Film biographies


In this morning’s (9 November 2009) Start the Week (BBC Radio 4, 9 a.m.), there was a discussion of a new film biography. In introducing it, Andrew Marr, the presenter, used the word biopic, and pronounced it to rhyme with “myopic”.

I assume he was reading from a script, in which case it might simply have been a spelling pronunciation which he failed to spot in time to self-correct, but it might also have been his normal pronunciation of this word (but it would still be a spelling pronunciation).

Biopic is a blend word formed from the first syllables of the words “biographical” and “picture”. Many phrases are written in the first place as two words. Then with familiarity, they turn into a hyphenated phrase, and eventually, if they become fixed enough, the hyphen disappears, leaving a new compound word. For instance, we have offshore – no hyphen, but off-peak. Similarly, there are two different treatments of positions on the cricket field: mid-off and mid-on, but midwicket. There seems no logic to these, other than a desire to emphasize where the division of the two elements occurs (‘midoff’, ‘midon’ look a bit odd – but that could simply be their unfamiliarity).

In the case of biopic, it might have been preferable for the word to have retained a hyphen for the same reason: so that its etymology, and meaning, were more obvious, leading to no “mistakes” in pronunciation – /baɪˈɒpɪk/ seems to me to be much more likely to be an adjective than a noun, and /ˈbaɪəʊpɪk/, as given in all the standard pronunciation dictionaries, is quite clearly the one intended by whoever first coined the word.


  1. I confess that I internalised biopic as /baɪˈɒpɪk/ for a long while, until I finally realised what it meant, but I have never had occasion to use the word in conversation so have at least managed to avoid making a spoken faux pas. But as a child, I regularly pronounced “foliage” as it it were “foilage”, and “lieutenant” as “‘lyewtenant”, so I make no claims to being good at predicting the correct pronunciation for a previously unknown word …

  2. I had a teacher at school who always used to say [əˈbɒrɪdʒɪnz].

  3. Thank you for the information.

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