While reading this post on Design Mom, I was reminded that I too had originally pronounced Thonet as “Tho-NAY” instead of “Ton-NET”. I took French in school and it was a natural assumption when looking at the spelling, but it was wrong, wrong, wrong.
Let’s face it-when we are first acquainted with a new name or word, it is often visually, not aurally, so we have to decide for ourselves what we think it sounds like in our heads. Especially with foreign names, it’s often a stab in the dark and embarrassingly off, since it’s counter-intuitive to our language rules.
The next question is, once you know better, do you sound like a jerky know it all when pronouncing the names correctly, when the cultural norm is to pronounce it incorrectly? Probably.
For me, it’s situational. While I have been blissfully unaware of mispronunciations on my part, I have also been known to intentionally go with the norm rather than the accurate pronunciation in certain circumstances where it would have drawn attention to myself and been uncomfortable. Who wants to be THAT guy? Not me, thanks.
Here’s a run down of a few common hits and misses, according to American English. Some of these would vary in other languages, especially the Scandinavian ones. A good resource to see/hear the variations in many of these is HERE. Dana at Mid2Mod has a more extensive post about this HERE, which I used as a source for a few of these, as well as AT’s post HERE and various design forums.
Please add your own in the comments..it will be fun!! What’s your most embarrassing design mispronunciation? I might have too many to count…
Milo Baughman “MY-lo BOFF-man” not “MEE-lo BOW-man” or “BAW-man”
Marcel Breuer “mar-SELL BROY-er” not “BREW-er” or “BROW-er”
Georg Jensen “GYOR YEN-sen” not “George JEN-sen”
C. Jeré (a copyrighted pseudonym formed by combining the names of Jerry Fels and Curtis (Kurt) Freiler of Artisan House, undoubtedly to create the illusion of having a French designer on staff) “SEE Zhair-AY” not “SEE JAIR”
Finn Juhl “FIN YOOL” not “FIN JEWEL”
Poul Kjaerholm “POLE CARE-holm” not “PAUL KuhJAYer-holm”
Kroehler – “KRAY-ler” not “KROW-ler”
Serge Mouille “SAIRGE MOO-weeyuh” not “SURGE MOOL” * See comments on this one!
Richard Neutra “NI-tra or NOI-tra” not “NEW-tra”
Gio Ponti A subtle cross between “JAH and JOE PAWN-ti” not “JEE-o PAHN-ti” Apparently for Italians, it’s a dipthong, not 2 syllables.
Harvey Probber “PRO-ber” not “PRA-ber”
Jens Quistgaard “YENS KWIST-a-gar” not “JENZ KWIST-guard”
Hans Wegner “HANS (ending in “s” not “z”) VINE-nehr” or “VEG-ner” this one is the most hotly debated depending on regional Danish dialects, but all agree it’s not “WEG-nur”
As you can see, even the “correct” versions are dissected and argued in many forums. I once read that no two French people will pronounce Serge Mouille the exact same way, so take it all in with that in mind!
I’m still working to break myself from calling a kilim rug a “KILL-im” (nice huh?) instead of the correct “kee-LEEM”, and everywhere I turn in Nashville, I will still hear the ubiquitous “EYE-cat” instead “EE-kaht” for ikat.
At the end of the day, we all just do the best we can. Ikea will ALWAYS be “eye-KEE-uh” on this side of the pond, never “ee-KAY-uh” as the Swedes pronounce it, but it’s nice to know the difference.
If fashion is more your thing…THIS is the ultimate guide!