In Linus Pauling's book, "General Chemistry", in one of the annotations in the first chapter, he writes the following about the word "joule": " Usually pronounced to rhyme with howl." I have not found any evidence to support this claim as every dictionary and reference I have found so far claims that joule is pronounced like "jewel". Is there any evidence to support Linus Pauling's pronunciation of joule as " Jowl" or was it some sort of jestful annotation used to add humor to his otherwise strictly factual book?

Edit: At the request of user @sumelic, I will append my question with another one. Was "Jowl" the colloquially accepted pronunciation in Linus Pauling's time, or was this the common pronunciation only in the scientific community of Pauling's time? Perhaps even a brief history of the etymology of joule might help shed light on this strange discrepancy in pronunciation.

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    Which dictionaries did you check specifically? The "jowl" pronunciation is listed at the following webpages: merriam-webster.com/dictionary/joule, dictionary.com/browse/joule?, thefreedictionary.com/joule, wordreference.com/definition/joule
    – herisson
    Mar 14, 2016 at 18:42
  • The "jewel" pronunciation is listed first in each of the dictionaries that @sumelic lists. Collins and Oxford don't list "jowl" at all. OED: "Although some people of this name call themselves (dʒaʊl), and others (dʒəʊl) [the OED format for /dʒoʊl/], it is almost certain that J. P. Joule (and at least some of his relatives) used (dʒuːl)."
    – jejorda2
    Mar 14, 2016 at 18:56
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    There is no Dana, only JOULE! Mar 14, 2016 at 19:14
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    @sumelic thanks for the suggestion. According, for example, to the Oxford English Dictionary and the Cambridge Dictionary both only offer joule's pronunciation to be "jewel". That was what led me to my original question. Additionally, I found this short poem in the book, "Science Askew": You'll be thought cool If you call it the joule. But there'll be a howl If you call it the jowl. Mar 14, 2016 at 21:50
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    Quite apart from the ‘jowl’ pronunciation, I find it odd that so many people are referencing a ‘jewel’ pronunciation. To me at least, ‘jewel’ and ‘joule’ are quite distinct: the former is disyllabic /ˈʤuːəl/ [ˈʤʊ̈͡u̯ʷəɫ], while the latter is monosyllabic /ˈʤuːl/ [ˈʤuːʷ(ə̯)ɫ] (in narrow-but-approximated IPA). Mar 7, 2018 at 19:16

6 Answers 6


A 1943 letter to the editor of the journal Nature suggests that the anglicized pronunciation of joule was accepted not only by many in the public, but by authorities for some time:

A century has passed since Joule read his paper on the relation between heat and work at the meeting of the British Association at Cork on August 26, 1843. It is unfortunate that a difference of opinion has arisen about the correct pronunciation of his name….

The “Oxford English Dictionary” gives dzaul as the pronunciation of the unit, where au represents the sound in the word loud. In “Webster’s New International Dictionary” (1911) is found the statement:

“The proper name is pronounced joul (ou as in out) and this is the correct pronunciation for the unit; but the incorrect jool [oo as in food] is very common especially in the United States”.

In “Chambers’s Technical Dictionary” (first published 1940) we find the contradictory statements

joule, jool (Phys.). A unit of energy equal to 107 ergs. (Named after F. [sic] P. Joule, 1918–89 ; name pronounced jowl.)

Kenyon & Scott's A Pronouncing Dictionary of American English, published a few years later, provides multiple pronunciations:

Joule: dʒaʊl, dʒul, dʒol | joule dʒaʊl, dʒul

As Pauling was born in 1901, it seems plausible that he learned to pronounce joule to rhyme with jowl, and that this pronunciation would have been accepted in some quarters— if not by all. People tend to pronounce names and terms as they learn then, without revisiting them, and that is true of scientists as much as anyone else.

A 2008 paper by JR Schwyter, Setting a standard: Early BBC language policy and the Advisory Committee on Spoken English, reports that "the Committee received 27 letters relating to the pronunciation of the last name Joule, as in James Prescott Joule, the scientist (19 January 1933)… In the light of such correspondence, the Committee (30 November 1933) decided on the pronunciation… ‘JOOL’*.

Over the course of the twentieth century, it seems the "jewel" pronunciation came to predominate. Perhaps the BBC Radio influence helped. Perhaps it rose because it was the more prevalent American pronunciation (per Webster's as quoted above), and American physicists rose in both numbers and preeminence, especially in the nuclear age. Perhaps it is because, related to this, the American postwar tendency is not to anglicize pronunciations, and the fact that Joule was an Englishman may be lost on the public. It is hard to attribute shifts in pronunciation to any one cause or moment in history.

The current OED entry notes

Although some people of this name call themselves /dʒaʊl/ and others /dʒəʊl/ (D. Jones Everyman's Eng. Pronouncing Dict. (ed. 11, 1956), G. M. Miller BBC Pronouncing Dict. British Names (1971)), it is almost certain that J. P. Joule (and some at least of his relatives) used /dʒuːl/ . For evidence on this point see Nature (1943) CLII. 354, 418, 479, 602.

For what it's worth, this was the pronunciation given in its first edition—

Joule (dʒaul)

— immediately after the entry for Joul(e, obs. form of JOWL.


Older people in the midlands of England remember the brewery that James Prescott Joule's family owned. The beer was referred to as "Joule's" pronounced "jowls," according to Donald Cardwell's biography

He himself was a scion of the northern branch of the family and, as the OED says, it looks like they had started calling themselves "jool" by this time.

So the two branches of the family may have pronounced their own surname differently.


The earliest evidence where Joule is pronounced "jowl" (/dʒaʊl/) is in the dictionary called New English dictionary on historical principles from 1901. Here is a link to the page

Given than James Prescott Joule died in 1889, only 12 years before the publication of the dictionary is a pretty convincing proof that it was indeed pronounced "Jowl" (/dʒaʊl/).

enter image description here

(btw, I updated the wikipedia entry as a result of this find a few years ago.)


I had my hair cut this morning by an obvious Mancunian, who sounded like someone out of Coronation Street. I ask her how she would pronounce the name Joule, and she immediately answered jowl, as if it couldn't possibly be pronounced otherwise. Jowl is not so much a British pronunciation, but a Mancunian one.

I believe that, in Joule's time, the (Manchester) brewery had an advertising slogan to the effect that, whether it is pronounced jool or jowl it tastes as good, showing that there was uncertainty even in those days. Can someone confirm?

A correspondent above queries whether the unit was named after a scion of the brewery family. Yes, James Prescott Joule, a Mancunian, certainly was part of the brewery family. The brewery, unfortunately, no longer exists.

Jeremy Tatum, University of Victoria

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    The direction this started off from was not what I was expecting. Also the ending.
    – Mitch
    Mar 7, 2018 at 19:18

I was a member of the Keele [1] Research Association as a physics grad. student. (1966=>'69)

The beer served at the meetings was, of course, Joule's Ale. I (being a Californian) was immediately corrected. Both the physical unit and the beer was pronounced Jowl (as in cheek by jowl).

Evidently as others, it's become "Americaniz(s)ed.

Another is James Clerk Maxwell (Pronounced Clark) of the Maxwell Equations. (electro-magnetism)

[1] Keele University, Keele Village near Newcastle-under-Lyme, North Staffordshire.


In english pronunciation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VdPKcsLoQOo

I think is mostly similar to french pronunciation in Linus Pauling´s time https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PPfT7vr0liM similar to kilo joules for energy expenditure.

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    Can you describe the pronunciation? Those links may go away.
    – Mitch
    Mar 16, 2016 at 18:10

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