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The word "uroboros," coming ultimately from Greek, has a couple of spellings and also pronunciations (see How to pronounce Ouroboros?).

As explained by Nohat in the linked page, the two pronunciations listed by Wikipedia are the following:

  • /ɔːˈrɒbɔrəs/
  • /jʊərɵˈbɒrəs/

Oxford dictionaries lists only /ˌjʊərə(ʊ)ˈbɒrəs/ for "uroboros," and states that the word was first used in English around the 1940s.

Collins dictionary, for "ouroboros," lists yet another set of pronunciations, oddly enough:

  • /ˌuːrəˈbɒrəs/
  • /uːˈrɒbəˌrɒs/

So in one sense, it almost seems a free-for-all.

However, there's one pronunciation that seemed natural to me but that I never see listed: /jʊəˈrɒbɔrəs/, with antepenultimate stress.

Here's why I'd expect this pronunciation. Wiktionary says the Ancient Greek etymon is οὐροβόρος. The stress in Greek is on the penult, but there's a short /o/ in the penultimate syllable, so I'd expect a Latinized pronunciation of /uˈroboros/ according to the Latin stress assignment rule, and I'd also expect for the Latin stress position to carry over to the English word, especially when the initial vowel uses the value /jʊə/ associated with the traditional English pronunciation of Latin /u/. Compare to "automaton," another example of a Greek word with a short vowel in the penult that is stressed on the antepenult in English.

But, I've never seen this pronunciation listed. Dictionaries do list pronunciations with antepenult accent, and pronunciations with initial /j/, but none I can find list a pronunciation with both of these features combined.

So, if I use it, am I just adding my own idiosyncratic pronunciation to the mix, no better and no worse than the other variants? Or is there some flaw in the analogy I made above that makes /jʊəˈrɒbɔrəs/ a solecism, but that justifies /jʊərɵˈbɒrəs/ (or /ɔːˈrɒbɔrəs/, etc.) ?


Wikipedia says about stress in Latinate English words:

In words of three or more syllables, stress falls either on the penult or the antepenult (third from the end), according to these criteria:

  • If the penult contains a short vowel in an open syllable, the stress falls on the antepenult: e.g. stá.mi.na, hy.pó.the.sis.
  • If the penult contains a long vowel; a diphthong; a closed syllable (with any length of vowel); or is followed by z, the stress falls on the penult.

[...] The fact that decorum is stressed on the penult, and exodus on the antepenult, is a fact about each of these words that must be memorized separately (unless one is already familiar with the Classical quantities, and in the former case, additionally with the fact that decus -ŏris n. with short -o- syllable became in late Latin decus/decor -ōris m. with long -o- syllable: 'Dómine, diléxi decórem domus tuæ').

Does anyone know if the pronunciation of "uroboros" might be explained in the same way as that of "decorum," where the vowel length/stress shifted at some point in Latin? Was "uroboros" or "ouroboros" even used in Latin?

I've already searched out attested English pronunciations, so I don't want an answer that just repeats these (although I would appreciate learning about any additional pronunciations listed by reputable dictionaries). What I'm concerned with now is the pattern behind them, possible etymological bases for the English pronunciation, and orthoëpic advice, in particular about the hypothetical pronunciation /jʊəˈrɒbɔrəs/.

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    @Drew: different words, different questions (or is there some common explanatory factor that I've missed?) – herisson Sep 11 '15 at 22:17
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is better suited for SE linguistics. – Mari-Lou A Sep 12 '15 at 20:36
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    @Mari-LouA Hmm, wouldn't be bad on linguistics, but should be good for us serious linguists of English here too ;) – Araucaria - Not here any more. Oct 7 '15 at 16:25
  • @Mari-Lou: I agree. And Wikipedia tells us it's from Greek οὐροβόρος ὄφις 'tail-devouring snake'. The Homeric pronunciation would be /o:ro'boros 'opʰis/; later on the /b/ and /hʰ/ changed to fricatives and the vowels shifted a bit, as vowels always do. As to modern English pronunciations, there are several because it's in Greek, and different English speakers have different experiences with and understanding of the Greek language and how it's sposta be pronounced. If you are unable to avoid pronouncing it, however, find out whether your addressee knows it first; it really is rare. – John Lawler Oct 15 '15 at 16:00