Most commonly mispronounced scientists' names

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  • #1
epenguin
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Gregg's thread on most commonly misspelt science words reminded me that I wanted to post some time one on the most commonly mispronounced scientists' names. As well as famous names being invoked, they are often of course used for naming effects or units etc.

The absolute worst case is Huyghens. I cringe when I hear people think it has to be pronounced something like Hur-ee-ghens - really ugly. It's Dutch, but it's not as bad as that! Something like High-ghens is nearer, and would be a relief for everybody. van Leeuwenhoek similar - pronunciation like 'fan Live en hook'.

It struck me only now to wonder: couldn't the very official committees who laid down units terminology and definitions have standardised pronunciations? If they did I have never heard of it.

I had a thought earlier about what principles we should generally adopt for pronunciation. It seemed to me the best was not how it comes to you in your own language on the one hand. But on the other hand not quite as it is in the language of origin. That would lead to snobbishness and be impossible in the end. It seems to me a good principle could be pronounce it like somebody who knows how it should be pronounced in the original but does not pretend to do exactly that.

Even that, I have to admit, would be more a case of do what I say than do what I do. I have been thinking the words for so long that it has been difficult for me to mentally switch from Einstein to Einshtein. From Kirchoff pronounced Kerr Choff! like a sneeze to Keer hoff with a difficult German ch.

It's not always obvious that the case arises. For the time I thought the useful Sturm method should be Shtoorm, but it turns out he was French though the name was in origin Germanic so how should that be? Cotton, of the Cotton effect was French too, so pronunciation is not like English cotton, but more like Coe ton with stress on the second syllable which is nasal, difficult to get that right too.

Here is a list of some names I have often enough heard mispronounced (and as I say, am guilty myself).

Huyghens
Cotton
de Broglie
Einstein
Kirchhoff
Sturm
Mendeleev
Ampere
Bernoulli
Buchner, Bunsen
Celsius
Curie
Einstein
Fermat
Hertz
Kirchoff
van Leeuwenhoek
Jacobi
 
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  • #2
fresh_42
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This is an "English speakers only" thread. Most other languages do not mispronounce names as English speakers do. To their excuse must be said that they normally simply lack the appropriate sound in their language. Making Bach=back jokes simply don't work for anybody who is capable of pronouncing "a" correctly and "ch" at all.

I dare to claim that you can list every single foreign scientist's name in this thread.
 
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  • #3
Vanadium 50
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And where do you draw the line between "mispronounce" and "use your native accent"?
 
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  • #4
fresh_42
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And where do you draw the line between "mispronounce" and "use your native accent"?
Good question. Einstein is officially pronounced "ine+sh+t+ine". People from Hamburg would say "ine+s+t+ine" which is a pronunciation letter by letter, i.e. not really wrong, just not what the lexicon demands. One is correct German, and the other one is a local dialect.

And it would be Einstein's Albert in the region where he comes from.
 
  • #5
dextercioby
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Ah, my favorite topic, phonetics. Well, you see, that's why we have the IPA https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Phonetic_Alphabet. Which has a set of characters defined to cover all possible languages, but let us choose for simplicity the major European ones. So yes, the "legal" way to pronounce a person's name is to apply the country's IPA to the letter description of the name.
Einstein is a German surname, or a name most likely to be found within German-speaking countries (irrespective of whether the bearer of the name is German or Jew or whatever). In IPA the official pronunciation is here, right after the word "German" in the first line: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Einstein.

Because for a native English speaker who has not undergone a rigorous study of the German language in school (any level from elementary to University), the German pronunciation is almost impossible to reproduce with the mouth and vocal cords, one has devised an "anglicized" pronunciation using the set of characters from the English IPA. That is why English and Americans pronounce it the way they do.

And Dutch has a set of fundamental sounds (or phonemes) even trickier than the Germans, and the French do as well. That is why the anglicized pronunciation is not close to the "legal" one.
 
  • #6
anorlunda
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I have no doubt that English speakers are among the worst. But I'll wager that even Europeans regularly mangle Chinese names.

Note that @epenguin 's list of examples seems to include only Judeo-Christian names.
 
  • #7
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Even if Grzegorz Brzęczyszczykiewicz was the genius behind some of the most important physics law, world would name it after John Smith who published it 50 years later.
 
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  • #8
fresh_42
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Even if Grzegorz Brzęczyszczykiewicz was the genius behind some of the most important physics law, world would name it after John Smith who published it 50 years later.
It's even worse: Riesz and Riesz are two different mathematicians with differently pronounced names!
 
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  • #9
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Hearing Leon Brillouin’s name pronounced by a native speaker is an exercise in beauty. Hearing it around a US college campus—not so much.
 
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  • #10
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When I first read popular books by Richard Feynman, I had the intuitive pronunciation of his last name in mind. Then one time later in life, I heard his last name pronounced "Fineman" and thought, oh no, I've been mispronouncing his name all this time!

And then when I was ready to post in this thread about Feynman, I checked the pronounciation online, and learned that I had it right initially/intuitively. Doh!

https://www.howtopronounce.com/richard-feynman
 
  • #11
fresh_42
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When I first read popular books by Richard Feynman, I had the intuitive pronunciation of his last name in mind. Then one time later in life, I heard his last name pronounced "Fineman" and thought, oh no, I've been mispronouncing his name all this time!

And then when I was ready to post in this thread about Feynman, I checked the pronounciation online, and learned that I had it right initially/intuitively. Doh!

https://www.howtopronounce.com/richard-feynman
Where is the difference?

I just found a clip on FB and I have to say that this guy pronounced his lyrics better than most others pronounce German scientist names (~@ 1:00, btw. in Einstein's native home dialect):

 
  • #12
berkeman
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Where is the difference?
Yikes, the presentation at the link that I copy/pasted is very different from what I found via Google, sorry. Incorrect is "Fineman", and apparently correct is "Faynman".
 
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  • #13
fresh_42
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Yikes, the presentation at that link is very different from what I found via Google, sorry. Incorrect is "Fineman", and apparently correct is "Faynman".
I hear "Fineman" from the link, no "a" as in "fade", or as we would write it in German: Feynmen.

Edit: I looked up the origin of Feynman. As a Jewish name originating from Russia / Poland, I am very certain that it is Feynman, a version of "feiner Mann = fine man". Everything else is an American assimilation. The Yiddish pronunciation would be Fineman.
 
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  • #14
hutchphd
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Listen to Dale Corson's introduction at the Messenger Lecture. And watch the lecture!
 
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  • #15
fresh_42
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Listen to Dale Corson's introduction at the Messenger Lecture. And watch the lecture!
I still hear "Fineman". The only assimilation from Yiddish to English was that the Roman and German "a" turned into an English "e" as in "then".
 
  • #17
fluidistic
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How is Landau pronounced? I had read that Landau was aware that in French his name sounded like "L'âne Dau", which means the donkey Dau. However... in French his name isn't pronounced with a "L'âne" sound at all. I am therefore guessing he himself pronounced it as "L'âne Dau" where the Dau would be like Da - U with a U sounding like the "oo" in the English word "spooky"... but what is his name's origin...? So how is it pronounced?
 
  • #18
fluidistic
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You guys forgot Ångström. Probably Poisson, and many, many others. (Stern, Gerlach, Dirichlet)
 
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  • #19
dextercioby
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How is Landau pronounced? I had read that Landau was aware that in French his name sounded like "L'âne Dau", which means the donkey Dau. However... in French his name isn't pronounced with a "L'âne" sound at all. I am therefore guessing he himself pronounced it as "L'âne Dau" where the Dau would be like Da - U with a U sounding like the "oo" in the English word "spooky"... but what is his name's origin...? So how is it pronounced?
His name is pronunced Landau (as spelled in English/German/French by transliteration from the original Russian) with an accent on the first sylable, [lan], so ['lan.daw], because it's a Jewish name, hence almost identical in pronunciation with German ones. Indeed, the final diphtong is nonexistent in French, so they may easily mispronunce it.
 
  • #20
hutchphd
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I still hear "Fineman".
Absolutely.

Has anyone mentioned Euler ? (Yooler :doh: )
 
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  • #21
Frabjous
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I pronounce my name multiple ways, so I find the concept of a definitive pronunciation lacking. I also knew a person whose pronunciation changed when they moved to a new city. One should call a person what they want to be called.
 
  • #22
fresh_42
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Absolutely.

Has anyone mentioned Euler ? (Yooler :doh: )
... despite the fact that they can pronounce it easily when it is a hockey team from Alberta!
 
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  • #23
Jonathan Scott
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How about Schwarzschild? In English, I usually hear people say it ending in "child", but presumably German is "Schwarz schild", "Black shield".
 
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  • #24
pinball1970
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I still hear "Fineman". The only assimilation from Yiddish to English was that the Roman and German "a" turned into an English "e" as in "then".
Yes I hear Fineman too
 
  • #25
pinball1970
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Absolutely.

Has anyone mentioned Euler ? (Yooler :doh: )
Yep. He was You-ler before I heard someone say Oy-ler. I think the 'someone' was a maths person so I thought it must be right!

I think I had Riemann wrong as well, I had him as Ryeman not Reeman forgot my I and e rule.

EDIT. Remembered Ricci too, I thought it was Rick-ee, not Rich-ee
 
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  • #26
pinball1970
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Gregg's thread on most commonly misspelt science words reminded me that I wanted to post some time one on the most commonly mispronounced scientists' names. As well as famous names being invoked, they are often of course used for naming effects or units etc.

The absolute worst case is Huyghens. I cringe when I hear people think it has to be pronounced something like Hur-ee-ghens - really ugly. It's Dutch, but it's not as bad as that! Something like High-ghens is nearer, and would be a relief for everybody. van Leeuwenhoek similar - pronunciation like 'fan Live en hook'.

It struck me only now to wonder: couldn't the very official committees who laid down units terminology and definitions have standardised pronunciations? If they did I have never heard of it.

I had a thought earlier about what principles we should generally adopt for pronunciation. It seemed to me the best was not how it comes to you in your own language on the one hand. But on the other hand not quite as it is in the language of origin. That would lead to snobbishness and be impossible in the end. It seems to me a good principle could be pronounce it like somebody who knows how it should be pronounced in the original but does not pretend to do exactly that.

Even that, I have to admit, would be more a case of do what I say than do what I do. I have been thinking the words for so long that it has been difficult for me to mentally switch from Einstein to Einshtein. From Kirchoff pronounced Kerr Choff! like a sneeze to Keer hoff with a difficult German ch.

It's not always obvious that the case arises. For the time I thought the useful Sturm method should be Shtoorm, but it turns out he was French though the name was in origin Germanic so how should that be? Cotton, of the Cotton effect was French too, so pronunciation is not like English cotton, but more like Coe ton with stress on the second syllable which is nasal, difficult to get that right too.

Here is a list of some names I have often enough heard mispronounced (and as I say, am guilty myself).

Huyghens
Cotton
de Broglie
Einstein
Kirchhoff
Sturm
Mendeleev
Ampere
Bernoulli
Buchner, Bunsen
Celsius
Curie
Einstein
Fermat
Hertz
Kirchoff
van Leeuwenhoek
Jacobi
De Broglie. In English De brog -lee.

I heard Jim Al Kalili pronounce his name and was surprised!
Still not sure, I will have to watch the video again!
 
  • #27
fresh_42
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De Broglie. In English De brog -lee.

I heard Jim Al Kalili pronounce his name and was surprised!
Still not sure, I will have to watch the video again!
Wikipedia has a sound sample. I didn't know he was French, so I mispronounced him, too. The sound sample sounds like "de Broy", i.e. "g" and "l" are silent.
 
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  • #28
julian
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Prof Barry Simon:

" This model was suggested to Ising by his thesis adviser, Lenz. Ising solved the one-dimensional model, . . . , and on the basis of the fact that the one-dimensional model had no phase transition, he asserted that there was no phase transition in any dimension. As we shall see, this is false. It is ironic that on the basis of an elementary calculation and erroneous conclusion, Ising’s name has become among the most commonly mentioned in the theoretical physics literature. But history has had its revenge. Ising’s name, which is correctly pronounced “E-zing,” is almost universally mispronounced “I-zing."
 
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  • #29
  • #30
DrClaude
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Wikipedia has a sound sample. I didn't know he was French, so I mispronounced him, too. The sound sample sounds like "de Broy", i.e. "g" and "l" are silent.
It is the bastardized pronunciation by the French of an Italian name.
 
  • #31
fresh_42
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I think it is safe to say, if I have not heard another scientist say the same and he is not from the UK I am going to mess it up.
As soon as "ch" shows up, you're out. English is among the worst-prepared languages to pronounce anything. Even English is illogical. My favorite example by G.B. Shaw: ghut (pronounced: fish).
 
  • #33
fresh_42
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Check your sources!
Was a little book with anecdotes. (Or it was an English man who told me years ago.) And, yes, I somehow made the mistake "ghut" instead of "ghot" from the beginning. Strange thing this is. But the "i" at the end would already be too much information.
 
  • #34
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Wikipedia has a sound sample. I didn't know he was French, so I mispronounced him, too. The sound sample sounds like "de Broy", i.e. "g" and "l" are silent.
It is worth pointing out that Louis de Broglie is a descendant of an ancient Italian aristocratic family -- the de Broglia family -- that settled in France in 1643. See the Wikipedia link below:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Broglie

In Italian, the "gli" pronunciation is what linguists refer to as a "voiced palatal lateral approximant", a sound that is similar to the "illi" part of the English word "million". This influenced the French pronunciation of de Broglie's name.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voiced_palatal_lateral_approximant
 
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  • #35
StatGuy2000
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Gregg's thread on most commonly misspelt science words reminded me that I wanted to post some time one on the most commonly mispronounced scientists' names. As well as famous names being invoked, they are often of course used for naming effects or units etc.

The absolute worst case is Huyghens. I cringe when I hear people think it has to be pronounced something like Hur-ee-ghens - really ugly. It's Dutch, but it's not as bad as that! Something like High-ghens is nearer, and would be a relief for everybody. van Leeuwenhoek similar - pronunciation like 'fan Live en hook'.

It struck me only now to wonder: couldn't the very official committees who laid down units terminology and definitions have standardised pronunciations? If they did I have never heard of it.

I had a thought earlier about what principles we should generally adopt for pronunciation. It seemed to me the best was not how it comes to you in your own language on the one hand. But on the other hand not quite as it is in the language of origin. That would lead to snobbishness and be impossible in the end. It seems to me a good principle could be pronounce it like somebody who knows how it should be pronounced in the original but does not pretend to do exactly that.

Even that, I have to admit, would be more a case of do what I say than do what I do. I have been thinking the words for so long that it has been difficult for me to mentally switch from Einstein to Einshtein. From Kirchoff pronounced Kerr Choff! like a sneeze to Keer hoff with a difficult German ch.

It's not always obvious that the case arises. For the time I thought the useful Sturm method should be Shtoorm, but it turns out he was French though the name was in origin Germanic so how should that be? Cotton, of the Cotton effect was French too, so pronunciation is not like English cotton, but more like Coe ton with stress on the second syllable which is nasal, difficult to get that right too.

Here is a list of some names I have often enough heard mispronounced (and as I say, am guilty myself).

Huyghens
Cotton
de Broglie
Einstein
Kirchhoff
Sturm
Mendeleev
Ampere
Bernoulli
Buchner, Bunsen
Celsius
Curie
Einstein
Fermat
Hertz
Kirchoff
van Leeuwenhoek
Jacobi
It is worth pointing out that Dutch orthography can be very tricky for English speakers to get right, as the diphthong "uy" or "ui" in Dutch does not exist in English (as is the Dutch "g" sound).

Consider the Dutch pronunciation of Christiaan Huyghens in the click:

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f5/ChristianHuygensPronunciation.ogg
 
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