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How do I pronounce "caulk" so that it is not misheard as "cock"?

Some native speakers told me that they are the same sound.

  • I had a plumber once who was from North Carolina, and he was by no means uneducated. He very distinctly pronounced "caulk" as "cork" (as in cork screw). Thus, I'd say that there are (at least!) three ways to pronounce "caulk"... – Mico Oct 10 '15 at 5:45
  • You might want to refer to a chart (search inside the link) for cock and caulk. Closeness of phonetic materialization can cause neutralization of difference. aschmann.net/AmEng – Lambie Aug 7 '19 at 17:29
  • The answer you have chosen is wrong, linguistically, socially and regionally. – Lambie Aug 8 '19 at 14:16
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I have never heard this word as anything other than a homophone for "cock" -- not in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, South, Southwest, West, or California. Not anywhere. An ex girlfriend said "caulk" once with an "l," but when I asked about it she said she had only ever seen it in writing.

Native speakers are well aware of the coincidence, and the potential for unintentional innuendo. You will never come off as intentionally impolite using "caulk" where needed. Of course the topic is to be avoided completely around immature people and teenagers, but otherwise do not be afraid to discuss "caulk" openly, in adult company.

However, bearing that in mind, you can sometimes use "caulking" to effectively avoid things that would be really off-sounding, and tough to rephrase. For example, if you had a color preference for the caulk, or have some question about how long it takes to harden, or something like that... caulking is useful.

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    Caulk is /kɔk/ with the THOUGHT vowel where I’m from in the Midwest, while cock is /kɑk/ with the FATHER vowel. Those aren't even close. – tchrist Oct 10 '15 at 2:07
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    The spelling-pronunciation /kɑlk/ may not be common or “dictionary-official”, but I personally wouldn't consider it wrong if a person uses it deliberately to avoid misunderstandings about his “wet caulk”. – dan04 Oct 10 '15 at 3:30
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    The blue dots here represent places where people often do make the distinction. I live in one of the densest clusters of blue dots. If you don't observe people pronouncing them differently, it's likely because you weren't brought up making the distinction, and so simply perceive them as variations on a single vowel sound. – hobbs Oct 10 '15 at 5:51
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    @tchrist: Worth pointing out that the vowel in cock will only be the same as the vowel in father for dialects with the father-bother merger - which includes most US dialects, but not, for example, most British ones. In most British dialects caulk and cock are distinct - but caulk and cork are homonyms; since this could lead to some real home improvement disasters, I guess this may be why we usually say "sealant" rather than "caulk"!) – psmears Oct 10 '15 at 17:42
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    there is a psychological bias when you exhibit a vowel merger to not notice that those in other dialects don't exhibit the merger, and I suspect that's what happened in some of those regions you mentioned in the first paragraph. – hunter Nov 2 '15 at 19:39
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Unfortunately whether this is possible depends on dialect.

Some dialects differentiate the two sounds /ɔ/ (caulk) and /ɒ/ (cock), some don't (like in many North American dialects).

http://www.usingenglish.com/forum/threads/219836-Caulk-VS-Cock

http://forum.wordreference.com/threads/pronunciation-caulk-vs-cock.3073730/

And an article dealing with this dialectual variation:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phonological_history_of_English_low_back_vowels

If you run into a person who treats these as homophones, you have to hope that the listener has the context to not mishear it.

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  • Addressed question now. – Nihilist_Frost Oct 9 '15 at 23:38
  • At issue is that there is no /ɒ/ phoneme in most American dialects. Therefore they will hear those both as /ɔ/, which is one reason why they would sound the same. Someone with those as separate phonemes thinks they are saying different vowels, but the listener who doesn’t distinguish them will call them the same. But more likely one is /kɔk/ and the other /kɑk/: rounded versus unrounded. – tchrist Oct 10 '15 at 0:30
  • I linked the Wikipedia article for that reason! – Nihilist_Frost Oct 10 '15 at 2:07
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    my former coworker was telling a story about redoing his bathroom in black tile and said "I had black caulk all over my hands and face" – Keltari Oct 10 '15 at 3:51
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    @tchrist The phonemes are different. No one confuses hawk and lock. – Lambie Aug 8 '19 at 14:18

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