We all have words that we repeatedly struggle to pronounce, either because we’ve only ever seen them in writing or because our brains just can’t seem to get it right. As often as I’ve ordered the Italian blue cheese, I myself can never remember where to put the accent on “gorgonzola” (it’s GorgonzOla, not GargAnzola, as I often say).
Our tendency to mispronounce words is especially common when it comes to the ones we’ve appropriated for other languages. The French word “macabre,” for example, which is used to indicate that something is gruesome, is pronounce “muh-COB” not “ma-ca-BRAY.” And you’ll see Italians visibly grimace when Americans say “expresso,” for good reason.
There are plenty of words to choose from when it comes to picking the one that it most commonly mispronounced all over the world. But, after careful consideration, one academic recently argued that the most brazenly bastardized word is, in fact, “karaoke,” which means “empty orchestra” in Japanese.
Most people pronounce “karaoke” as “care-ee-oh-key.” But, if we were to pronounce it properly, we would say the “kara” part the same way we do in “karate” (which, for the record, is pronounce kah-rah-tay, not ka-ra-tee). The “oke” is actually a shorter version of the Japanese word for orchestra, ōkesutora, and sounds like “okay.” Which means that the correct pronunciation would is “kah-rah-oh-kay.”
This corroborates with the information on a website about traveling in Japan, which says that if you’re looking for a karaoke bar, “people may not know what you’re searching for if you [say care-ee-oh-key]…instead, you should say, “kah-rah-oh-kay.”
Which is good to know if you ever travel to Japan, especially if you ever decide to visit the oldest hotel in the world. And for a handy guide on other appropriated words, check out 50 Designer Brand Names You’re Probably Mispronouncing.