de Worde first meets Commander Vimes in The Truth, he reflects that he's a person one naturally thinks of as a "Mister" rather than a "Mr."
  • In Piers Anthony's BEARING AN HOURGLASS, the protagonist can actually hear when Satan is capitalizing His pronouns.
  • In Danny Wallace's autobiographical book Yes Man, his love interest can tell when people pronounce 'Big Things' without the capital letters.
  • In Wicked, "animals" are ordinary creatures, while "Animals" are creatures who can talk, think, and act like people. Apparently Ozites have a way of telling whether or not words are pronounced with a capital letter.
    • When a lecturer began his sentence with the word "Animal", the reader is left wondering if it was capitalized to indicate importance, or just because it was the first word in the sentence. Elphaba then wonders the same thing, due to his "unusual accent".
  • In Larry Niven's The Ringworld Throne, sapient races' names receiving a capital letter, and lower case letters used for non-sapients. Justified by Translation Convention, as a character remarks that one species "takes the prefix" for animals, not people.
  • In Dave Gorman's "Are You Dave Gorman?", Dave tells a crowd about Danny Wallace's strained relationship with his girlfriend Hanne, whose birthday he has neglected. The crowd says "Happy birthday, Hanne!", although Dave admits that they're probably actually saying "Hannah".

    Live-Action TV 
  • Invoked by Alan Davies in the pilot episode of QI, leading to the above quote. When Alan answers a question by saying 'Adolf', it turns out that that answer was one of the pre-designated ones that make you lose points, so after Stephen Fry reveals the card reading 'Adolph', Alan protests with the page quote. This issue is also brought up in another episode, when Sean Lock asks 'can you tell if I'm spelling things wrong when I say them?' and Stephen Fry brings up Psmith.
  • The BBC children's TV series Chuckle Vision had a character who was always referred to his surname as "Smyth, pronounced Smith".
  • Done on Will and Grace: "It's Filip with an F. You said Philip, with a Ph."
  • Achmed the Dead Terrorist, one of Jeff Dunham's puppets, corrects him when he says its name...the ch being prounounced with a back-of-the-throat spitting noise is drawn out as a gag:
    Jeff: Well how do you spell it?
    Achmed: Uh...A...C...Phlegm...
    • 'Course, technically he's just being a bit anal about a common mistake in Real Life — the sound in question isn't a phoneme in English so we generally pronounce it either ah-med or ak-med. That kind of subtle phonetic distinction in foreign words is probably where the trope comes from in the first place.
      • It's more common in the UK, with a reasonable number of people familiar with the correct pronunciation of "Loch". One character in Iain Banks's novel The Crow Road is put out by the fact that after decades of apparent inability to pronounce the guttural 'ch' sound in Scottish names, the western television and radio media suddenly demonstrate that they're quite capable of doing so in Arabic names.
  • Parodied in an episode of The Golden Girls, where the four come into contact with a funeral director named Mr. Pfeiffer. The pronounciation of his name is exactly how it's spelled: "Puh-feiffer"; the "P" is not silent.
    Dorothy: Anyway, Mr. Puh-feiffer... about the puh-funeral — about the funeral...
    Pfeiffer: (not verbatim) You're pre-arranging one for your mother?
    Sophia: How'd you like a punch in the p-face?
  • In one host segment of Mystery Science Theater 3000, Tom Servo declares that his name has been changed to Tom Sirveaux. Later, he adds an H to his first name... to make it Htom Sirveaux. In response, Crow suggests that Htom hlick him and starts spelling his name with an "e" and a Heävy Mëtal Ümlaut (Cröe).
  • Babylon 5 features ten alien brothers, all named Zathras, each with a pronunciation so subtly different that the human ear cannot distinguish it.

    Video Games 
  • Kingdom of Loathing provides the usual lampshade hanging:
    "The Slime extends a pseudopod and pstrangles you."
    • Not to mention the gnomish awaregness of the silent "g".
  • Ace Attorney
    • Ron DeLite in the third Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney game corrects Phoenix's spelling of Mask* DeMasque. Apparently there's a difference between 'mask' and 'masque', and you have to get them in the right order. Also, you have to include the star, somehow. This has led to the fan theory that the star is pronounced by pausing and doing jazz hands.
    • The second game does this too: although the incriminating evidence (a message supposedly written by Maggey Byrd's boyfriend which calls her "Maggie") is a photograph and thus makes total sense, once this distinction is brought up, everyone seems fully capable of distinguishing the two spellings by sound. Of course, since this is Ace Attorney, it's almost certainly done for humor.
    • Imported straight from the Japanese version, in which the court can tell apart two names that are pronounced exactly the same way but spelled using different kanji. "Her name isn't Suzuki... it's Suzuki!"

    Web Comics 
  • In Narbonic, ANTONIO SMITH, FORENSIC LINGUIST can hear your semicolons.
  • T-Rex from Dinosaur Comics at one point tries speaking in homophones, except that no-one can tell the difference. Also, God can tell whether or not a spoken sentence is properly punctuated.
    • Unfortunately, several of the homophones are only homophones in some dialects, which means they fail to work for speakers of dialects that distinguish them clearly.
    • And as for punctuation, while the marks themselves are not audible, they change the intonation of nearby words - even the mentioned friend's/friends/friends' in some accents.
  • Comes up a few times in The Order of the Stick, which is not surprising considering the comic's tendency to Paint the Medium.
    • Xykon knows when someone pronounces his name with a Z instead of an X (likely a Take That to the many varied and bizarre mis-spellings that show up on the forums).
    • One of the bonus strips in the compilation books, a creature refers to finding a dragon "horde" instead of hoard, and after being corrected confusedly asks "I mean, technically I said that out loud, so how did you know that I..."
    • Inverted when Durkon didn't prepare the Control Winds spell even though he knew they'd be going through the Windy Canyon. Somehow, Durkon had thought the title referred to the canyon's "winding" passages. Lampshaded by V in the same strip.
  • Used by Glock from The Wotch.
    Glock: No, it's D.O.L.L.Y. All caps, with periods.
    Robin: Oh, okay. Wait...

    Web Original 
  • In Whateley Academy, Fey's name is often misspelled by others as F-A-Y. The reader can tell that a character doesn't know the proper spelling by looking at how it's written in their dialogue. For some reason, though, characters that are aware of the correct spelling seem to know instinctively when it's being misspelled, despite "Fay" and "Fey" sounding exactly the same when spoken.
  • In Welcome to Night Vale, Old Woman Josie can tell that Cecil is misspelling the names of the angels that live with her (they are all called Erika, with a 'k').

    Western Animation 
  • Used in in a sketch on Punch! where Tom Cruise and Penélope Cruz's relationship is said to have been broken up due to her frustration about everyone calling her Penélope Cruise.
    Penélope: No, not "Cruise" "Cruz"!
    • However, the letter Z is in fact pronounced differently in Spanish (like "s" in Latin America and parts of southern Spain, like "th" in the rest of Spain). Whether or not this is an example of this trope, if the difference between languages is considered, is debateable.
  • Cartoon Network's What A Cartoon Short "A Short Pfuse" starred Pfish, a shark, who with Chip (a bobcat) were bomb squad officers. It was made by a pre-Fairly Oddparents Butch Hartman.

    Real Life 
  • A "calorie" (with a small "c") and a "Calorie" (with a big "C") are not the same thing, the latter being equivalent to one thousand of the former. This is not a problem when written, such as on the Nutrition Facts section of food boxes, but the two cannot be distinguished when spoken, such as in commercials. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the big-C kilocalorie is what is meant, despite there being absolutely no indication of this in the commercials themselves.
    • Certain countries use the more "correct" notation since calorie is metric, kcal.
  • In the same vein, being deaf and being Deaf are two similar, but different things. Being deaf means that you yourself have some degree of hearing loss (not, as commonly assumed, complete hearing loss; the term for that is "profound deafness"). Being Deaf (which is actually referred to by Deaf people as "big-D Deaf") means that you are a member of the Deaf culture; while you yourself do not have to be deaf, you are closely enough associated with the community that you are considered one of them (think "deaf-friendly").


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