BMW. Are we saying it right?

Interesting | January 20th, 2018 by 39
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Porsche. We’ve all heard someone else mispronounce it. Maybe some of you mispronounce it yourselves. I, undoubtedly, have done so at least once in my …

Porsche. We’ve all heard someone else mispronounce it. Maybe some of you mispronounce it yourselves. I, undoubtedly, have done so at least once in my life. There is only one way to pronounce it, that is correctly. Right? As a German word, the German pronunciation should, arguably, prevail over any other pronunciation. It is, of course, derived from its ethnically German founder’s surname. Say Porsh in front of Porsche enthusiasts, and you’ll likely be corrected. We can probably agree that it is Porsh-uh and not Porsh.

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Though a mispronunciation of much lesser notoriety, one that bothered me in the past was Maybach. The German, uber luxury brand which Daimler mistakenly thought could compete with Rolls-Royce by offering a car which many considered to be merely a bloated S-class, had its name egregiously bastardized. Ignorant entertainers threw gas upon this fire, by referencing Maybach in their works. Māy-back soon became the seemingly dominant pronunciation. That is like referring to the revered composer Bach as Back. Every time I heard it mispronounced, I said to myself, “Mahy-bahk.”

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Even within the past decade, I’ve heard people refer to Audi as Awe-dē. If you know your Audi history, you know that Audi isn’t a German word, but rather a Latin word. August Horch, also the founder of the luxury automaker Horch, chose the name Audi after leaving the company which bore his name and being denied the ability to use the Horch name for cars he sought to produce moving forward. Audi was chosen because it is the Latin equivalent to his surname. Yeah, this guy really liked his surname. I digress, today it is generally accepted that Audi is pronounced as it is in Latin, as Ou-dē. That is Ou, as in ouch, not like the French Oui.

Now, surely, you must think I’m very pretentious. I can’t blame you for having such an impression. As if the way a car company’s name is spoken is substantive, or of even the smallest importance. However, I’m not setting out to clarify such trivial things, but simply wondering if, when this same standard is applied, the standard of determining the correct pronunciation of something by the way it is pronounced in the language of its origin, if many of us, outside of German-speaking peoples, are actually mispronouncing BMW? “How,” you may be wondering. Let me explain.

In American English, we pronounce the letter W quite differently from the German pronunciation, even though English is a Germanic language. Of course, this is not the only instance in which the pronunciation of certain letters differ, but it’s the only one relevant at this moment. The Germans pronounce W as we pronounce V. In Germany, where the company is headquartered and where it was founded, as well as outside of its country of origin in German-speaking countries, you’d hear the Bavarian brand referred to as B-M-V.

With the same standard many have used to determine the correct pronunciation of Porsche, Maybach and Audi being applied, most of us are probably saying it incorrectly. However, if that standard is also generally disregarded, or even disputed, does that mitigate its correctness?

Some Americanizations, or Englishization, of foreign brand names in the automotive realm have been largely embraced. By that I mean, nobody wearing a Porsche hat will scold you for technically mispronouncing them. Volkswagen is a great example. The biggest automotive manufacturer in the world. If we utilized the same standard we’ve applied earlier, the correct pronunciation is Folks-vahgen. You see, in German, V is pronounced with an F sound, W with a V sound, as we’ve covered, and A, without an umlaut above it, as Ah.

Now personally, I think this standard is just a preference, a subjective value placed on saying things a certain way, rather than an absolute rule, the correctness of which cannot be mitigated by its denial. I don’t think anyone is wrong for saying B-M-W, but what do you think? Am I a hypocrite for applying this standard to the pronunciation of Porsche but not Volkswagen? Should we all be saying Folks-vahgen? Will you change the way you pronounce BMW? I won’t.

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