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Psmith Psyndrome

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Yeah? Well, that broken wall to my left bothers me too!

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

Some people spell words differently from the usual spelling. Some people not only spell words differently from the usual spelling but can tell when somebody saying it is spelling it wrong in their 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 Pretentious Pronunciation. Can overlap with Painting the Medium or Medium Awareness. See also Capital Letters Are Magic.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • 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 "Kazundo." 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.

  • 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.
  • Achmed the Dead Terrorist, one of Jeff Dunham's puppets, corrects him when he says its name... the "ch" being pronounced 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' 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.
    • In another interaction Jeff has with one of his oldest puppets, Peanut, they argue about the pronunciation and spelling of his name; in this instance, Jeff is accused of saying his own name wrong. Peanut says that his name should be "Jeh-fuh-fuh Dun-HAM"note  because he's using an unnecessary F and Dunham (pronounced "Dunnam") should be pronounced like it's spelled.

    Comic Books 

    Comic Strips 
  • Foxtrot has an example of this when Paige babysits a child:
    Paige: Hi there! You must be little Katherine!
    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!
  • In Zits, Sara can tell when people say her name with an 'H' on the end.

    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.
  • In David Langford's pastiche Victorian con report, the reporter can somehow hear that George Bernard Shaw isn't using apostrophes, and transcribes accordingly.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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'.

  • 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.
  • This 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.
  • Discworld:
    • Pteppic from Pyramids (a reference to the Ancient Egyptian Ptolemaic Dynasty, named after Ptolemy). Going from this, some readers refer to Pratchett as "Pterry".
      • Whereas 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 them that way and being wrong. He also hits the D in Djelibeybi, ruining the pun.
    • 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 and the other half 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, whereas "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".
  • Early in The Grace of Kings, Lovable Rogue Kuni Garu crashes a party under the name of Fin, a wealthy young man. When his love interest, Jia, points out that she just met the actual Fin, Kuni then claims that he's Fin's cousin, Phin, and purses his lips to show the (nearly nonexistent) difference in pronunciation.
  • Kill the Farm Boy features a character named Yör. He reacts violently when people pronounce it "Yore", and insists that they "respect the umlaut".
  • The Goldfinch: The main character's father's girlfriend's name is pronounced "Sandra," but she says it's spelled "Xandra." When he peeks at her driver's license, he finds that it's actually just spelled "Sandra."
  • I Hate Dragons: Skip has the magical "knack" of being able to hear the spelling and pronunciation of spoken language.
  • In InCryptid, the Price-Healy family, who grew up around the Aeslin mice, can tell when they're Capitalizing words. (And do it themselves. Aunt Jane is the only one who doesn't capitalize the names of rituals in her own speech.)
  • Pale: Many Practitioner terms (including "Practitioner" itself) are just ordinary words capitalized. Humorously, in one scene where Avery clarifies that she's referring to a "Storm" rather than a "storm", the other side half-jokingly responds "I'm a Practitioner; I can hear the capital letters".

    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. On yet another occasion, Phil Jupitus discusses a hypothetical waiter named Steven, with Stephen commenting that he can tell that Phil was saying it with a "v".
  • The BBC children's TV series ChuckleVision had a character who always referred to his surname as "Smyth, pronounced Smith".
  • Done on Will & Grace: "It's Filip with an F. You said Philip, with a Ph."
  • Parodied in an episode of The Golden Girls, where the four come into contact with a funeral director named Mr. Pfeiffer. The pronunciation of his name is exactly how it's spelled: "Puh-feiffer"; the "P" is not silent. This quickly leads to trouble when he mistakenly believes that Dorothy, Blanche, and Rose are there for the very much alive Sophia...
    Dorothy: We'd like to arrange a funeral—
    Mr. Pfeiffer: Oh, how sweet. The three of you planning ahead for mother!
    Sophia: Hey, Pfeiffer, how'd you like a punch in your puh-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 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). During this sequence, Tom can tell when the others are calling him Servo rather than Sirveaux even though the pronunciation is exactly the same.
  • Babylon 5 features ten alien brothers, all named Zathras, each with a pronunciation so subtly different that the human ear cannot distinguish it.
    • The CCG of the game has cards for several of them. They are distinguished textually by the placement of an apostrophe between different letters (Z'athras, Za'thras, Zath'ras, etc.)
  • Tako in Season 1 of Girls can "tell when someone thinks it's with a C."

  • 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').
  • On The John Dredge Nothing To Do With Anything Show, there is Herman Goatsheep, owner of a Burgon Dispensing plant in Frinton, whose full name is Herman "Baaah"note  Goatsheep. Although the "Baaah" is supposed to be silent, he can still hear it if you forget to pronounce it.

    Video Games 
  • Danielle in Being A ΔΙΚ hates being called "Daniel". Thankfully, she mostly just goes by "Dany".
  • 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.
    • In the third trial of Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Phoenix Wright somehow knows that a parrot said "Godoor" instead of "Goldor". Phoenix didn't even know that there was a magic spell called Godoor, and the subtitles (which are obviously not visible in-universe) are the only way to know the parrot didn't just slur over the 'l' in the spell name.
  • Kingdom Hearts has the all-powerful χ-blade, spelled with the Greek letter that is sometimes pronounced "kye" but is most frequently pronounced "kee". This results in the name of the weapon being pronounced like the signature Keyblade weapons. Somehow the characters know how to distinguish between the χ-blade and their normal Keyblades.note 

  • 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, though the marks themselves are not audible, they change the intonation of nearby words—even the mentioned friend's/friends/friends' in some accents.
  • Homestuck: Aranea, due to the influence of the company she keeps, has a habit of making fish puns. At one point, while another character is beating up said company because he believes her to be "Fish Hitler", she shouts at him to stop "whaling" on her friend, and then corrects herself to say "wailing" instead. She then asks herself why she did so, as both of those words are pronounced the same way.
  • 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, as opposed to the weather phenomenon. Lampshaded by V in the same strip.
      V: Are we simply ignoring the fact that "windy" and "windy" are heteronyms with divergent pronunciation, and that no one could possibly have confused one for the other given that we have only ever heard them spoken aloud?
      Haley: Yeah. Best not to draw attention to that part.
  • Used by Glock from The Wotch.
    Glock: No, it's D.O.L.L.Y. All caps, with periods.
    Robin: Oh, okay. Wait...
  • A Dumbing of Age Patreon bonus comic shows Dina getting frustrated someone pronounces it T-rex, not T. rex.

    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.

    Web Animation 
  • In the Homestar Runner sbemail "car", this exchange occurs after Homestar interrupts the episode:
    Stong Bad: What are you doing?!
    Homestar: Ummm... did you just say "doing"? (to rhyme with "boing")
    Stong Bad: What? No. Doo-ing. I said, "What are you doo-ing?"
    Homestar: Oh. Well you spelled it the same.
    Stong Bad: Wha-ga...?!

    Western Animation 
  • Used 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 debatable.
  • What A Cartoon! Show 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.
  • In Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog Dr. Robotnik sends a ransom note to Sonic, where he spells "kidnapped" with a "c". Apparently "that's how everyone will spell it," after he takes over the world.

    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. However, among those countries, at least the Swedes have the annoying habit of pronouncing kcal as "calorie". As in reading "forty-five calories" where the carton says "45 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 Deaf culture, though you yourself are not necessarily deaf, you are closely enough associated with the community that you are considered one of them (think "deaf-friendly").
    • The usual criterion of being part of Capital-D Deaf culture is being fluent in sign language.
  • A similar problem (and source of Unit Confusion) is that "ton" and "tonne" are pronounced the same yet refer to different measurements of mass/weight. The latter is the metric ton (1000 kg), while the former can be either a short ton or a long ton, depending on whether it's referring to the US ton (2000 lbs/907 kg), or the UK ton (2240 lbs/1016 kg)
  • The Irish name Seán has maintained a surprising amount of popularity across socioeconomic groups in Israel, where having a Western name if you were born there is generally seen as a sign of pretentiousness, at least for boys, but more often than not they spell their own name in English as 'Shon'. Also, in the U.S. this name seems to frequently be spelled "Shawn", and in Scotland "Shaun"note .