I’ve learned a lot about myself and the world this year, but there is one thing that really unraveled me. The pronunciation of the word biopic. I’ve been saying it incorrectly for centuries…okay…years…alright…decades (fuck, I’m getting old).
Biopics are my favorite films to watch, since I’ve always been a big fan of reading and writing historical fiction. There’s something magical about being whisked away to another time, learning about real events and the people who lived through them.
Apparently, there is a great debate about the pronunciation of this word. Is it BI-opic or BIO-pic?
Biopic was coined in the 1940s, combining the words biographical and picture to form biopic. All my life, it made sense to just start saying the word the same way I would say biography and say BI-opic. Once I heard it pronounced BIO-pic, I realized my version sounded like a damn optical term.
“Britt, it looks like you’re going to need to wear BI-opics from now on. Your vision is getting worse as you’re getting older.” Double damn.
Okay, so…how my world unraveled. If you care to know and you’re actually still reading this nonsense.
First confession is that I take baths (somewhat safely) with my iPad and I usually throw on YouTube. Second confession: Because I’m a history nerd, and I love biopics, I sometimes watch interviews with actors or directors to hear more about what happened behind-the-scenes.
Like, how involved was the real person (if they’re alive) or the real person’s family (if they’re dead) in the creative process. To me, that makes all the difference with the depiction of that person’s life in a film.
One such evening I was watching this Sundance Film Festival Q&A with Gloria Steinem and Julie Taymor, who directed The Glorias. I had just seen the film and I was doing my usual nerdy post-mortem YouTube stuff when the director shattered my world by saying BIO-pic. She said it so casually—my jaw dropped open and I blushed.
Whaaaat? No fucking way.
I ran out of the bathroom with a towel hastily wrapped around me. I didn’t bother to dry off—a trail of puddle footprints led to Mr. H on the couch. “Is it BI-opic or BIO-pic?”
He stared at the puddle trail behind me. “It’s BI-opic.”
I put my hands on my hip. “Are you sure?”
Well, we started taking a poll. Anyone else we asked said “It’s BIO-pic.”
Searching for validation, or at least…some semblance of understanding…I Googled “biopic pronunciation” to get to the bottom of this. Turns out, there is no easy answer as both are used.
One is American, one is British. Or, one is right and one is wrong. It’s infuriating (not really). And if I’m stressing you out unnecessarily, this skit will lighten things up on Late Night with Seth Meyers, where his entire crew debates the pronunciation of biopic.
You see, this is why I go out of my way to comfort people who think they aren’t good at writing—or if they are non-native English speakers—they think they aren’t good at speaking the language.
Allegedly, I’m supposed to have some sort of mastery of the English language as a writer and a native. But, I tell people who are second-guessing themselves the same thing every time: “English is a totally ridiculous language. And, I’m allowed to say this because I’m a writer.”
Exhibit A: Biopic.
Anyway, I don’t have the answer. But, I will share a list of biopics I love in case you want to kick back with any of these films that pique your interest. Hopefully, you won’t obsess over the pronunciation of biopic as you’re watching something—like I am nowadays without fail.
Great Biopics I’ve Seen Over the Years
More Recent Finds
On the Basis of Sex
I Am Woman
The Wolf of Wall Street
Ford v Ferrari
Walk the Line
A Beautiful Mind
The Social Network
The Blind Side
The Big Short
The King’s Speech
Hemingway and Gellhorn
Okay, so how in the hell do you say it BI-opic or BIO-pic? Vote in the poll down below. If that question is too controversial, feel free to share your favorite biopics instead.
16 thoughts on “I Have a Confession to Make About Biopics”
Hahah Britt, I can totally relate.
It’s such a slap to the face when you discover you’ve been saying something differently than everyone else! I’ve never heard ”biopic” said the way you say it, but you are not alone. You might find this interesting! http://allabouthowtoat.blogspot.com/2016/11/how-to-pronounce-biopic.html
Yes, I totally read that article during my research! It is such a slap in the face, but this is an interesting word debate. Seems like there are a ton of different ways to pronounce it. At least I’m not alone!
Oh man, there are so many great BIOpics to choose from. The ones off the top of my head are: The Diary of Anne Frank, The Hiding Place (Corrie ten Boom), La Vie En Rose (Édith Piaf), Amadeus (Mozart), Lady Sings the Blues (Billie Holiday), At Eternity’s Gate (van Gogh), and so many more! I like the historical aspects too, but some biopics are so necessarily limited in scope, choosing mostly one period of the person’s life. And there is of course the overly interpretative nature of story telling. Perhaps after all that focus is a better way to understand someone, not only in their specific time, but also in their most heroic, tragic or defining moments.
There are so many BI-opics to choose from! 🙂 Thanks for sharing those recommendations. Need to cozy up with some of these myself. I’ve seen The Diary of Anne Frank and La Vie En Rose.
I know biopics can get a little carried away sometimes with the storytelling. Many are “inspired by actual events” rather than being factual. I still love seeing history come to life on the screen though!
Have you seen A Call to Spy? I thought this was very well done. Covers three of the first women spies who worked with the Brits in WWII. Not overly-Hollywood…no romance, no fluff.
I haven’t, so thank you for the recommendation!
You bet! Here’s a good read about the movie… https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/a-call-to-spy-movie-review-2020
Ha ha. In my world it is definitely and absolutely BIO-pic. And yes BI-opic sounds like a sight impediment lol. I’ve honestly never heard it pronounced BI-opic. I didn’t know that was a thing. It must be American. Must listen to the Seth Myers show! You’ve already listed a good few of my fave BIO-pics.
I’m starting to wonder if my BI-opic pronunciation has to do with my Southern accent that comes out when I least expect it. Kids used to make fun of me all the time when I was younger for saying UM-brella.
Special thanks to my Texas family for some of these charming word moments. 🙂
I believe instinctively I’ve always pronounced it BIO-pic… might have to do with language interference between French and English, since it is pronounced BIO-pic in French. Never actually checked the pronounciation before you mentioned it today! ha!
At least, it made for an interesting yet unanounced piece of reflexion and a masterpiece of a list of movies to watch (again!)! Thanks! – particularly useful in those times of lockdown and closed movie-theaters…
I’m just glad I’m not the only one who has been saying biopic a different way. I never knew because it was one of those words I read and knew but didn’t say or hear anyone say until I watched that YouTube interview.
Yes, I figured some film recommendations would be helpful and timely at the moment. I love movies so I’m always happy to share good films!
I don’t think I’ve ever had to say biopic either way, neither have I knowingly watched one. The word I have no clue how to say is ‘lichen’.
I looked up lichen last year as I was going to be reading out a story I’d written that had the word ‘lichen’ in it – I pronounce it ‘like-en’, but apparently it’s just as correct to pronounce it ‘litch-en’!
Haha! Looks like I’m in the litch-en camp.
Really?! Seems like you would enjoy biopics, Roy! Even though many are not factually sound, I enjoy watching the history come to life on the screen.
Lichen? Ah, geez…I have no idea! Thanks for adding that to my list.
Well I’ve always pronounced it Bi-opic, and yet it seems that’s the American way! It’s not new for me to come across a word that I’ve always pronounced in a certain way and find it’s wrong – it comes of reading lots of books which often have words in them that we don’t say very often!! And then there are accents – a lot of British people pronounce ‘tongue’ as ‘tong’ whereas I pronounce it as ‘tung’ so it gets very irritating 🙂
Thank goodness…I have a BI-opic friend! Not sure I can fully embrace BIO-pic since my brain is pretty stuck on BI-opic at this point.
Totally true that we often come across words that we never say or hear. I’m learning this word lesson a lot with hosting my podcast. I get tripped up all the time because I realize I know the word but don’t know how it sounds…thank god for editing!
Er, I’m going with “tung” as well.