Remember last New Year’s Eve when the manager of a Michelin star restaurant tried to uncork a $2,000 dollar of Nebuchadnezzar champagne with a saber, only to shatter the bottle and leave the kitchen floor lathered in bubbles?
Poor guy. While I can’t help you with sabering open a bottle of bubbly this New Year’s Eve, maybe I can help you avoid the linguistic equivalent of this gaffe — mispronouncing your champs of choice.
Even Freddy Mercury Fumbled
Freddy Mercury, the iconic front man of the rock band Queen, is known for many classic lines.
We will rock you.
Another one bites the dust.
Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?
But among them is one flickering faux pas. In the opening line to the 1974 classic Killer Queen, Mercury sings: “She keeps her Mo-way et Chandon in her pretty cabinet …”
Mo-way. That’s how I always said it until my wife started working in the spirits industry. Moët is actually pronounced Mo-wet. It’s Dutch, not French.
It’s Pronounced Veuve …
Veuve Clicquot is another champagne with an oft-mangled name. Many say it Voove Klee-koh, but it’s more like Vuv Klee-koh.
My wife schooled me on this one too with this adorable rhyme: “It’s pronounced Veuve like love.”
After the Ball Has Dropped
Pronunciation may be something to keep in mind if there are any tongue-twisters your organization relies on.
Sure, many common HR terms are easy enough to say. Copay. Performance management. Broadbanding. Onboarding. No problem. But, what about your company’s name, benefit plan names, product/service names, technologies or even the names of key leaders?
Is There Really a Right Way to Say It?
According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, pronunciation does not matter when it comes to trademarks.
“There is no “correct” pronunciation of a mark because it is impossible to predict how the public will pronounce a particular mark; therefore, “correct” pronunciation cannot be relied on to avoid a likelihood of confusion.”Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure, 1207.01(b)(iv) Similarity in Sound – Phonetic Equivalents
Further, my own informal tests showed that Siri prefers the “wrong” pronunciations of Möet and Veuve.
But, like any good communication, proper pronunciation facilitates clarity and shared understanding. Saying a word the right way can be helpful anytime real humans speak to one another, when we employ a medium that includes sound, or whenever others need to ask or search for a product/service by name.
For example, it helps ensure that when one person says Shlum-ber-zhay, the other person knows they’re referring to the French oilfield services company Schlumberger.
Plus, knowing how to say a word or name the “right” way gives people the feeling of being in the know. Once someone has that feeling, it’s unlikely they’ll give it up. It’s more likely they’ll become a sort of evangelist, sharing what they’ve learned with others. (Will you ever order — or let a friend order — a Mo-way or Voove again?)
Getting People to Say it the Way You Want Them To
There’s no way to enforce the proper pronunciation of a word (unless you’re directing a video or podcast), but you can provide guidance, inspiration and knowledge.
Here are some simple things you can add to your verbal identity guidelines to promote your preferred pronunciations.
- Phonetic spellings when needed. That’s a no-brainer.
- The actual name or term. This may also sound like a given, but it’s not unusual to come across a client’s health care plan masquerading under various aliases. What the administrator calls “Healthfund” might be known within HR as “the CDHP” and labeled on the intranet as something like “Health Choice Plus.” This isn’t exactly a pronunciation problem, but the outcome is similar. Pick one name and stick with it.
- A brief story about the term’s etymology. Is it a family name (Moët)? A mythological being (Nike)? A literary character (Starbuck)? A story (like the one about Freddy Mercury) makes information more memorable and sharable. Try using them to align audiences around a common pronunciation.
- A simple mnemonic. My sister-in-law is a drug rep. There’s a drug in her portfolio called Reyataz. She gets doctors saying it right with this phrase: “Ray of Light, Ray of Hope, Ray-a-taz.” A good mnemonic like this one and “Veuve like love” are quick, memorable and instructive. They have the added bonus of associating the brand with a positive emotion.
- Embedded video or audio files. This could be an easy, affordable and engaging solution. For a fun example, let’s go back behind the bar. Below are the names of some Scotch whiskies. Can you pronounce them? Click on each name to find out if you got it right.
Hopefully, that helps you navigate your New Year’s Eve toast … and to foster proper pronunciations of key terms among your employees once you’re back in the office.
Do you have creative ideas for getting employees or customers to pronounce something properly? Share your story with us. If you’d like some help, let’s discuss it in the new year. Cheers!More Ideas