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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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“Sonourous”? “Onomatopoeiatic”? I know words that remind me of those, at least somewhat, but not in the way you would use them. What do you mean? –  tchrist Dec 27 '13 at 22:10
"Sonourous" was a typo; the other is a neologism, whose origin and meaning should be obvious. –  B. Clay Shannon Dec 27 '13 at 22:13
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
@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
@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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2 Answers

up vote 3 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
I've spent over half of my life in my native California, but have also lived briefly in New York, Montana, Alaska, Oklahoma, Idaho, Missouri, and almost a dozen years in Wisconsin. I can't recall just where I heard people say it the unaware-of-the-origin way, though. –  B. Clay Shannon Dec 27 '13 at 22:48
@B.ClayShannon Standard English is with /ks/ not /x/. Spanish, the other way around. –  tchrist Dec 27 '13 at 22:51
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
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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/'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 second syllable rhymes 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
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