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How to pronounce costume, custom and customs.

As you probably know, one of my passions (slash, obsessions) is to find words that share similar spelling but are pronounced differently.

The timing of this week’s triplet is not a coincidence.
Today is the Jewish holiday Purim, and in this holiday we’re supposed to dress up and wear costumes (and when I say we I mean, not me)

Well, wearing costumes is a custom.

I really, really have the urge to travel abroad. And there’s nothing that smells more like abroad than the smell of… customs:)


Now, let’s begin with ‘costume’. Costume is the outfit you wear for Halloween, or Purim if you are Jewish. It’s when you dress up, okay, as something. So, a ‘costume’ is pronounced with a ‘k’ sound, and then it’s the ‘aa’ as in ‘father’ – ‘kaa’. And then there is an S – ‘kaas’, ‘kaas’.

The second syllable is ‘tuwm’ – a T sound, the ‘uw’ as in food, and an N – ‘tuwm’. You can also say ‘t(y)uwm’ – with a’y’ sound right before the ‘uw’ – ‘t(y)uwm’. So it’s either ‘kaas-tuwm’, or ‘kaas-t(y)uwm’, both are okay. So that’s ‘costume’.

Then we have ‘custom’. Custom is behavior, or things that you do that are very specific to a place or a society. So for example, singing Christmas carols during Christmas is a custom. We also use it in ‘custom-made’, so when something is tailored into the specific needs of an individual. Or ‘custom settings’, when you are changing the basic settings of a system to fit to your needs, to accommodate your needs. Okay? So that’s custom. It’s also the root of the word ‘customer’, okay?

To pronounce the word custom and customer, you start with a ‘cup’ sound – ‘kus’. So it’s very similar to ‘costume’, but here it’s not the ‘aa’ as in father. So it’s not ‘kaas’, it’s ‘kus’ ‘kus’. A ‘cup’ sound is like a stressed schwa. The jaw is relaxed, the tongue is relaxed, and the lips are not rounded at all. ‘kus’ ‘kus’.

The second syllable is ‘t’m’, ‘t’m’. It’s a T sound, a schwa, and an M – ‘t’m’. So the first word has ‘tuwm’ – it’s a long ‘uw’ sound and this word has a schwa: ‘t’m’, ‘kus-t’m’. The cup sound and the schwa are very, very similar. You can even say it’s the same sound, only that the first syllable is stressed – CUStom. And if you want to add the ER at the end – customer, that’s just another schwa with an R: ‘kus-t’m’r’. costume – custom – customer.

The third word is ‘customs’. Customs is an authority or agency in a country that is responsible for the flow of goods into and outside of the country. So you all know this. When you’re walking out of the airport, you’re walking out of the plane and you just want to get into a cab and explore the city, but then you have customs. And you have to think if you have something to declare or not.

I always freak out, although I never have something to declare. But I’m afraid that someone is going to catch me and start searching my bags. Yeah, so that’s ‘customs’. I’m sure you all know what it is now that I’ve described this experience.

So, ‘customs’ is basically the word ‘custom’ with an S, okay. So, same exact pronunciation: ‘kus’ – a cup sound, ‘kus’, and then ‘t’m’ – with a schwa, ‘kus-t’m’. And then the S is pronounced as a Z: ‘kus-t’mz’. The fact that there is an S here doesn’t mean it’s plural, okay, it’s not the plural form. Actually, customs is the singular form. The plural form of customs – and I had to look it up – is ‘customs duties’ – with an S. So, it’s not customs duty – customs duties. So that’s the plural form. Okay?

So, to conclude: the first word is ‘costume’ – ‘aa’ as in father: drop your jaw, relax your lips – ‘kaas-tuwm’. And then long ‘uw’ as in food, think like there is an extra W there – ‘kaas-tuwm’. Then we have ‘custom’. Don’t drop your jaw, close your mouth, relax your lips – ‘kus-t’m’. And lastly, ‘customs’, with a Z.

Okay, that’s it. Now, do you have an interesting story or an interesting customs experience? If it was frightening or funny. I love customs stories; I have a ton of them to tell you about.

The InFluency Podcast
The InFluency Podcast
106. How to pronounce Costume, Custom, and Customs

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