I’m watching Auction Kings and a lady from Atlanta (who does not have much of a southern US accent) is putting a calliope up for auction. What caught my attention was the way she pronounce it: /kæliːop/ (cal-ee-ope) instead of /kəˈlaɪ.əpiː/ (call-I-oh-pee).

It didn’t stop there either, otherwise I would have chalked it up to it being just her unfamiliarity with the word. The owner of the gallery, Paul (who has a mild southern accent, similar to Matthew McConaughey), pronounced it the same way during several shots of him filmed after the auction, and numerous other times during the episode. In fact, in one scene, Paul pronounced it like that in front of a musical-instrument expert who was called in to appraise it, but the expert did not correct him (I note that the expert did not say the word at all throughout the segment, possibly to avoid embarrassing Paul on television).

Two of the bidders also pronounced it like that as did the owner again.

I particularly noted the pronunciation because this show was the third time this week that I heard it pronounced this way. The auctioneer however pronounced the way I expected.

(This reminds me of when I was young and saw the name Penelope on paper for the first time. I read the whole book pronouncing her name in my head as Pen-eh-lope—and thinking that the girl was unusual because of her strange name.)

I checked several sites (Merriam-Webster, Dictionary.com, Wikipedia) and none of them list an alternate spelling.

I thought that maybe it’s just a case of people hearing a new term pronounced incorrectly and repeating it, but Paul and the gallery manager pronounced it like that several times after the auctioneer pronounced it correctly.

Is there a regional (specifically southern US) pronunciation of the word calliope?

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    I imagine that they just don’t know how it’s supposed to be pronounced.
    – tchrist
    Commented Sep 2, 2012 at 0:40
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    Having attended a school where latin was a major focus, in a public reading, one of my schoolmates referred to an "oo-nee-kway" (unique) experience.
    – bib
    Commented Sep 2, 2012 at 1:22
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    @PeterShor And I wouldn't know deuce was pronounced douche either, if it weren't for the Manfred Mann version.
    – Brendon
    Commented Sep 2, 2012 at 1:42
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    @BillFranke, if someone pronounced your name Bile, I doubt that you would accept it and not call it wrong.
    – Synetech
    Commented Sep 2, 2012 at 1:57
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    @BillFranke, if someone has never seen “Bill” before and pronounced it as Bile or as Beel (i is pronounced as ee in many/most languages), it does not mean an attack, nor a speech impediment; they are just pronouncing it phonetically (just like I did with Penelope when I was a child). Either way, there is a correct pronunciation and there is nothing arrogant about that. Some words have multiple pronunciations, but this one does not. I checked several sites and they all listed just one; and you have not provided a source showing another. (Besides, I never said it was correct or incorrect.)
    – Synetech
    Commented Sep 2, 2012 at 2:20

11 Answers 11


According to the section labelled "pronunciation" on Wikipedia, the musical instrument is pronounced /ˈkæli.oʊp/ and the Greek Muse is /kəˈlaɪ.əpiː/.

Oxford disagrees, listing only the latter pronunciation (or something approximating it). Merriam Webster lists both pronunciations for the musical instrument.

  • Hmm, I saw the IPA at the top of the Greek muse Wiki page, but there was none for the musical instrument. I didn’t think it might be present later in the article (I have only ever seen it at the top, but I guess if the pronunciation is noteworthy, it would have its own section). I’ll chalk it up to there indeed being two pronunciations (though all the sites I checked only listed one).
    – Synetech
    Commented Sep 2, 2012 at 4:09
  • 1
    Ask someone in a traveling circus what it's called. Then find one of the few remaining passenger steamboats on the Mississippi and ask their crew what it's called. You will get two different answers. (And, IIRC, the two instruments are different in some significant ways.)
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Sep 23, 2018 at 12:27

I would have said (cal-ee-ope) was the correct pronunciation in English. The Greek goddess would be (call-I-oh-pee) but the pronunciation of the original root isn't a good guide to how to pronounce it in English.

According to Steam Boats, this rhyme is supposed to help, but I don't see how - since you can rhyme it with either me or hope!

Proud folk stare after me,
Call me Calliope;
Tooting joy, tooting hope,
I am the calliope.

  • 10
    It's supposed to rhyme with both. It rhymes with me in the second line and hope in the fourth line. It's a mnemonic device to help you remember the difference.
    – Jim
    Commented Sep 2, 2012 at 4:21
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    @Jim, mgb probably meant that because the poem's rhyme scheme is not explicitly specified, it could be abba instead of aabb. Commented Sep 2, 2012 at 4:52
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    Nah, Abba never wrote anything as poetic as that!
    – user16269
    Commented Sep 2, 2012 at 7:36
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    @Jim - good point, hadn't read the lyrics in detail
    – mgb
    Commented Sep 2, 2012 at 15:26

I invite your attention to the two pronunciations listed at Merriam-Webster. Unfortunately, I cannot clarify the usual pronunciation of this word in the southeastern U.S., as I did not hear it spoken in 11 years in that region (TN, SC and NC), to my recollection. Nor do I recall having heard this word spoken on the west coast (20 years) or the midwest (10 years) of the United States. I do not think this is a "usual word" in the southestern U.S.! I suspect among music scholars/enthusiasts it is not rare. Is it common in your corner of the english speaking world or do you have more knowledge of musical instruments than others in your region?
I'm sure I've seen the word before, and mentally I pronounce it like the people on your program, but I have never spoken nor heard this word. In looking up the word, I am surprised to learn it is of Greek origin, it looks Italian or Spanish to me. Perhaps it is lack of familiarity with the word that results in the pronunciation listed second in the reference I included...it is also quite possible that I misinterpreted the second phonetic transliteration to be what you describe. We are all the product of our experience, or lack thereof. I see nothing correct or incorrect about that.

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    I didn't see the 2 pronunciations until I read your answer. Thank you for that. I always pronounce it as if it were the name of the Muse (mid-Atlantic: NJ, NYC). I can't remember hearing anyone in Atlanta using the word while I was there (3 years). I'm not mortified to know that I've been mispronouncing it all these years. If I still were pronouncing subtle as [s^b tl] (I was 9 or 10 then) instead of [s^ tl], though, I'd be downright erythematous with shame.
    – user21497
    Commented Sep 2, 2012 at 15:36
  • @BillFranke I had never bothered to look up the word until this question was brought up. It's very interesting to me how we develop our pronunciations. I recall as a child the sense of wonder when I saw in print a word that I'd heard or said before, particularly if the spelling was less phonetic. Likewise I recall the sense of wonder when hearing a word for the first time which I had previously only seen in print. Thank you for the feedback.
    – Mike
    Commented Sep 3, 2012 at 2:48
  • That’s strange. I too only saw one pronunciations when I first looked at the page. o.O Thanks for pointing it out.
    – Synetech
    Commented Sep 4, 2012 at 0:25
  • I’ll add myself to the list of people who’s never heard this word pronounced (that I can recall), nor said it myself. I had to look it up to pinpoint what kind of instrument it even is (not a piano? Not a trumpet? Not a drum? Right, that’s about the extent of my knowledge of musical instruments exhausted!). I am surprised at both pronunciations, though—they are quite atypical. I have always mentally pronounced both the Muse and the instrument as [ˌkæli.ˈəʊpiː], retaining the final (as is common with feminine names from Greek mythology), but not inexplicably lengthening the i. Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 15:37

This is not a regional pronunciation issue, rather it is a professional one. Those who played the steam whistle organ patented by Joshua Stoddard in 1855 - and those who worked in proximity to it, generally referred/refer to it as cal-ee-op (long o). Whether this originated in a mispronunciation of the Greek muse's name or not, it has become the standard pronunciation among circus, carnival and steamboat workers/enthusiasts.

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    Thanks for your contribution. Could you edit your answer to cite or link to an external source for future reference?
    – choster
    Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 15:34
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    It's not a mispronunciation, it's a shibboleth.
    – Gossar
    Commented Jan 3, 2018 at 5:07
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    @Gossar This is the first time in my life I saw someone use the word "shibboleth" in its original meaning.
    – RedSonja
    Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 9:33
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    @Gossar I agree this is a Shibboleth. In New Orleans, "calliope" is deliberately pronounced "cal -ee - ope" to weed out the non-natives. In the same way, "Chartres Street" is pronounced "char-TER" and "Carondolet" is pronounced with a hard "T" and Esplanade rhymes with Lemondade! Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 22:03

If you look up the pronunciation as is listed in the Webster AND Oxford dictionaries, which are the standards for the English language, they are pronounced --kəˈlaɪ.əpiː/ (call-I-oh-pee)--

I agree with the original posting. The woman from the museum mispronounced it and then the host of the show repeated it, either to be polite or because he didn't know either. It's not a word that you would use very often, it's easy to make the mistake if you guess simply by looking at the world as written. The professional calliope repair man, surprisingly, didn't say a word--- (at least on camera!).....

Also I live in Atlanta and coincidentally in the music business, and I never heard any alternate pronunciation, so I very much doubt it is a local pronunciation.


The pronunciation in New Orleans is Cal ee ope....I was schooled when I moved there that Calliope Street was not Ca li o pee...of course they pronounce Burgundy Street as Bur gund e with emphasis on the gund....so I guess we cant use this city as a good example for any correct pronunciations! LOL


The OED (updated 2016) has


Brit. /kəˈlʌɪəpi/, or /kaˈlʌɪəpi/

U.S. /kəˈlaɪəpi/, or /ˈkæliˌoʊp/

Edit to add Lord Kennet's poem that has a parallel with Calliope

I live in hope some day to see

The crimson-necked phalarope;

(Or do I, rather, live in hope

To see the red-necked phalarope?)


The story I once heard (from an authority on the devices): "Cal-ee-ope" is used for the instruments on boats (the devices were once quite popular on steamboats in the US), while "call-I-oh-pee" is used for instruments in circuses. This is a long-standing tradition.

I'm sorry, I do not have a link for this distinction, but, as I recall, the topic was raised when the calliope was restored on the old Belle of Louisville steamboat. This would have been back ca 1965. (And reading that article reminds me that a distinction of sorts exists between air calliopes and steam ones. Virtually all circus calliopes run on air, but the traditional steamboat ones run on steam. I don't know if this detail figures into the pronunciation difference.)


I have to interject here, this is what makes Calliope a Calliope Word, in the sense that it is more commonly read than heard, and reading it leaves you uncertain how to pronounce it.


Hi this is a really old thread but I was looking up the name and this popped up. English anglicizes names and words all the time, without any regard to the actual pronunciation. My Godmothers name is Calliope and it's pronounced : Cahl ee o pee

That's the original ethnic pronunciation and apparently the way the folks in the show were pronouncing it, which is correct.

  • Unfortunately, the way one person pronounces their name cannot be taken as a general guide to the way all people pronounce the name, nor, in this case, the goddess'/muse's or the musical instrument's.
    – Greybeard
    Commented Dec 11, 2023 at 10:38

There was an American tank used during WWII called the T34 Calliope, which was named after the musical instrument and is correctly pronounced "cal-ee-ope" as that's a common pronunciation for the instrument in America.

Outside of those usages, it should be pronounced "cal-i-oh-pee".

  • Erm...the American T34 Calliope was "a tank-mounted multiple rocket launcher" fitted to a Sherman M4 tank, not a tank in and of itself. It could be compared to the Katyusha rocket launcher i.e. "Stalin's organ". The actual T-34 tank with its 76.2 mm main gun was a fearsome Russian beast designed by Mikhail Koshkin and introduced to the Western battlefield in 1940. Panzer drivers (I-IV) were terrified of them. Commented Feb 15, 2021 at 19:09

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