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A word ending with e usually doesn't have a vowel at the end like bike and strike, so why is Nike different?

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    Are we talking about the brand here? If so, I would pronounce it "naik" (I'm from UK). – Tom Fenech Nov 22 '17 at 13:28
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    Irrespective of grammar and etymology, a good reason is "marketing". I suspect that it is the firm itself that pushes for this striking pronunciation. – Federico Poloni Nov 22 '17 at 13:42
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    The short answer is always that spelling is only loosely connected to pronunciation in English. – choster Nov 22 '17 at 14:52
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    @shinzou hot network questions, – Nic Hartley Nov 22 '17 at 15:40
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    @choster Or, in this case, because it's not English at all. Nike is a Greek goddess, after whom the company is named. – reirab Nov 22 '17 at 23:00
192

Because Nike was the Greek goddess of victory (see Wikipedia) and final 'e's are not silent in Greek. Similarly, the final 'e' should be pronounced in the name Irene, as it is in other Greek-derived names like Chloe, Zoe and Phoebe.

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    Note that this doesn't explain the first vowel sound in Nike, /aɪˡ/ (I think, my IPA is very limited) which in Greek (well, modern Greek, @JanusBahsJacquet might know if this would also be applicable to Ancient) is a short /i/ similar to the i in Mickey. So, in Greek the word is pronounced /niki/. I've always wondered where the /aɪˡ/ came from. – terdon Nov 22 '17 at 10:56
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    Funny trivia: In Greek we usually pronounce Nike (the American sports brand, not the goddess) as naik, not naikee :) – Thanassis Nov 22 '17 at 11:07
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    "the final 'e' should be pronounced in the name Irene" Please rephrase that -- it really isn't cool to tell people that they're mispronouncing their own name. Indeed, pretty much by definition, they pronounce their name correctly. The English-language name Irene is essentially always pronounced "EYE-reen", and the Greek equivalent name is usually transliterated "Irini" (i-REEN-ee, "i" as in "bit"). – David Richerby Nov 22 '17 at 11:08
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    @terdon Ancient Greek η was indeed long, but it was a long [εː] (as in bet, but long). Iota could be either long or short, representing short [i] (as in happy) or long [iː] (as in me). The reason Nike has a diphthong is that long [iː] was diphthongised into [əɪ] and then [aɪ] as part of the Great Vowel Shift—but this happened in English, after the words were borrowed. Later borrowings just adapted to the already existing ones. So English Nike was probably pronounced [ˈniːkε] or [ˈniːkɪ] up until the 1500s. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 22 '17 at 11:14
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    Traditionally, Chloë and Zoë are written with a dieresis to indicate the pronunciation, although modern style usually omits these. – KSmarts Nov 22 '17 at 14:35
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English spelling does not have a one-to-one relationship with English pronunciation, so it shouldn't be too much of a surprise that "Nike" does not rhyme with "bike" and "strike" (except for when it does—apparently, there are some speakers who don't use the "official", disyllabic pronunciation for the brand).

"Nike" is from a Greek word-form, unlike "bike" and "strike"

To answer the question about why: "bike" and "strike" are spelled with the "silent e" that in present-day English is used to indicate a "long vowel" pronunciation. ("Bike" is an oddly formed shortening of "bicycle", coined fairly recently; "strike" comes from an Old English verb that had long /iː/.)

The "e" in Nike serves a different function: as Kate Bunting mentioned, this word is derived from Greek νίκη/Νίκη, meaning "victory/Victory (capitalized when used to refer to the goddess personifying the idea of victory)". The letter "e" in English "Nike" is a transliteration of the Greek letter η (eta).

The "traditional" English pronunciation of Latin and Greek

The Great Vowel Shift established a "traditional English pronunciation of Latin" (also used for Greek words) that continued to be used as a system for some time

There exists a tradition of pronouncing Latin words in English with certain characteristically English vowel qualities, and a tradition of pronouncing Greek words as if they were Latin words. Janus Bahs Jacquet referenced the Great Vowel Shift in a comment; this tradition did originate from this sound change, but my understanding is that not all words pronounced according to this tradition were actually taken into English before the Great Vowel Shift (which according to Wikipedia is thought to have occured approximately between 1400 and 1600).

It became an established convention for pronouncing all Latin and Greek words used in English, including words that were borrowed at some point after the Great Vowel Shift (although alternative systems have also existed alongside this system for a long time).

In the traditional English pronunciation of Latin, word-final "-e" is pronounced like the "-y" in "happy"

Word-final "e" in the traditional English pronunciation of Latin and Greek is typically pronounced with the same vowel as the word "happy"; sometimes represented in the IPA as /i/. I'm not totally sure of the history of this pronunciation (in traditional British "Received Pronunciation", this is not quite the same vowel as "long e"; it's instead considered to be the same vowel as "short i"). But it applies to Greek names ending in "e" like Nike, Calliope etc. the same as it applies to Latin words like simile, sine or carpe.

(There actually has been a tendency for word-final "e" to be reinterpreted as "silent e" in a number of words or phrases from Latin, such as "vice versa", "bona fide" and "rationale". However, as far as I know, this kind of reinterpretation has not yet come to be considered standard for the name "Nike".)

Alternative pronunciations exist for some words from Latin and Greek, but not for Nike as far as I know

The "traditional English pronunciation of Latin" (and Greek) is also why the i in "Nike" is pronounced as an English "long i" (IPA /aɪ/). The i's in via and viva are sometimes pronounced the same way. A competing "restored" or Continental-European-style pronunciation uses the English "long e"/"ee" sound (IPA /iː/). The restored pronunciation and English-style pronunciation have competed for a while; I forget exactly when the English-style pronunciation stopped being used in Latin pedagody in England. (It seems to have occured before 1920: John Sargeaunt's description published that year of The Pronunciation of English Words derived from the Latin says "This pronunciation is now out of fashion".)

But I have never heard of /niːki(ː)/, /niːkeɪ/ or /niːkɛ/ being a common pronuncation in present-day English. The pronunciation of a vowel in a word from Greek or Latin according to one pronunciation system or the other is often inconsistent and hard to explain; e.g. restored /ɑː/ is almost always used nowadays in the word "drama", but fairly rarely used in the word "data" (a word that also shows variation, apparently especially in American English, between a pronunciation with English "long a"—which is what would be regular according to the "traditional" system—and one with English "short a").

The only alternative that seems to exist is the spelling-pronunciation /naɪk/ mentioned in the first sentence and in the comments above.

(The name "Irene", as Kate Bunting mentioned, also comes from a Greek form ending in η. The pronunciation ending in /n/ might be a spelling pronunciation; I think I have also read an alternative explanation of it as possibly being influenced by the pronunciation of the French form Irène. Final vowels in Latin/Greek words correspond to "mute e" a bit more often in French than in present-day English; another similar example is the word systole, from Ancient Greek συστολή, where the final "e" is mute in French but not in standard present-day English.)

History of the transliteration "Nike": my amateur findings

I'm confident that "Nike" is pronounced /ˈnaɪki/ in accordance with the "traditional English pronunciation of Latin", but as I mentioned, I am less certain about when this pronunciation became established, since the earliest use of "Nike" in English that the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) records is from 1846:

T. S. Carr Man[ual of] Classical Mythol[ogy] xvi. 144 Nike..or ‘Victory’, was the daughter of Pallas & Styx, and was greatly honoured by the Greeks... Sometimes she is repersented as borne in the hand of Minerva.

Actually, looking through Google Books there seem to be at least a few somewhat older examples:

And there is a slightly older example of "NIKE" being used as the transliteration of the word in reference to the concept of victory, rather than the goddess:

  • 1827-8, The Botanic Garden:

    A Greek etymology has been given to it [the name Veronica] from PHERO, to bear ; and NIKE, victory

The 19th century may seem a bit late for the first recorded occurences in English of a name that dates back to antiquity. My guess is that it may have been more common in the past to simply spell the word/name in the Greek alphabet, which used to be more commonly used in scholarly works in English than it is presently. And rather than giving a transliteration of the Greek, a translation as "victory/Victory" or a Latin translation "victoria/Victoria" might be given alongside (or simply instead of) the Greek-alphabet spelling.

Some examples of "Νίκη/ΝΙΚΗ" being used without transliteration in English texts from before the 1840s:

"Nice": an alternative transliteration that I don't think has been used much

A transliteration more along the lines of conventional Classical Latin adaptation of Greek loanwords into Latin would use C instead of K, resulting in "Nice" (compare "cinematic" and "kinematic" for a similar example of variation that is actually lexicalized). The regular pronunciation of this would be /ˈnaɪsi/, although I guess it's impossible to know for sure how people actually intended for it to be pronounced (some people apparently pronounce "encephalitis" with a /k/ sound, despite the spelling).

It's been hard for me to find evidence of "Nice" being used to refer to the Greek goddess of victory, because it has certain homographs that are more common: the adjective "nice", the French place-name "Nice"—which interestingly enough actually is derived from Greek νίκη—and the place name "Nice" that was used in the past to refer to the ancient city of Nic(a)ea in Anatolia, location of the Christian ecumenical council called the "First Council of Nicaea" or "First Council of Nice".

But "Nice" is used in at least one source as a transliteration of the name of this goddess:

As you can see, it appears to be a revised version of the 1819 Pantalogia entry that used "νικη".

The transliteration "Nice" for the name of a mythological human woman, and for the non-personified concept of victory, seems to occur in Bell's New Pantheon (1790) and in A Dictionary of Polite Literature, Or, Fabulous History of the Heathen Gods (1804):

NICE. Daughter of Thespius.
NICE MARATHONI. A Grecian anniversary observed by Athenians upon the 6th of Boedromion, in memory of that famous victory which Miltiades obtained over the Persians at Marathon.

The related name "Berenice" is often spelled with "c", as is the derived name "Bernice" and the probably-derived name "Veronica".

The transliteration "Nike" is also used in German, and has been for some time

As DavePhD pointed out in a comment, it is possible to find the transliteration "Nike" in use in German texts from before 1846:

This 1814 German Mythology and Religion dictionary has a big entry for "Nike" Wörterbuch der altklassischen Mythologie und Religion (etc.)DavePhD

Another example of "Nike" used in German can be seen in the following text from 1841: Nike in Hellenischen Vasenbildern; eine archaeologische Untersuchung, by Georg Rathgeber.

This makes me wonder if the use of the spelling "Nike" in German scholarly works might have had some influence on the use of "k" rather than "c" in this name in present-day English. It seems at least possible to me, but I don't know how plausible it is.

  • This 1814 German Mythology and Religion dictionary has a big entry for "Nike" books.google.com/… – DavePhD Nov 22 '17 at 19:23
  • 'Irene' is traditionally pronounced with three syllables in Britain (c.f. dramatisations of 'The Forsyte Saga'). E.G. Withycombe in her 'Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names' (1945) says 'The American disyllabic pronunciation is now often used in England'. – Kate Bunting Nov 23 '17 at 9:15
  • Thanks for including that link to Nike Chairman Philip Knight confirming the "official" pronunciation is 'Ni-key'. – Dhaust Nov 23 '17 at 22:45
  • @KateBunting Irene comes from the Ancient Greek eirḗnē ("peace") which is trisyllabic (note the final long e). Thus the British preserve it better :) – ktm5124 Nov 25 '17 at 6:33
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    Wasn't a lot of scholarly work just not done in English prior to that time period, anyway? E.g., Newton published Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica in Latin in 1687, less than 200 years earlier, so when did scholarly work begin to get done in English? – jpmc26 Nov 25 '17 at 8:46
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It is important to remember that English spelling, traditionally, has no intention of describing pronunciation - its intent is rather to describe etymology (ie word origin). Only incidentally, through the etymology, is the proper pronunciation deduced. That is why Spelling Bees are so entrancing in English, and yet absurd in nearly every other language.

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    That is an unkind thing to say. It is also very true. – RedSonja Nov 23 '17 at 10:05
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    Revealing the truth about English spelling. Though maybe they made it that way just to torture primary school kids and foreigners. – RedSonja Nov 23 '17 at 17:37
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    @RedSonja: When the King James Bible and Book of Common Prayer were written, standardizing English spelling: (a) dictionaries didn't exist; and (b) every learned person knew Latin and at least a smattering of Greek and French. By using spelling to signal etymology, the meaning of words was made immediately obvious to most readers without a need for a dictionary. Like a reverse spelling bee. – Pieter Geerkens Nov 23 '17 at 20:06
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    @PieterGeerkens There are many tidbits of etymology "fact" which sound "obvious once noticed" but which are, actually, not true. There are plenty of other reasons that could explain this. – mattdm Nov 26 '17 at 5:16
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    I think you are overstating things. English spelling is complicated and people have had many intents for its use, not just one. Etymology has been involved--as in "type", from Greek "typos"--but pronunciation has also been involved--as in "matter", which is spelled with two "t"s even though it comes from Latin "materia" with only one "t". And some words are spelled in ways that don't seem to have any explanation in terms of pronunciation or etymology: for example, "cedar", which comes from French cedre, Latin cedrus, Greek kedros; the Old English spelling was "ceder". – sumelic Nov 27 '17 at 20:31
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I would have said either "naik" ( I am in Scotland, so that is the accepted way to say it" or "nee-keh" as that is closer to the original Greek for Νίκη (not ηικε like I thought, thanks to sumelic). Proper names do not change due to the language they are spoken in: they retain the sound they are meant to have in the language of their origin.

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    The original Greek is νίκη (or Νίκη), not ηικε. There are many proper names that are standardly pronounced differently in English than in the language of origin: e.g. Paris, Zeus, Hades. – sumelic Nov 23 '17 at 16:38
  • Even the pronunciation of unfamiliar proper names from other languages is changed to fit into the English phonetic system, & sometimes also to conform to how they're spelt. – Scortchi Nov 23 '17 at 17:15
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    The last sentence in this answer is almost precisely the reverse of actual reality. Proper names almost always change when they’re borrowed into a different language; they hardly ever retain their original sound, for the simple reason that very few language pairs have identical sound inventories. People tend to make more of an effort to approximate the original pronunciation with proper names, but that’s a very different thing. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 24 '17 at 17:29
  • I speak 5 languages, and can read another half a dozen at least enough to get by: in all the learning I have done, and from every instruction I have taken, proper names always retain their proper pronunciation in their native tongue. If there is a translated version of the name then that version is used, otherwise the native version remains (i.e. Naples for Napoli, however my name is Giovanni in any language, and always pronounced joh-VAHN-nee). On a minor aside, spelt is a grain, the word you meant to use was spelled Scortchi :D. – GMasucci Nov 29 '17 at 10:23
  • @GMasucci then you haven't heard an American mispronounced your name, because I have heard plenty of non-native Italian and spanish speakers (mis)pronounce Giovanni as GEE-oh-vah-nee community.babycenter.com/post/a26689583/pronounce_giovanni – Mari-Lou A Nov 29 '17 at 10:42
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Because it is a name and just like any other name, the entity that owns that name gets to decide how it is pronounced.

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    Did Subaru decide it should be pronounced differently in different countries, or was that decided for them? Did the Lego Group decide that it should be pronounced "legos" in the USA, or was that decided for them? – Oddthinking Nov 22 '17 at 17:11
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    People choosing to ignore your preference, or being ignorant of your preference, doesn't change how it should be pronounced. My name is Kevin. The fact that some people pronounce it Kelvin doesn't change that. – Kevin Nov 22 '17 at 17:24
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    "No no no, it's spelt, 'Raymond Luxury Yacht', but it's pronounced, 'Throat Warbler Mangrove'". I think people only get to say how their name should be pronounced within certain conventional bounds. – Scortchi Nov 23 '17 at 17:25
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    So, we need to ask the Goddess Nike how to pronounce her name? I'm not sure that is practical any longer. The shoe company might still be able to express a preference, but what if they do not choose to do so, or worse, have multiple spokespersons who recommend different pronunciations? – Richard Hussong Nov 24 '17 at 3:52
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    @Scortchi Who decides where those conventional bounds end? At what point does it become acceptable for others to say, “No, that’s not your name. You’ve been pronouncing it wrong all your life. We decide what your name is”? I’ve met people called Fhraoich and Dearbhfhlaith who pronounced their names ‘Ree’ and ‘Jerla’, respectively—would you ‘correct’ them? As you can probably tell, I would disagree very much with such a ‘correction’. I may cringe inwardly at someone called ‘Le-a’ pronouncing her name ‘Ledasha’, but it’s her name, and I have no say in the matter. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 24 '17 at 17:16
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The answer should be 'it's meant to be ˈnʌɪki rather than ˈnʌɪk. How it has been hitherto pronounced in practice is the way how it should be! That is how language goes on in English. We should not make up pseudo-rules here.

ODO:

Nike /ˈnʌɪki / Greek Mythology

the goddess of victory.

– ORIGIN Greek, literally ‘victory’.

'Why questions' are tricky in any discipline. Please listen to Richard Feynman:

https://youtu.be/wMFPe-DwULM

1

Why is synecdoche pronounced si-NEK-də-kee?

/sɪˈnɛkdəki/

Because that's the way the cookie crumbles.
Oh, and because it derives from Greek too

Latin, from Greek synekdochē, from syn- + ekdochē sense, interpretation, from ekdechesthai to receive, understand, from ex from + dechesthai to receive; akin to Greek dokein to “seem good” First Known Use: 15th century

Courtesy of Merriam-Webster

Merriam Webster also informs that the first appearance of the name Nike in English was in 1846, which seems rather recent. Etymonline offers no etymology of the name nor any dates; however, it says it was used as the name for U.S. defensive surface-to-air missiles from 1952. Wikipedia opines that Nike has uncertain etymology.

protected by tchrist Nov 22 '17 at 14:47

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