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Since "quixotic" was coined with Don Quixote as its basis, why is it pronounced "kwicks-OTT-ick" when it should by rights/origin be pronounced "Key-HO-tick"?

It even sounds more onomatopoeiatic the latter way, as it resembles in its sonorous qualities "chaotic," which suits the subject.

Or is trying to make sense of English pronunciation a quixotic quest?

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That is the pronunciation you will find if you look it up - unless you happen to run across something different than me. I have only heard it pronounced that way. How have you heard it pronounced? The way I proposed, or...??? –  B. Clay Shannon Dec 27 '13 at 22:20
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@nxx, /kwɪkˈsɒtɪk/ is indeed the standard pronunciation. I have heard a few people pronounce it /kiːˈ(h)əʊtɪk/, but these were people who had never actually heard the word used in conversation, but knew of its origins. Also, the more standard adjectives for ‘onomatopoeia’ are onomatopoeic and onomatopoetic (earlier onomatopoietical), but not onomatopoeiatic. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 27 '13 at 22:24
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@JanusBahsJacquet Perhaps quijotesque would work better then. –  tchrist Dec 27 '13 at 22:26
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@nxx, the OED has /ks/ for both BrE and AmE (it actually lists both). I've never seen a dictionary list the /ho/ version, even as an alternative, though it does of course exist. (I knew the word before I knew its origin, and I always found it to be cognitively somehow, intangibly and ineffably, connected to ‘quizzical’ until I learnt whence it came). –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 27 '13 at 23:05
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@nxx in America I have only ever heard it pronounced "kwicks-OTT-ick" by family, friends, news reporters, et al. –  TylerH Feb 24 '14 at 16:46

5 Answers 5

up vote 2 down vote accepted

It appears to be dialect issue. Its not a word that comes up much in daily conversation, but the few people I know who use it pronounce it closer to your second (your supposedly "correct") way. More like KEY-hot-ick (emphasis on the first syllable, short o in the middle). However, there are comments below to the effect that your first pronounciation is reported as the "correct" one in the OED, and is understood as such in the UK.

The people I have heard use it are American Midlands dialect speakers (both Northern and Southern varieties). I suppose its possible that your dialect area (from your user info, I'm guessing California English?) tends to use the more normal Anglicized version.

Probably the reason for that first reported usage is that it is the pronunciation an English speaker would naively expect for that assemblage of letters, in the absence of any other information. The most common word starting with "qui" is "quick", which is pronounced with the same "kwi", and an "X" in English usually gives you an "sk" sound. So if you didn't know the word derived from the name of a character in a Spanish novel, you'd expect it to be pronounced your first way, not in a Spanish-influenced way.

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Oddly enough, the original word has an IPA /x/ in it, not /ks/. Try saying it that way and people will offer you a tissue. –  tchrist Dec 27 '13 at 22:36
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@B.ClayShannon Standard English is with /ks/ not /x/. Spanish, the other way around. –  tchrist Dec 27 '13 at 22:51
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I (British) have only ever heard the "quick-sottic" pronunciation and never the other. I have associated this with the fact that up to forty or fifty years ago, everybody who didn't know Spanish (which was nearly everybody in the UI) pronounced the title as if it was English; in fact they did so with most foreign names they came across, except perhaps French ones. –  Colin Fine Dec 27 '13 at 23:18
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Interesting. The OED is clearly incorrect here wrt American usage (I guarantee you, that's how I hear it), but the two comments above seem pretty definitive that its a dialect issue. I'll change the answer. –  T.E.D. Dec 27 '13 at 23:20
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"X" in English usually gives you an "sk" sound - I believe you meant "ks"? –  Izkata Dec 28 '13 at 4:17

/'kwɪksət/ is clearly an anglicization of the Spanish spelling.
It's equally clear that such spelling pronunciations have always been very common.

This one, in particular, can be seen in action at the very end of
Canto 13, Stanza 10 of Byron's Don Juan
  (a title, incidentally, pronounced /dan'dʒuwən/ by the author, as the poem makes clear)

Redressing injury, revenging wrong,
  To aid the damsel and destroy the caitiff;
Opposing singly the united strong,
  From foreign yoke to free the helpless native: --
Alas! must noblest views, like an old song,
  Be for mere fancy's sport a theme creative,
A jest, a riddle, Fame through thick and thin sought!
And Socrates himself but Wisdom's Quixote?

Note the rhyme: wrong - strong - song alternating with caitiff - native - creative,
and ending in a couplet, with its rhyme boldfaced above. In this couplet,
Quixote has to be pronounced in two syllables, not three,
and the last two syllables rhyme with thin sought.

I.e, /'kwɪksɔt/. And from there to /'kwɪksət/ is no distance at all in modern English.

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I couldn't begin to identify the specific components relevant here, but might it not also be that quixotic in some way reflects conventional/natural Anglophone prosody better than Quixote? And might we not be more ready to anglicize a derived adjectival form than a proper noun? (I think it's already partly "ours", since we're using English grammar to generate the derived form! :) –  FumbleFingers Dec 28 '13 at 0:32
    
Of course. The history of everyone's exposure to a word as rare as quixotic is bound to involve the written word, and thus English spelling. And people (particularly kids) who read books using words like quixotic are apt to be the ones who learned the spelling and pronunciation rules in school. And in any event, the histories are different from one person to another, and no linguistic fact has only one source. Variation is a fact about anything living, like human language. –  John Lawler Dec 28 '13 at 15:53
    
I trust you realise that Byron's "Don Juan" is a satire. –  fdb Aug 30 '14 at 0:18
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So was Don Quijote. So is The Daily Show. So what? –  John Lawler Aug 30 '14 at 3:01
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And why on earth does Byron not say "thin and thick sought" so as to better rhyme with Quixote? Checking online, he does ... you get versions with both adjective orders. Apparently somebody misprinted it and the bad version has been copied extensively: "thin and thick" can be found in Google books from 1827, and "thick and thin" from 1833. –  Peter Shor Dec 13 '14 at 19:49

I've often wondered about the pronunciation of this word. Where I live in New England, we pronounce any Spanish word that has an X, such as "Mexico," in the anglicized version, unless we are speaking in Spanish. For that matter, when we refer to Cologne, Germany, we don't say "Köln, Deutschland," either, unless we are speaking in German. So why would we consider saying "Kee-hot-ic?"

My hunch is this: We all know the Spanish pronunciation of "Don Quixote" as "Don key-ho-tee" from having heard the name pronounced in story-telling, or in the musical, "Man of la Mancha." So perhaps some of us think we ought to be consistent and also use the Spanish pronunciation for the adjective. But that makes a strange amalgam, because Spanish adjectives don't end in "ic." The actual Spanish adjective is "quijotesco."

So, if we are going to use the English adjective form, then I think we should be consistent and use the English pronunciation.

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You can read a good bit more about this matter here in this answer. –  tchrist Dec 13 '14 at 15:01

Other answers have covered the bases on quixotic quite well, I think. I just want to note here that quixotic isn't the only Spanish-derived word containing the letter string qui that (at least some) British English speakers pronounce in a very un-Spanish way.

In the United States, children are taught in elementary school about the Spanish conquistadors, who explored (and of course conquered) large areas of the New World during the very late 1400s and the 1500s—and the only pronunciation I have ever heard used here in the United States for the word conquistador is kunkeestuhdor, with the accent on the kees syllable.

But as this video of Procol Harum performing its song "Conquistador" in 1977 demonstrates, Gary Brooker, the band's (English) lead singer, pronounces the word kunkwisstuhdor, with the accent in the kwiss syllable. This, it seems to me, is entirely consistent with pronouncing quixotic as kwiksottik with the accent on the sott syllable.

Indeed, if we accept the three letters qui in Spanish as consistently receiving the pronunciation kwi (with a short i sound) in certain forms of British English, it seems to me that pronouncing the following x in quixotic as ks rather than as h follows as a matter of course, given the strangeness (to the mouth of an English speaker) of pronouncing the h sound immediately after a short i sound. In English we have several words that involve pronouncing an h immediately after a long e sound (beehive, knee-high, freehold, and hee-haw, for example), but none I can think of that involve a short i immediately followed by an h sound.

For that reason, I would expect an English speaker attempting to pronounce frijoles either to try to match the Spanish pronunciation with something like freeholeez (with the accent on the ho syllable) or to keep the i short and pronounce the word something like frijoleez (with the accent on the jo syllable) or frijolz (with the accent on jolz).

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Yes, I remember "Conquistador" by Robin Trower and his mates. I always got a chuckle out of how the singer (forget his name) pronounced it, and wondered, "didn't one of the other blokes know the right pronunciation, and were they afraid to correct him, or what?" I guess they (Brits) are a whiter shade of paleface than we Americans. –  B. Clay Shannon Apr 11 at 13:21

The word is pronounced "kwiksawtick" because it is an english word that obtains only its etymology from the name of a character from Spanish fiction. In spanish, someone who is quixotic in nature is referred to as being "quijotesco", not "quixotic". Spanish speakers use the former word. For that reason, quixotic is an english word that merits the anglicized "ks" pronuciation of the "x".

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protected by tchrist Jul 5 at 16:00

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