I was just at a ballet symposium in San Francisco, and was brought up short by hearing speakers pronounce "ancillary" as
I only say (and thought I had only ever heard)
an SILL uh ree
Once I got over my "These Yanks talk weird" reaction, I thought I'd better check it out. Yes, American dictionaries give
whereas British dictionaries and the Canadian Oxford Dictionary give only
an SILL uh ree
As is so often the case, the American pronunciation is the older one (see also clamber, process, lieutenant, height, primer, herb). It would seem that the British switchover started in the 19th century and was not firmly established till the 20th.
I'm always rather surprised when I find Canadians opting overwhelmingly for a British pronunciation; usually we are split 50/50 or 75/25. If you are Canadian, please let me know how you pronounce this word!
Where does the word "ancillary" come from? The Latin word ancilla meant "slave girl", and will be recognized by anyone familiar with the Magnificat:
Quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae; ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes.I cannot of course omit to mention that this line was given a particularly beautiful setting by Bach:
For he hath regarded : the lowliness of his handmaiden: For behold, from henceforth : all generations shall call me blessed.
It appears that many people misspell this word "ancilliary" as if it were like "auxiliary", and as a result (or perhaps the cause of the misspelling) pronounce it
an SILLY airy
an SILL yuh ree
Do not do this.
When "ancillary" was first borrowed from Latin in the 1600s, it meant "additional, but less important than". Some people in the 19th century used it to mean "of or pertaining to a maidservant", but the Oxford English Dictionary (uncharacteristically, it must be said) minces no words about its opinion of THAT:
Take THAT, Thackeray!rare and affected.
It acquired a new meaning,
Providing necessary support to the primary activities or operation of an organization, system, etc.in the early 20th century, and as you can see, enjoyed a quite rapid increase in popularity, although now it seems to be waning: