Tibor's Musings

Fun with Phonetics

Sound-play is another sort of word-play used in creating product names.

Coincidentally I was reading Steven Pinker's "The Language Instinct" book today where he relates an amuzing anecdote:

George Bernard Shaw led a vigorous campaign to reform the English alphabet, a system so illogical, he said, that it could spell "fish" as "ghoti" --- "gh" as in "tough", "o" as in "women", "ti" as in "nation". ("Mnomnoupte" for "minute" and "mnopspteiche" for "mistake" are other examples.) In his will Shaw bequathed a cash prize to be awarded to the designer of a replacement alphabet for English, in which each sound in the spoken language would be recognizableby a single symbol. [...]

(I would add that founders of the Slovak language codification process in the 18th and 19th centuries, such as Anton Bernolák and Ľudovít Štúr, used precisely the phonological rule "write-as-you-hear" as one of the founding principles behind the codification of various Slovak dialects into the common modern language.)

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We don't have to go far for examples of phonetic fun within software program names. The Free Software Foundation's GNU project sure bears the logo of the gnu animal, and is an acronym of "GNU's Not Unix", and is pronounced "guh-new"; nonetheless the dictionaries say that the leading "g" in the word "gnu" can be silent, in which case the pronounciation goes like "new", refering to a new free way of software making-and-sharing. An idea taken by my favourite mail/news reader, Gnus, which -- with a silent leading "g" -- gets pronounced akin to "news", a very appropriate name for a news reader.

Much fun is to be had with acronyms and/or phonetics.

P.S. See also Poems showing the absurdities of English spelling.