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In the movie "Meet the Fockers" does the word "Focker" sound really different from the four-letter word? I don't hear any difference. Do all the actors pronounce this word really differently from native American English speakers?

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We would not confuse them, just like we would not confuse the interjections "ah" and "uh". –  tenfour Mar 27 '11 at 23:17

3 Answers 3

The surname "Fokker/Focker" is Dutch in origin. It is a real surname that real people have. It is pronounced /fɒkər/ in English. In these movies the name is not pronounced the same as "fucker" (/fʌkər/). Robert DeNiro and Ben Stiller are both native speakers of New York English and they most certainly distinguish the /ɒ/ (as in "cot") and /ʌ/ (as in "cut") sounds. If you thought it was pronounced the same, you simply mis-heard.

In the original movie in the series, Meet the Parents, there was a joke that main character's true name was "Gaylord Focker", which amounts to little more than a throwaway homophobic schoolyard joke based on the similarity (but not identicality) in pronunciation of the name "Focker" and the word "fucker". In the sequels Meet the Fockers and Little Fockers the joke was mined for more cheap laughs.

It's a joke because they sound very similar not because they sound the same. It's a pretty lame joke as it is, but if they were pronounced exactly the same it wouldn't be a joke at all.

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You only added to my disappointment regarding my listening comprehension. Can you, please, describe what exactly makes these two sounds different. Is it the length of this vowel sound or the position of the jaw. Please, don't refer me to any site that "officially" describes how these sounds must be pronounced - I've been there. What I want is a description from a native speaker on how he feels that difference between those two vowels. –  brilliant Mar 27 '11 at 23:40
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The distinction is purely one of vowel quality, not length. The /ʌ/ vowel is further front than the /ɒ/ vowel. When I say "Focker" my tongue is pulled back into my throat almost as far back as it can go. For "fucker" the position in the mouth is much more neutral. –  nohat Mar 27 '11 at 23:45
    
I see. Thank you. –  brilliant Mar 27 '11 at 23:49
    
Supposedly, the film-makers were not allowed to use the name "Fockers" unless they could find an actual family with that name. And evidently, they did. –  Urbycoz Jan 3 '13 at 9:05
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The aircraft manufacturer Fokker, from the same surname, made planes for the Germans during WWI. There was a rather splendid interview on British television in the 1990s when a decorated British Airman was describing his battle with a Fokker, how the Fokker came up behind him but he was able to manoeuvre and get the Fokker in his sights before gunning the Fokker down, before the interviewer interrupted to point out that a Fokker was in fact a type of plane. –  Jon Hanna May 28 at 12:06

In American English, the second letter of the four-letter word is pronounced /ə/, while in focker the second letter is pronounced /ɑ/ (as in bock).
In British English, the pronunciation of those vowels is, respectively, /ʌ/ (as in cup) and /ɒ/ (as in hockey).

Other words with a similar difference are muck and mock, duck and dock, ruck and rock, buck and bock.

[Reference: the New Oxford American Dictionary.]

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@kiamlaluno - Thank you, but that's not what I was trying to ask about. I know that there should be differences in the correct pronunciation of these words. Here, however, I am asking specifically about how these words were pronounced in that particular movie. The reason I am asking this is because while I can hear the difference between dock and duck or between muck and mock I couldn't detect such difference in that movie. –  brilliant Mar 27 '11 at 14:21
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Well, the actors can pronounce the word differently just to confuse people about the word they are pronouncing. In just another case I would expect an actor's pronunciation to be different from the pronunciation used by "normal" people: when they are imitating the pronunciation used from somebody else (e.g., a person living in a different epoch, a person whose first language is not English). –  kiamlaluno Mar 27 '11 at 14:26
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FWIW, as a native American English speaker I found Focker as pronounced in the movie to be clearly distinct from fucker, although the sounds are still similar enough for the joke to be funny. (Well, sort of funny. I didn't think the movies were very good.) –  JSBձոգչ Mar 27 '11 at 14:31
    
@JSBangs - Your answer really made me feel very said. It means that I still cannot tell the difference between these two sounds when they are pronounced by native American English speakers. When I first turned on my TV and saw Robert de Niro saying "these Fockers", I really thought he was cursing at that moment (I didn't know the plot yet at that time). –  brilliant Mar 27 '11 at 15:14
    
@kiamlaluno - I see. Thank you. –  brilliant Mar 27 '11 at 15:18

Maybe the joke relies on the fact, that these words sound similar, although they do not sound the same. Yesterday I saw an episode of the British sitcom "IT Crowd". There one of the major characters has a date with a guy named Peter File. On several occasions people mix up this name with paedophile.

The root of these kind of jokes is often that people pronounce the word incorrectly and trigger a huge confusion.

Even if the surname Focker is pronounced correctly throughout the movie, when DeNiro discovers his daughters name is going to be Pamela Martha Focker, many people find this funny.

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protected by tchrist Jan 3 '13 at 7:33

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