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(Photo: Fotolia)
(Photo: Fotolia)

A recent article about the British pronunciation of Nike (to rhyme with “bike”) elicited howls of surprise and disbelief from my American friends on both sides of the Pond. According to the company itself, it’s NI-key! Rhymes with “spikey.” The one Brit I know who gives it the “spikey” pronunciation makes the exception for Nike Air. Apparently saying Nikey-Air is weird, so it becomes NI-kair. Go figure.

The whole Nike thing made me think about other brand names that we blithely pronounce the British-English way, to the amusement of our host countrymen and women. Take Sony, whose name is everywhere at the moment because of their World Cup sponsorship. Americans pronounce this almost rhyming with “slowly,” whereas in the U.K. I have heard versions closer to a “Bonnie” rhyming situation. Before the onslaught of denial and outrage begins: yes, it may be a regional thing, but only two days ago I heard a non-northern BBC World News correspondent (reporting from Asia) pronounce it thus.

Then there’s Adidas. Alas, according to the article, the company hasn’t pronounced on its pronunciation. They are also a World Cup sponsor, though, so we might get a clue during broadcasts. Brits and other Europeans tend to say “Addy-das” while Americans say “a-DEE-das” with the emphasis firmly on the middle syllable. Since the company founder was a German named Adi (short for Adolf), you’d assume the pronunciation would be the Addy version, so that next time an American corrects you, just tell ‘em the jury’s still out, then Google it as proof of the ongoing debate.

Brand name pronunciation is a strange thing really. There are the organic differences between Americans and Brits. Although we both emphasize the first syllable, Jaguar is pronounced “JAG-you-ar” in the U.K. and more like “JAG-wahr” here. And then there are differences that seem to be conjured up by the companies themselves. I remember hiring a Toyota Celica in the U.K. a few years ago and having all my friends fall about laughing as I pronounced it “SELL-uh-ka”—you know, like they do in the TV commercials here. Brits (and a few other nations apparently) pronounce it “Suh-LEEK-a” with the emphasis heavily in the middle.

And of course, there’s Hyundai, pronounced “HUN-day” in the U.S, but, as Top Gear viewers will know, “HI-un-die” in the U.K. And here, we have a clear answer about the correct pronunciation: the U.K .version is an Anglicized version, which the company, nevertheless, seems to go along with. The U.S. follows the Korean pronunciation. Porsche (mentioned in the original piece) is treated differently on both sides of the Pond, as is Nissan and Fiat, although those differences aren’t as big as Hyundai and Celica. Most Americans give Fiat a long “A” sound (British version of “long” btw) rather than the flatter “A” given by Brits, although we both stress the “fee” sound. Nissan’s stressed first syllable receives an ”ee” sound in the U.S. which, according to this Japanese speaker, is correct—rather than the more “it” sound across the Pond. But again, Google the subject, and you’ll find “experts” supporting both.

When I first came to the U.S., Oil of Ulay (pronounced “YOU-lay” ) was the British version of America’s Oil of Olay, but they have since gone global and now (except for a few countries) we’re all saying OH-lay. I am SO glad they didn’t go for Ulay since we would have then had the debate about whether the first syllable should be “OO-lay” or “YOU-lay.” Pantene shampoo, on the other hand, stays true to its confusing national pronunciations. Here, it’s Pan-TEEN to rhyme with canteen (which, incidentally Americans, is a British word for “cafeteria”) while in the U.K. it’s Pan-TEN.

I think we all say L’Oreal the same way! Or no (as they say over here)?

What other brands do Brits and Americans pronounce differently? Tell us below:

See more:
No, Arkansas Doesn’t Sound the Way It Looks: A Guide to Pronouncing U.S. Place Names
10 American Speech Habits That Grate on British Ears
A Brit’s Guide to American Regional Nicknames

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Filed Under: pronunciation
By Toni Hargis