Harass - harassment

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Harass is one of the 117 mis-spellings listed as 'Common difficulties' in the section on 'Spelling' within 'Writing' in UEfAP.

Note the spelling: one '-r-' and two '-s-'s.

There was once a popular - and very funny - television programme (Some Mothers do 'Ave 'Em) in which one of the jokes was that the central character was very incompetent, including in the way he spoke. He frequently pronounced the verb to harass (and its associated noun harassment) with the stress on the second syllable - "Stop harassing me!" (IPA: /hæ ˈræs ɪŋ/) he would say.

This was a joke.

The joke was that it was an incompetent pronunciation of the word. Unfortunately, the programme was so successful that the 'wrong' (and American) pronunciation became very fashionable, and now, it may be supposed that a majority of the population of the UK thinks it to be correct. LPD records that in 1988, 68% of a British sample used the traditional pronunciation recommended here; in 1993 only 13% of a US sample did. The traditional British pronunciation - and still the one recommended here for academic circles - has the stress on the first syllable: 'HARass' IPA: /ˈhæ rəs/ and 'HARassment' IPA: /ˈhæ rəs mənt/. The verb sounds exactly like the Scottish island - Harris - which has given its name to a kind of cloth, Harris tweed. (These remarks on pronunciation are true of all forms, such as harassed and harassing.)

However, Burchfield in The New Fowler's Modern English Usage has this to say: Nothing is more likely to displease traditional Received Pronunciation speakers in Britain than to hear harass pronounced with the main stress on the second syllable, i.e. as IPA: /hə ˈræs/. John Walker (A Critical Pronouncing Dictionary and Expositor of the English Language, 1806), the Oxford English Dictionary (1899), Gimson's edition of Daniel Jones (English Pronouncing Dictionary, 1991), and the Concise Oxford Dictionary (7th edn, 1982) gave only first-syllable stressing, and that is the pronunciation AWE recommends. But second-syllable stressing (also in harassment) is dominant in American English and, since about the 1970s, seems to be becoming the pattern favoured by the younger generation in Britain. It is hard to tell how long the traditional line can withstand the assault being made on it.

This suggests that it is less a question of Some Mothers do 'Ave 'Em, and more another example of the differences between the US and the UK.