Why Do We All Pronounce “Sherbet” As “Sherbert”?

Image courtesy of Ruth and Dave

Say the word “sherbet” out loud. You didn’t say “sher-bet,” did you? Despite the fact that any dictionary and your grandmother will tell you that’s how you pronounce it, you, me, and everyone we know calls the stuff “sherbert.” But why?

First, some background on the word, courtesy of Merriam Webster: It has its roots in Turkish and Persian –Turkish şerbet, from Persian sharbat, and from Arabic sharba , for drink.

There are a few theories surrounding the widespread mispronunciation of sherbet.

1. We Like Things That Rhyme

According to English language historian and Indiana University-Bloomington provost professor Michael Adams, the way we pronounce “sherbet” could have something to do with how we tend to assimilate sounds the way we expect to hear them.

“I think a lot of English speakers are like me,” he explained to Smithsonian Magazine. “When I’m reading aloud to my children I sometimes unconsciously repeat sounds in syllables or words that closely resemble each other, and then I re-read the phrase. Sherbet is begging to be pronounced Herbert on this ‘principle.’”

Basically, saying “sher-ber” gives us a chance to rhyme. And we just like that, because humans are weird.

2. Blame This Song From 1939

Another common theory gives the credit to composer Ben Homer and his 1939 Big Band Hit, “Shoot the Sherbet to Me Herbert.”

Though the word is spelled correctly in the title, it’s sung to rhyme with “Herbert.”

Interestingly enough, while that song also contains the words, “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream,” it’s believed that the popular jazz group Waring’s Pennsylvanians wrote and performed the song of that title in the mid 1920s.

Now you basically know everything you will ever need to know.