The shipping forecast, with its hypnotic litany warning of gales in Viking, North Utsire, South Utsire, Forties, Cromarty, Dogger, Fisher, German Bight… — the Norwegians spell the name of their island Utsira, which is also what you will find in LPD, rather than Utsire — was well under way when the announcer started forecasting ˈwɪntəri showers. Hold on a minute, ˈwɪntəri? Surely this word is spelt wintry, so you would no more pronounce it ˈwɪntəri than you would pronounce angry as ˈæŋɡəri? We say ˈwɪntri, don’t we?
The point at issue is the treatment of fossilized, lexicalized cases of compression. Recall that among the candidates for compression (= loss of a syllable) are those sequences where ə is followed by r or l plus a weak vowel. The schwa can be lost (arguably via an intermediate stage involving a syllabic consonant, but we can ignore that here), reducing by one the number of syllables in the word.
So, for example, we have the option of saying ˈdʒenrəl rather than ˈdʒenərəl general, or ˈpræktɪkli rather than ˈpræktɪkəli practically.
The compression rule is, however, very variable in its application.
- Americans don’t apply it as much as Brits do: so, for example, federal seems usually to be ˈfedərəl in AmE but ˈfedrəl in BrE.
- In many words it is variable. You can say history as ˈhɪstəri or as ˈhɪstri, or at least I can.
- Some words that meet its structural description nevertheless resist it. So cookery remains ˈkʊkəri in isolation (though you might get ˈkʊkri in BrE cookery book).
- Some words undergo compression always, or nearly always. We say ˈevri every not ?*ˈevəri. Do you ever pronounce separately as four syllables? I don’t think I do. What about basically?
- There are some words in which compression is so well established that it is shown in spelling. In pronunciation it is obligatory. A case in point is angry, mentioned above, which morphologically and historically is obviously anger plus -y. Another is remembrance, clearly remember plus -ance, but pronounced as three syllables not four. Yet another is simply, the disyllabic output of disyllabic simple plus -ly.
It turns out, though, that dictionaries reckon I’m wrong. The Concise Oxford and LDOCE both show wintry with the alternative spelling wintery, with the possibility of a trisyllabic pronunciation. So that’s alright (or all right), then.
For what it’s worth, the OED has the spelling wintry from Spencer (1590) onwards, but wintery only from the nineteenth century.