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I’m watching Auction Kings and a lady from Atlanta (who does not have much of a southern US accent) is putting a calliope up for auction. What caught my attention was the way she pronounce it: /kæliːop/ (cal-ee-ope) instead of /kəˈlaɪ.əpiː/ (call-I-oh-pee).

It didn’t stop there either, otherwise I would have chalked it up to it being just her unfamiliarity with the word. The owner of the gallery, Paul (who has a mild southern accent, similar to Matthew McConaughey), pronounced it the same way during several shots of him filmed after the auction, and numerous other times during the episode. In fact, in one scene, Paul pronounced it like that in front of a musical-instrument expert who was called in to appraise it, but the expert did not correct him (I note that the expert did not say the word at all throughout the segment, possibly to avoid embarrassing Paul on television).

Two of the bidders also pronounced it like that as did the owner again.

I particularly noted the pronunciation because this show was the third time this week that I heard it pronounced this way. The auctioneer however pronounced the way I expected.

(This reminds me of when I was young and saw the name Penelope on paper for the first time. I read the whole book pronouncing her name in my head as Pen-eh-lope—and thinking that the girl was unusual because of her strange name.)

I checked several sites (Merriam-Webster, Dictionary.com, Wikipedia) and none of them list an alternate spelling.

I thought that maybe it’s just a case of people hearing a new term pronounced incorrectly and repeating it, but Paul and the gallery manager pronounced it like that several times after the auctioneer pronounced it correctly.

Is there a regional (specifically southern US) pronunciation of the word calliope?

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I imagine that they just don’t know how it’s supposed to be pronounced. –  tchrist Sep 2 '12 at 0:40
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If I didn't listen to Bruce Springsteen (Blinded by the Light), I don't know if I'd know how to pronounce it, either. –  Peter Shor Sep 2 '12 at 0:46
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@PeterShor And I wouldn't know deuce was pronounced douche either, if it weren't for the Manfred Mann version. –  Brendon Sep 2 '12 at 1:42
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@BillFranke, if someone pronounced your name Bile, I doubt that you would accept it and not call it wrong. –  Synetech Sep 2 '12 at 1:57
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@BillFranke, if someone has never seen “Bill” before and pronounced it as Bile or as Beel (i is pronounced as ee in many/most languages), it does not mean an attack, nor a speech impediment; they are just pronouncing it phonetically (just like I did with Penelope when I was a child). Either way, there is a correct pronunciation and there is nothing arrogant about that. Some words have multiple pronunciations, but this one does not. I checked several sites and they all listed just one; and you have not provided a source showing another. (Besides, I never said it was correct or incorrect.) –  Synetech Sep 2 '12 at 2:20
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5 Answers 5

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According to the section labelled "pronunciation" on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calliope_%28music%29 - the musical instrument is pronounced /ˈkæli.oʊp/ and the Greek Muse is /kəˈlaɪ.əpiː/.

Oxford disagrees, listing only the latter pronunciation (or something approximating it). Merriam Webster lists both pronunciations for the musical instrument.

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Hmm, I saw the IPA at the top of the Greek muse Wiki page, but there was none for the musical instrument. I didn’t think it might be present later in the article (I have only ever seen it at the top, but I guess if the pronunciation is noteworthy, it would have its own section). I’ll chalk it up to there indeed being two pronunciations (though all the sites I checked only listed one). –  Synetech Sep 2 '12 at 4:09
    
I wouldn't +1 this answer seems the answerer didn't take a few minutes to use hyperlinks to make his/her answer look a bit better than this. –  Gigili Sep 2 '12 at 7:36
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Oh, @Gigili, you're so charming and wonderful. –  user16269 Sep 2 '12 at 7:50
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I would have said (cal-ee-ope) was the correct pronunciation in English. The Greek goddess would be (call-I-oh-pee) but the pronunciation of the original root isn't a good guide to how to pronounce it in English.

According to http://www.steamboats.org/talkshop/messages/2175.html this rhyme is supposed to help, but I don't see how - since you can rhyme it with either me or hope!

Proud folk stare after me,
Call me Calliope;
Tooting joy, tooting hope,
I am the calliope.

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It's supposed to rhyme with both. It rhymes with me in the second line and hope in the fourth line. It's a mnemonic device to help you remember the difference. –  Jim Sep 2 '12 at 4:21
    
@Jim, mgb probably meant that because the poem's rhyme scheme is not explicitly specified, it could be abba instead of aabb. –  jwpat7 Sep 2 '12 at 4:52
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Nah, Abba never wrote anything as poetic as that! –  user16269 Sep 2 '12 at 7:36
    
@Jim - good point, hadn't read the lyrics in detail –  mgb Sep 2 '12 at 15:26
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I invite your attention to the two pronunciations listed at Merriam-Webster. Unfortunately, I cannot clarify the usual pronunciation of this word in the southeastern U.S., as I did not hear it spoken in 11 years in that region (TN, SC and NC), to my recollection. Nor do I recall having heard this word spoken on the west coast (20 years) or the midwest (10 years) of the United States. I do not think this is a "usual word" in the southestern U.S.! I suspect among music scholars/enthusiasts it is not rare. Is it common in your corner of the english speaking world or do you have more knowledge of musical instruments than others in your region?
I'm sure I've seen the word before, and mentally I pronounce it like the people on your program, but I have never spoken nor heard this word. In looking up the word, I am surprised to learn it is of Greek origin, it looks Italian or Spanish to me. Perhaps it is lack of familiarity with the word that results in the pronunciation listed second in the reference I included...it is also quite possible that I misinterpreted the second phonetic transliteration to be what you describe. We are all the product of our experience, or lack thereof. I see nothing correct or incorrect about that.

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I didn't see the 2 pronunciations until I read your answer. Thank you for that. I always pronounce it as if it were the name of the Muse (mid-Atlantic: NJ, NYC). I can't remember hearing anyone in Atlanta using the word while I was there (3 years). I'm not mortified to know that I've been mispronouncing it all these years. If I still were pronouncing subtle as [s^b tl] (I was 9 or 10 then) instead of [s^ tl], though, I'd be downright erythematous with shame. –  user21497 Sep 2 '12 at 15:36
    
@BillFranke I had never bothered to look up the word until this question was brought up. It's very interesting to me how we develop our pronunciations. I recall as a child the sense of wonder when I saw in print a word that I'd heard or said before, particularly if the spelling was less phonetic. Likewise I recall the sense of wonder when hearing a word for the first time which I had previously only seen in print. Thank you for the feedback. –  Mike Sep 3 '12 at 2:48
    
That’s strange. I too only saw one pronunciations when I first looked at the page. o.O Thanks for pointing it out. –  Synetech Sep 4 '12 at 0:25
    
I’ll add myself to the list of people who’s never heard this word pronounced (that I can recall), nor said it myself. I had to look it up to pinpoint what kind of instrument it even is (not a piano? Not a trumpet? Not a drum? Right, that’s about the extent of my knowledge of musical instruments exhausted!). I am surprised at both pronunciations, though—they are quite atypical. I have always mentally pronounced both the Muse and the instrument as [ˌkæli.ˈəʊpiː], retaining the final (as is common with feminine names from Greek mythology), but not inexplicably lengthening the i. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 7 '13 at 15:37
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This is not a regional pronunciation issue, rather it is a professional one. Those who played the steam whistle organ patented by Joshua Stoddard in 1855 - and those who worked in proximity to it, generally referred/refer to it as cal-ee-op (long o). Whether this originated in a mispronunciation of the Greek muse's name or not, it has become the standard pronunciation among circus, carnival and steamboat workers/enthusiasts.

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Thanks for your contribution. Could you edit your answer to cite or link to an external source for future reference? –  choster Nov 7 '13 at 15:34
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If you look up the pronunciation as is listed in the Webster AND Oxford dictionaries, which are the standards for the English language, they are pronounced --kəˈlaɪ.əpiː/ (call-I-oh-pee)--

I agree with the original posting. The woman from the museum mispronounced it and then the host of the show repeated it, either to be polite or because he didn't know either. It's not a word that you would use very often, it's easy to make the mistake if you guess simply by looking at the world as written. The professional calliope repair man, surprisingly, didn't say a word--- (at least on camera!).....

Also I live in Atlanta and coincidentally in the music business, and I never heard any alternate pronunciation, so I very much doubt it is a local pronunciation.

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