Wikipedia on Ottoman Empire gives its naming as coming from the Ottoman Turkish language, but on that very page, the name of the language is transliterated as Lisân-ı Osmânî. In Russian we call the empire and language "Османская"/-ий, also transliterating as "Osman[suffix]". The trail vanishes there... Were telephones that bad that the Turks said "Os" and the English heard "Otto"?

  • Looking through the other transliterations on that page, most are os-, but a few are otto-, especially Italian and French. But not German... Dec 27, 2013 at 10:41
  • The British did have a tendency for anglicizing, the examples are rampant in Colonial India, Mumbai-Bombay/ Shimla-Simla.So the 'bad telephone line', could be closer to the truth than you think! Dec 27, 2013 at 10:58
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    @PreetieSekhon With India and surrounds, I find /s/ and /sh/ are commonly confounded in transliteration. (Which could be a name for a new movie, a sequel.) Dec 27, 2013 at 11:01
  • In Russian we have a similar problem with /kh/ and /gh/. So, e.g. Holland is Gollandia, etc. etc. etc. But there's probably an obvious explanation for that: in some Russian dialects /gh/ is pronounced as /kh/. Dec 27, 2013 at 11:05
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    The name in Arabic is Othman. Click on the Arabic audio icon to listen to the pronunciation: translate.google.com/#en/ar/othman Dec 27, 2013 at 11:56

2 Answers 2


"Ottoman" comes from French. OED mentions that

Byron used the more correct form Othman...

We see that pronunciation with /th/ or /s/ is closer to the original, but in some languages (French, Italian) the pronunciation is different.

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    I'd never guess that /th/ and /s/ sound similar! Dec 27, 2013 at 10:53
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    This must reflect the state of ancient dentistry in the area. Dec 27, 2013 at 10:55
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    It is very common for /th/ (as in English ‘thing’) to be pronounced and transcribed as /s/ by speakers who do not have the sound in their own language. Scandinavians, Germans, and the French do it all the time, as do the Chinese. Both sounds are fricatives produced in the far front of the mouth; only the exact place of articulation really differs (intradental vs. dental/alveolar). Dec 27, 2013 at 11:15
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    The French tend to need to overcompensate their spelling, because of their tending to be "lazy" in pronunciation. Look at the word "ouille". Writing "ouil", they would refuse to pronounce the L. Even if doubling the L, still they would not pronounce the L. OK, why not end it with an E - that would force the to trail the L sound. But over time, they still ultimately dropped the L sound. There are just certain consonants the French would refuse to pronounce. Dec 27, 2013 at 19:02

Far from the Turks having said "Os" and the English having heard "Otto", it is the variation in pronunciation coupled with a lack of exact equivalents in English that resulted in the curious spelling.

There are several s sounds in Turkish, not one, and each of these may not be pronounced identically by Turkish, Arab and Persian speakers.

Arie S. Issar & Mattanyah Zohar, in their book Climate Change: Environment and History of the Near East provide a brief insight:

The name "Ottoman" is derived from an 18th century "overcorrect" mispronunciation of the name of the founder, Osman, based on the Arab pronunciation 'Othman (with a sound like the English "th") but difficult for Persian and Turkish speakers who prefer the /s/ sound. (footnote at p.228)

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    Arab speaker != Arabic speaker
    – tchrist
    Dec 27, 2013 at 15:20

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