From the early twenty-first century, the clostridium difficile bacterium has increasingly entered public consciousness. It has developed virulent strains that have led to several severe infections causing many deaths, in the UK, Canada, Holland and the USA at least, and this has led to frequent mentions in the news. Newsreaders, other people on the media, bureaucrats and even health professionals sometimers pronounce the specific name of this bacterium in a new way, as if it were French: 'diff-i-SEEl'.
Academic purists, however, know that the word difficile (like the scientific names of all species and genera) is Latin. It is therefore pronounced with four syllables, 'diff-', '-i-', '-ci-' and '-le'. The difficulty (a word which also has four syllables) comes with the fact that there are several different pronunciations of Latin in modern times. In all of these, the four syllable rule applies.
- In the traditional English Pronunciation of Classical Latin, c is always hard like the English 'k'. So difficile is pronounced 'diff-i-kill-eh', IPA: /dɪ 'fɪ kɪ le/.
- In Ecclesiastical or Church Latin, it is 'diff-ee-tshi-lay', IPA: /di 'fiːtʃ ɪ le/.
- In 'Lawyers' Latin', the '-c-' before an '-i-' is sounded like the English 's': 'diff-i-sill-ay', IPA: /dɪ 'fɪs ɪ le/.
There is, however, a way out of the uncertainty this information may cause you. Users of AWE are advised always to use the abbreviation C. diff. ('See-diff') when speaking. (In writing, of course, you may use this - but only after giving the full name on your first use of it in a given text: "The bacterium clostridium difficile (c. diff.)."