I've heard meelee, meyley (maylay), and mehlay. Is there any "correct" way to pronounce it in the U.S.?

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  • It's not 'mee-lee'. It is inspired by the French pronunciation, which is mostly like 'may-lay'. – Mitch Apr 26 '11 at 0:11
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    Oh man... thank you for asking this question. I always cringe when I hear gamers say "mee lee" >_< – M. Dudley Apr 26 '11 at 3:04
  • Just like they do on Super Smash Bros., and I used the same intonation ;) – Wayne Werner Apr 30 '12 at 14:16
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    All words taken from other languages and nations (including place names) are liable to change in their novel context. Such changes can affect meaning(s), spellings, pronunciations and the situations they are used in. So while some US English pronunciations of mêlée are closer to the original French pronunciation than others, I would not rush to call any of them wrong. Their divergences from the French usage and pronunciation are a natural part of the process of being assimilated into English; they certainly aren't worth getting worked up about, particularly as that would be futile anyway. – Erik Kowal Aug 18 '14 at 6:48

NOAD gives these pronunciations:

melee |ˈmāˌlā; māˈlā| (also mêlée)

Which are, in order of usage, may-lay, may-lay, and also muh-lay

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    This answer gets my approval. – Nic Apr 26 '11 at 6:15
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    In other words - Not mee-lee – jjnguy Apr 26 '11 at 12:33
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    Very much meh-lay in the UK. – Orbling May 8 '11 at 13:48
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    @Robusto No, I am saying that ɪᴘᴀ is the only phonetic transcription language we should use. Otherwise, just resort to “rhymes with” or something. Don’t use nonstandard phonetic symbols. Anyway, there is no excuse not to have ɪᴘᴀ on a modern computer. – tchrist Feb 19 '12 at 15:06
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    @tchrist: "There is no excuse not to have IPA on a modern computer." That's a bold statement. Does it include notebooks, tablets, and smart phones? – Robusto Feb 19 '12 at 15:09

Melee comes from French, to fight, and is pronounced by French rules, with accents it is mêlée, which in English the e-circonflex would be more like "e" in Greg, and ée would be "ay" as in "gray".

Most commonly English speakers butcher it however they like, so no, there is not one correct way to fail to pronounce the French word. It's a potayto-potahtoh thing.

Most commonly I hear "Meh-lay", from US video-game users who use the term to refer to close-ranged weapons like knives, in first person shooters.

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    Is appealing to etymology really a legitimate way to determine pronunciation? Do you pronounce "two" as "twah"? – Malvolio Apr 25 '11 at 23:57
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    Only reason I don't pronounce it "melly" anymore, as a word I read before hearing, is because of Super Smash Brothers Melee. Before that, I thought that the "meh-lay" attack in Halo and "melly" were two different, but probably related, words... – kitukwfyer Apr 26 '11 at 0:30
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    @kitukwfyer -- "melly"? That's hilarious, it should be pronounced melly! – Malvolio Apr 26 '11 at 6:26
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    David Beckham: "Victoria, how many Mels were there in the Spice Girls?" Victoria: "Two David. Mel B and Mel C." David: "Oh. Only I heard on the news there was a Mel A outside a night-club last night." (From "The Big impression", BBC) – MikeJ-UK Apr 26 '11 at 8:15
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    It's not mere etymology, it's a loan word. – Warren P May 2 '11 at 22:44

Using IPA, the American pronunciation is /ˈmeɪleɪ/, while the British pronunciation is /ˈmɛleɪ/, as reported by the New Oxford American Dictionary and the Oxford English Dictionary.

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