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We were discussing the merits of buying a team collaboration tool (Confluence) today, when we were completely sidetracked by the pronouncation "wiki".

Most of the folks on the team say it's pronounced "whicky"; that's what Wikipedia calls it, Wikileaks, etc.

However, a few stalwarts insist that, since its etymology is Hawiian, it's actually pronounced "weekee". They say the "big brands" like Wikipedia who insist upon calling themselves "whicky-pee-dee-ah" don't change the fact that "wiki" is pronounced "weekee".

Anyway, given that this is a neologism, what's the proper pronuncation? Is it an accent/regional preference?

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    As Hellion's answer notes, some English dialects exhibit a difference between "wh" and lone "w" at the start of a word - the former is pronounced something like (and in many cases originally spelt as) "hw". You may want to change the spelling in your question to "wicky" unless you specifically do pronounce it like that :)
    – psmears
    Feb 19, 2011 at 14:29

5 Answers 5

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I think if you were to pronounce it "weekee" you would either come off as being pedantic, or from another country with an adorable accent, or you would spend a lot of time explaining what you meant — to people who then would say, "Oh, you mean a wiki!"

I've given up on a lot of "correct" pronunciations. For example, the correct pronunciation for "acclimated" is uh•CLIMB•uh•ted, not ACK•luh•may•ted. But I've just grown weary of that discussion. And don't even get me started on American mispronunciations of Japanese words: the American SUE-moh instead of the Japanese s'MOH for sumo, harry-carry for the correct harakiri (as long as you pronounce the "r"s as soft taps of the tongue on the palate), etc.

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    FWIW, Merriam-Webster gives your supposed “wrong” pronunciations first for all the words you cite: merriam-webster.com/dictionary/acclimated merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sumo merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hara-kiri So if people are pronouncing those words “wrong”, it’s because the authority on pronunciation, i.e. dictionaries, is telling them to.
    – nohat
    Dec 4, 2010 at 11:33
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    (1) I would not call the pronunciations of sumo and harakiri in English “mispronunciations” because it is just natural that words with Japanese origin are pronounced in English way when used as an English word. There are many reasons why sumo is not pronounced as [sɯ̀móó] and harakiri not as [hàɽákíɽí] in English. (2) By the way, the Merriam-Webster dictionary does not say anything about the Japanese pronunciation of sumo or harakiri and therefore I am not completely sure why nohat cited it. Dec 4, 2010 at 16:08
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    I cited Merriam-Webster because it is an authority on how to pronounce words in American English, regardless of their origin, Japanese or otherwise. Words always change pronunciation when they are borrowed into another language. That's how language works. Calling it "mispronunciation" is like calling French a "mispronunciation" of Latin. I can assure you that Merriam-Webster's reporting of how to pronounce the English words sumo and hara-kiri are unimpeachably correct.
    – nohat
    Dec 4, 2010 at 21:41
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    The point is that they are not “mispronunciations”—they are borrowed words. It is characterizing them as “mispronunciations” which is having a “tin ear” for how language actually works.
    – nohat
    Dec 6, 2010 at 16:38
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    I agree with @nohat: these are borrowed words, not mispronunciations. Should we consider the Spanish estándar for standard or the Japanese アイスクリーム (aisu kurīmu) for ice cream as mispronunciations of English?
    – Jaime Soto
    Dec 10, 2010 at 18:48
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I would claim that they're two different words from two different languages. Wiki means quick. Wiki is used to refer to collaboratively edited media. They are two different things.

For the record, I live in Hawai'i and am fairly pedantic about my pronunciation, e.g. I pronounce Ho'okipa as Ho-o-kipa and not Ho-kipa as most hoales do or Hoo-kipa like the tourists do. i is definitely pronounced ee and your friends are definitely right about the Hawai'ian word. It has no bearing whatsoever. It's Wikipedia, not quick.

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There are plenty of words whose current pronunciation bears little or no relationship to their etymology. Personally I don't aspirate the "W" either, so I say it's "wick-ee".

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    As for W versus WH, in the OP's accent it must not make a difference.
    – Jon Purdy
    Dec 5, 2010 at 9:49
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I think that Wiktionary is an adequate reference for this case: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/wiki, http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Wikipedia.

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The only adequate reference for this must be the correspondence between Patrick Taylor and Ward Cunningham, who was the person to coin the term Wiki.

From Correspondence on the Etymology of Wiki:

The Question (by Patrick Taylor)

I was wondering if you could fill us in here at the dictionary with any more details on your use of the Hawaiian word to the site and the web machinery. What year did this take place? In 1995? Do you have a long-standing interest in the Hawaiian language, or did you come by the Hawaiian word by other means? Did you intend the word to be pronounced as wee-kee (rhyming with leaky) or as wick-ey (rhyming with sticky)?".

The Answer (by Ward Cunningham)

What year did this take place? In 1995?

Yes. I wrote similar programs earlier but they did not run on the web and they were not called wiki.

Do you have a long-standing interest in the Hawaiian language, or did you come by the Hawaiian word by other means?

Wiki wiki is the first Hawai'ian term I learned on my first visit to the islands. The airport counter agent directed me to take the wiki wiki bus between terminals. I said what? He explained that wiki wiki meant quick. I was to find the quick bus. I did pick up a book about the language before my return home. I learned many things from this but wiki wiki is the word that sticks the most.

Did you intend the word to be pronounced as wee-kee (rhyming with leaky) or as wick-ey (rhyming with sticky)?

I believe the former is the proper pronunciation though I've been known to use the latter. My preference would be that the word be pronounced as a Hawai'ian would, and that wick-ey be an acceptable alternative.

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