How do you pronounce ‘eschew’?

Eschew ‘avoid, shun, refrain from’ is a formal word of Germanic origin that entered English via Old French in the 15thC. It’s not one I use often, still less speak aloud, but a brief exchange on Twitter got me wondering how people pronounce it.

Let’s do a quick poll before I say any more. It simplifies the range of vowel sounds in the unstressed first syllable, so ignore any small difference there for now. I want to focus on the consonant cluster and what we might call the shoe, chew and skew forms.

If you’ve never said eschew or are unsure how to, go with whichever one you think you would say.

[If the poll doesn’t display above this line, try changing your browser or settings.]

When I first encountered eschew I assumed it was pronounced /ɛˈʃu/ ‘eh-SHOO’, or with a schwa: /əˈʃu/ or longer second vowel: /ɛˈʃu:/. Later I heard someone say /ɛsˈtʃuː/ on radio, with the second syllable like chew (or stew, depending on how you break it) instead of shoe.

So I looked it up, and this is the What Happened Next Will Amaze You bit – or not, as the case may be.

stan carey - irish vegetable stew in a pot

A stew – not to be eschewed

Dictionaries note many pronunciations of eschew, all with stress on the second syllable. There’s lots of variation in the first vowel, but most dictionaries don’t mention the ‘eh-SHOO’ form at all, despite its apparent popularity. So a lot of people seem to differ from the recorded norm(s).

Macmillan gives /ɪsˈtʃuː/ for UK English, /esˈtʃu/ for US English. Collins and Cambridge have /ɪsˈtʃuː/, as does Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries for both UK and US. The OED has /ᵻsˈtʃuː/ and /ɛsˈtʃuː/ for UK, /əsˈtʃu/ and /ɛsˈtʃu/ for US. Non-IPA dictionaries more or less concur: American Heritage gives ĕs-cho͞o, Oxford Dictionaries /əsˈCHo͞o/.

The shoe variant is not neglected entirely. Merriam-Webster includes it – along with the rare skew form – beside the more standard ones: \e-ˈshü, i-; es-ˈchü, is-; e-ˈskyü\. Wiktionary notes that /ɛˈʃu/, /ɪˈʃu/ and /ɛˈskju/ are ‘sometimes proscribed’. For example, Garner’s Modern American Usage says:

Many seem to think that the esch- sequence is pronounced /esh/. It is not. The /esh/ sound makes the word resemble a sneeze.

Most usage dictionaries have no comment on the matter.

This consonantal variation is not surprising. Strings of esch aren’t common in English, but they can be pronounced in a few ways. Escher has a ‘sh’ sound and eschatology has ‘k’, while similar schisms occur with other sch words, such as schism and schedule. So it’s natural for people to analyse eschew along either line.

The variation is reflected in the word’s older spellings, which include esshue, etchewe, isschewe, escue, estchue, estewe and exchewe. Etymology, too: the OED says it’s from Old French eschiver, eschever, corresponding to Spanish and Portuguese esquivar and Italian schivare – all from common Romanic *skivāre , < *skivo, and related to modern German scheuen ‘dread, avoid, shun’ and the English verb shy.

All of which multiplicity and uncertainty means you’d be forgiven for shying away from the word, or even eschewing it altogether.

(See also: neologism.)

27 Responses to How do you pronounce ‘eschew’?

  1. Yes, I go with the majority – ess you – but normally I avoid saying it.

    • Stan Carey says:

      I tend to avoid using it too, for multiple reasons. The majority don’t say ‘ess you’, though: they say ‘eh-shoo’, with a /ʃ/ as opposed to a /sj/ sound.

      The poll count so far (n=350 approx.) is:
      eh-SHOO: 49.42%
      ess-CHOO: 31.5%
      eh-SKEW: 19.08%

  2. I’d like to have seen a geographical breakdown for those pronunciations. Southern Englsh, and I essCHOO

  3. Tom Maxwell says:

    Can’t remember when I last used it – it’s a bit old hat, but I would pronounce it as it’s spelled – ‘es-chew’ (ie the kind of thing you do with food), with stress on second syllable…I’m Irish, by the way.

  4. Mrs Fever says:

    I’m a ‘skew’-er. I’ve rarely heard it pronounced aloud, but when I have, I’ve not heard it any other way.

    I wonder how much of it is dialectal. I was raised in the American midwest, which has influenced my speech in a myriad of ways. Elongated ‘oh’, ‘oo’, and ‘ah’ sounds are common in that region, and the speech patterns that carry over may also include a tendency toward rare(r) pronunciations. Other words I know I pronounce differently than people in my current region of residence are ‘detritus’, ‘plethora’, and ‘ostensibly’. Usually it is a matter of vowels. ‘Eschew’ is the first word that has been brought to my attention where the difference is in consonants.

    • Stan Carey says:

      That’s interesting. I figure dialect is a factor, but to what extent I couldn’t say. Another speaker from the US, this time in California, told me she heard ‘eh-skew’ solely and consistently there.

  5. Dermot Ryan says:

    I always thought it was es-KEW, until I heard someone on the BBC say es-SHOE. I don’t find myself saying it all that much.

  6. Catbar UK says:

    I will use it just once – simply to say how much I’d eschew it!
    I find it a cumbersome uneuphonic word and I’d feel I was being affected in using it.
    Especially when there’s perfectly good words such as ‘avoid, shun, refrain from’, so why bother.

    • Stan Carey says:

      That’s fairly close to my own feeling about it, Catbar. But it doesn’t seem to have those negative connotations for a lot of people. I would say eschew is also a perfectly good word, but (finding it a bit formal and fancy) I tend not to use it.

  7. Well, that *was* a surprise! I was so certain about the “chew” pronunciation, it hadn’t even crossed my mind that anyone might take that sch as a “sh” sound – though now that you mention it, I can totally see how people would!

    • Stan Carey says:

      I can’t say for sure why I first went with the ‘sh’ pronunciation of esch- in eschew: maybe because I loved Escher since childhood, based on a book my uncle had, and that was the defining influence. Or it could have been something more subtle. I was surprised too when I learned of other versions of the word, in this case the more standard ‘ess-CHOO’ form.

  8. astraya says:

    I can’t remember ever hearing or saying it. On the very occasional times when I have read it, I have simply skipped over the mental pronunciation and gone on with the rest of the sentence. Gut feeling would have been es-CHEW.

    • Stan Carey says:

      It’s definitely a word more often read than heard, being generally absent (I think) from vernacular registers. This would be one of the main reasons for all the uncertainty and variation.

  9. I say it hesitantly, and mostly in my head, because I’m never sure how it should be pronounced. When I give it my best shot, I feel as if I am saying “ess-SHOO”, but no doubt this comes out as “eh-SHOO” in practise. The “ess-CHOO” alternative is by no means inconceivable for me.

    Now, let’s see how challenging a tongue-twister we can compose using the word “eschew”. I invite you to say the following ten times quickly, and to improve on it if you can. “Assume astute students who’d eschew chewed shoes choose insured shoes.

    • Stan Carey says:

      This raises another possible reason for the popularity of ‘eh-SHOO’: it’s more economical (or lazy) than ‘ess-CHOO’, ‘ess-SHOO’ et al. Presented with uncertainty, simplicity sometimes wins out, as it may have done for me.

      I had a go at your tongue twister but hesitated fatally and rather ironically at eschew, being suddenly unsure which of the dozen options to go with.

      • Lady Demelza says:

        When I first read this post title, I took a guess that the answer would be that all the varieties are acceptable. I’m glad to be vindicated by that list of spelling variations. As for my own pronunciation, I had to think carefully about it for a while. I realized that if I were consciously trying to enunciate properly like my high school drama teacher told us to, I would make the effort to say ess-shoo. However, without such vigilant attention, it would come out eh-shoo. I’d say the economy/laziness is the deciding factor for me.

        • Stan Carey says:

          I’m glad you and a few others have pointed out the ‘ess-SHOO’ variant, Demelza, as it had escaped me before now. It seems register is another factor in how the word is sometimes pronounced, especially in the degree of formality desired.

  10. […] After reading Stan Carey‘s review of how to pronounce eschew, I think I’ll eschew pronouncing it at all, and use avoid instead. Read How do you pronounce ‘eschew’? […]

  11. egbertstarr says:

    Unless you’re trying to avoid the people you’re talking to, just avoid it. If, however, you’re trying to cozy up to the people you’re with, just say it like nothing while drop of Drambuie and a melting cube of ice are under your tongue.

  12. Gary says:

    I’ve read the word a few times in my life but have never used it. I read it eh-shoo and don’t think twice about it.

  13. SlideSF says:

    My father liked the word, so I knew it from when I was only young, in the early 1960s. He also loved bad puns and whenever offered gum, he would say “No, I eschew gum” or “I don’t chew gum, I eschew it.” Obviously, he pronounced it es-chew, which is pretty much the only way I ever knew it to be pronounced.

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