Monday, February 16, 2009

The unpronounceability of Xe

So, Blackwater not long ago changed its name to Xe, pronounced [zi:]. Twice now, as of tonight, I've heard people refer to the new name as 'unpronounceable'. (See here for a written example.) [zi:] is about as easy to pronounce as English syllables get.

Of course, the match to the spelling is a disaster (hey, it's Blackwater, they're specialists), but that's different. Another example of the assumption that language is just spelling?

7 comments:

xensen said...

To anyone with some familiarity with Pinyin, "Xe" would look like a Chinese word that is pronounced something like "hshuh."

Anonymous said...

/z/ is probably the expected way of saying it in English if you think about xeno-, xenia, etc. from Greek, though it's a rare combination of letters.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Xe is very pronounceable, but are they prosecutable?

ML said...

Nonetheless, it's better than "Blackwater," which, in the parlance of civil engineering and the building trades refers to water containing human or biological waste (i.e., sewage).

Blackwater can be contrasted with greywater (non-infectious or treated wastwater which is sometimes used for landscape irrigation) and potable water.

Mr. Verb said...

Yeah, the old name kind of fit, I suppose.

The Ridger, FCD said...

I thought they named themselves after that cheesy old movie "Blackwater Gold" with Keir Dullea, Bradford Dillman, France Nguyen, and Ricardo Montalban.

But yeah. "Zee" isn't that unpronouceable. You can't guess (my first thought was "she"), but once you know it's easy.

Ollock said...

@xensen
Yeah, I was going to talk about Chinese. One minor detail -- "xe" is not a valid syllable in Chinese, so doesn't quite work. (Pinyin "x" can only precede i or ΓΌ -- the latter represented as u in such environments.)

But really, anyone familiar with Chinese and particularly with trying to unravel Chinese pronunciations from romainizations will laugh. It's not that there aren't good transliterations, pinyin is actually quite good for what it has to do, but there are a lot of them, and sometimes there are multiple possible pronunciations depending on what romanization the author intended to use. And most of them are at least somewhat counterintuitive to English speakers.