When i first came across the name Ouroboros it was in Fullmetal Alchemist referring to the tattoos that the Homunculi; I was watching the Dub so it was pronounced in English as Or-Ro-Bo-Ros.

However in Atelier Iris 3 and Bravely Default, the final bosses for both are called Ouroboros pronounced as Or-Rob-Bo-Ros, both of which do have English dubs for voices.

Atelier Iris 3 was released in 2007 in the US (though it was released almost a year earlier in Australia) and Bravely Default was released in the EU and Australia in 2013, while the first usage I heard of Ouroboros in the Fullmetal Alchemist series was in the original 2003 anime.

I am wondering what is the correct pronunciation of Ouroboros?

NOTE: in case the difference can't exactly be seen because of how I've worded it, Atelier Iris 3 and Bravely Default you hear a distinctive "Rob" in the pronunciation, in Fullmetal Alchemist you don't.

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    Here is the pronunciation in Greek. In ancient Greek, they would have used a 'b' and not a 'v'. I'm not sure it's an English word; the English equivalent is uroboros. But in both of these 'correct' pronunciations, the accent is on the third syllable. – Peter Shor Oct 6 '14 at 23:18
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    I don't get it. What is the difference between Ou-Ro-Bo-Ros and Ou-Rob-Bo-Ros, the two b's? The vowels sound the same to me in both. – Mitch Oct 7 '14 at 2:27
  • @Mitch as i said in the Note, one you hear the Rob before the Bo (Or-Rob-bo) while the other you don't (Or-Ro-Bo), if i could find a Lets Plays of either of the games and the episode of Fullmetal Alchemist where Ed described the tattoos (it's after Lab 5 is destroyed when he's in hospital) i will add them – Memor-X Oct 7 '14 at 2:48
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    How is this on-topic??? – curiousdannii Oct 7 '14 at 8:27
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    Pronunciation is on-topic, but it's actually necessary to use IPA when describing how a word is said. – Andrew Leach Oct 7 '14 at 9:07

Wikipedia gives two pronunciations in the International Phonetic Alphabet:

  • /jʊərɵˈbɒrəs/, roughly "yer-uh-BOR-us"
  • /ɔːˈrɒbɔrəs/, roughly "or-ROB-or-us"
  • That last one's not possible in English, Wikipedia've messed it up. It could be either /ɔːˈrɒbɔ:rəs/ or /ɔːˈrɒbɒrəs/, but it can't be /ɔːˈrɒbɔrəs/ with no length diacritic 'ː' on the /ɔ/. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Oct 7 '14 at 12:25
  • @Araucaria I think the intention is that the vowel in the penult is an unstressed NORTH vowel, which according to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Help:IPA_for_English is written correctly using their system—as /ɔr/ – nohat Oct 7 '14 at 15:49
  • Yes, but if they're using that system then the one at the front's wrong! :) No? – Araucaria - Not here any more. Oct 7 '14 at 16:17
  • @Araucaria the stress is marked before the first /r/, indicating /r/ is not part of the initial vowel—it's an unstressed THOUGHT rather than NORTH. It does seem inconsistent, but the alternatives are (a) to have a lone /ɔ/ without length mark as the first syllable (ɔˈr) —but there is no short /ɔ/ in the system, (b) to mark two /r/s (/ɔrˈr/), which would seem to wrongly imply some kind of gemination (rather than ambisyllabicity), or (c) to mark the /r/ as part of the first syllable only, implying the second syllable is onsetless (/ɔrˈɒbɔrəs/), violating the maximum onset principle. – nohat Oct 7 '14 at 16:35
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    ... One could argue that the MOP is not applicable to intervocalic /r/s, making alternative (c) superior to the original. But, my native speaker intuition is that the stressed antepenult is "ROB" not "OB". And yes, I know that "ROB" makes the penult onsetless, but the tendency for stressed short vowels to "steal" ambisyllabic consonants for their codas is strong. In short, English syllabification is hard—and unsettled. – nohat Oct 7 '14 at 16:42

To broaden the discussion of pronunciation possibilities a bit, I ran a Google Books Ngram search for "an ouroboros" (the blue line), "a ouroboros" (no line), "an uroboros" the green line), and "a uroboros" (the red line), with the following results:

The red line (which reflects some two dozen matches for "a uroboros" between 1951 and 2008) suggests that at least some English speakers pronounce the first syllable of uroboros as yo- or yoo- or yoor-, or yor-. A separate Google Books search for "a ouroboros" turns up seven matches for that spelling, as well (although the number was evidently too small to support a plotted line in the Ngram graph). For example, from The British Museum Quarterly, volume 31 (1966):

The Cairo example stands within an oval formed by a ouroboros snake, a motif which, rare in the art of dynastic Egypt, becomes a common design on the magical amulets from Roman Egypt.

And from Pierre François, Inlets of the Soul: Contemporary Fiction in English and the Myth of the Fall (1999):

The alchemy-related metaphor in the excerpt above affords one of the most far-reaching glimpses of the "premises" normally hidden from human senses. The "serpent-craft around Jupiter, Venus" is a hierogamy—a divine wedding of the cthonic (serpent) and heavenly (Jupiter, Venus) deities—a ouroboros image identifying the circular periphery and the centre of the cosmic fabric.

And from Michael Speyer, The Kitish (2009):

Judas had had no wife or children, and had cut all ties with his previous life so that his family would not suffer Roman retribution for his ations; he had exchanged family life for a cause in which he had believed without reservation, that i, until he had encountered the Master, who had made him see that strife and conflict were of the nature of this world, and that to blindly follow any cause no matter how noble was to throw away one's life for something that had no resolution, and which would keep repeating itself throughout the ages like a Ouroboros.

My assumption here is that use of an as the indefinite article before ouroboros or uroboros implies pronunciation of the noun with a y sound at the beginning of the word, whereas use of a as the indefinite article implies pronunciation of the word without a y sound at the beginning of the word.

The Ngram chart strongly suggests that pronunciations that include a y sound at the beginning of the noun ouroboros or uroboros are less common than pronunciations that begin with an o-, oo-, ou-, or-, oor-, and our- sound (treated collectively). Nevertheless, the chart results indicate that pronunciations of the noun that begin with a y sound do (probably) exist among English speakers.


It is pronounced /ˌyo͝orəˈbôrəs/. You can hear someone say it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6uDgpk6r_6M.

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    Please don't just give a link as an answer. The video might disappear. Summarise the relevant content in your answer. – Andrew Leach Oct 7 '14 at 9:08

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