That Women’s Fashion Accessory: Is It a “Brooch” or a “Broach”?

Posted by Michael McCauley on

Before Ben and I made the decision to start Brooches ’n Pins, I brought the subject up with a female co-worker. You might say I “broached” the topic by asking her a pretty simple question.

Our conversation went something like this:

Hey, have you ever worn a brooch?

I thought it was called a broach.

Nope, it’s brooch. I looked it up.

Really? I’ve always said broach. That doesn’t seem right.

My co-worker is kind of stubborn, but she reluctantly accepted my declaration that brooch is right and broach is wrong. But it turns out that we were both right! Well, kind of.

Unraveling the great mystery of “brooch” vs. “broach”

I went back to the source where I originally checked the meanings of brooch and broach, and I found something that I hadn’t noticed before. 

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary (which we’ll now call “M-W” for short) has these entries for the two words:

 

brooch or broach which is it

is it brooch or broach? fashion accessory

The first and most obvious thing that stands out is how brooch is listed under the definition of broach! It’s as if M-W is saying yes this is confusing … so let’s confuse you a little more!

But there’s something else here. Check out the entry for brooch. Pay special attention to the phonetic pronunciation:

brooch vs. broach pronunciation 

If you remember your kindergarten phonics lessons, you know that that little horizontal line above the letter “o” means it’s a “long o.” That’s “long o” as in tone, bone, phone, coach, poach, and … broach. You can go to M-W and listen for yourself by clicking on the speaker icon. 

In other words, the word brooch CAN be pronounced like broach. But, as the little pronunciation guide tells us, it can also be pronounced just like it looks: brooch.

So which is it? Brooch or broach?

In written form, the fashion accessory we sell is probably called a brooch. I say "probably" because M-W suggestsbut doesn't say outrightthat "broach" is an acceptable spelling for this fashion accessory.

Under broach, they give the phrase "wore a lovely broach on her lapel," but no definition is given. They simply provide a link to the entry for brooch.

Oxford Dictionary, for its part, doesn't even hint that "broach" and "brooch" can mean the same thing. They treat the two words as if they are completely different nouns.

But when you say the word out loud, you’re certainly not wrong to say "broach," and it seems this is why M-W lists brooch in its entry for broach. They know that the spelling is going to mess a lot of people up, so they cross-reference the two. 

Likewise, you’re also not wrong to say "brooch." Potato, po-tah-to, as they say. So my co-worker wasn't wrong to call it a "broach." I, however, was wrong to tell her that she was saying it incorrectly.

If you received this cute teddy bear brooch as a gift, your thank-you note could say "Thank you for the adorable brooch!" But, in conversation, you can call it a "broach" and be perfectly in the right.