US-to-UK Word of the Year 2021: "doon"

 Click here for the preamble to the 2021 Words of the Year and the UK-to-US word.

As I discuss in the post at that link, 2021 was a dry year for US-to-UK borrowings. Some might say that's because BrE is already saturated with them. But it feels to me like the UK is feeling a bit more insular these days, and paying less attention to Biden's USA than to his predecessor's, possibly because it was more fun to pay attention to another country when one could pretend their government was messier than one's own, possibly because everyone was watching Korean and French tv.

So, I don't really have a US>UK Word of the Year this year. None were nominated. But I do have a pronunciation.

US-to-UK Word Pronunciation of the Year: Dune

In most BrE dialects (the notable exception being Norfolk—and now probably more older, more rural Norfolk), the spelling du (and tu and su) involves a palatal on-glide, which is to say a 'y' sound before the u. People with this pronunciation would have different pronunciations for dune and doon, whereas for Americans they are generally the same. I've written about this difference before,
here.

The 2021 film Dune had everyone talking, though, and sometimes BrE speakers were using the AmE pronunciation. It's a proper name, after all, and proper names can defy spelling–pronunciation rules. It's kind of like how many BrE speakers do not pronounce the title of Kevin Smith's film Clerks as "clarks". It would feel weird to pronounce the word differently from the people in the film. 

Emma Pavey nominated this pronunciation on Sunday, when I had just heard my London-born sister-in-law say "doon" in reference to the film. And so it is thanks to her that we have any US-to-UK 'of the year' for 2021. She says:

People kept calling the movie by its full name 'Dune or doon or however we're supposed to say it'.
 
This Australian YouTuber gets pronunciations from the film's cast and director:



 

 

Meanwhile, Americans tend not to understand what the fuss is about. 

 

A US-in-UK friend said pretty much the same thing in the Facebook thread where Emma nominated the pronunciation. If you're not sensiti{s/z}ed to the 'u' versus 'oo' distinction, it just passes you by. But for many BrE speakers, dune isn't just "dyune", it's "June". That's what happens when that d-sound and that y-sound mix. 

I doubt that this will have much effect on the word dune. (I can't say I've been around any BrE speakers who've needed to say it in some time.) But at least some BrE speakers are looking forward to the next instal(l)ment of Denis Villaneuve's Doon

That's it for 2021. Send me your nominations, as you encounter them, for 2022!

26 comments

  1. Rather like the difference between the American and British pronunciation of Van Gogh, which means I don't always realise why an American pun is funny (they call him "Van Go", while we say "Van Goff"; neither is correct!).

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    1. Well, the British pronunciation is enormously closer to the correct Dutch pronunciation it than the American one. The British way of saying it is correct except that we can't do that particular Dutch croaky sound or whatever the correct term for it is. The American way is totally wrong.

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    2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zTY3HVCqds

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  2. I remember Penny Junor on BBC Travel Show Guides c1990 talking about visiting a "dyude rahnch". That was before we knew "dude" is a clipping of "Yankee doodle".

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  3. This is my comment-catching comment!

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  4. What about that interviewer's "pronounce-iation" of pronunciation?

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    1. Yes, that was really noticeable. It's how they say it in Scotland as well.

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  5. I'm Australian, and found the interviewer's pronunciation of pronunciation weird. But maybe that's how the youngsters are saying it these days.

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  6. Just because it's a name doesn't mean Brits don't struggle! I had a friend from the South who's surname was Redpath (Redparth) but to my Northern tongue it had to be a short a sound in path.

    I felt awful that I struggled to pronounce her name!

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    1. I was born in London but grew up in the north-east. Eventually I learnt how to pronounce "Newcastle" in the local way (but I never picked up a Geordie accent).

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  7. (20ish years of UK-in-US). Found myself consciously modifying Dyune to Doon this year because, you're entirely right, it came up *a lot*. Mountain Dew's 'Do the Dew' slogan has two different D sounds when I say it. Happy to add 'palatal on-glide' to the linguistic arsenal. Thanks for the edification as ever.

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  8. I remember being startled when Marc Okrand retro-Klingoned 'Klingon' as 'tlhIngan'. The initial consonant cluster is fine, but what's that unrounded vowel doing in the last syllable?

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  9. Interesting. I first read the book about fifty years ago - I was at university at the time and I graduated in 1973 - and had no idea that was how Americans pronounce it. Of course, you wouldn't if just reading. I did see the David Lynch film and the later mini-series a long time ago but I don't recall how they pronounced it there. After all, the planet is officially called Arrakis.

    I haven't heard the film name being pronounced either on TV or in person, Not doing much in-person meeting these days.

    When my book club discussed Frank Herbert a few years - all of us British - I'm sure we all pronounced it 'june'.

    I read a lot of US books. Most SF is by American authors. There are words that I know are different in the US but I still read 'math' as 'maths' and 'aluminum' as 'aluminium'.

    A while back there was an xkcd cartoon where someone claimed he called his car [name of 16th century treaty] because it was a 'Tudor compact'. I had to go to the explainxkcd website to discover that Americans would pronounce this 'two-door compact'.

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    1. Rachael Churchill27 January, 2022 09:23

      Wow. I don't remember that particular xkcd pun and wouldn't have got it either. When I think of puns on "Tudor" I think of "Henry Tudor Chicken Leg" (Henry chewed a chicken leg), which presumably Americans wouldn't get. It sounds like the pronunciation diverges in three separate places: "too" versus "tyoo"/"choo", reduced versus unreduced second vowel, and rhoticity.

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    2. https://xkcd.com/2260/

      I was surprised to see that that cartoon was published almost exactly two years ago. Doesn't time fly...

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  10. Here in Northern California we have a small town [village] named Tudor. And yes, they pronounce it two-door.
    But, I believe most Americans know how to say Tudor properly, it just lends itself to jokes easily.
    Oh, near Tudor is another small town [village] named Artios- pronounced Are-toys. And that is a whole 'nuther story...

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    1. "Most Americans know how to say Tudor properly".
      I've always suspected that Americans really know how to pronounce ALL words properly. They only talk in that weird way to annoy us British!

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  11. Incidentally, there is a book by Philip K. Dick I read as a teen that involved a drug called Chew-Z. It was many years after I read it that someone pointed out to me that Dick, being American, meant that to be pronounced "chew-zee".

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  12. BrE speaker. Not having read the book or seen the film, it wouldn't have occurred to me to pronounce this word without a 'y'. Dropping the 'y' sound is Norfolk to me. It's also supposed to start with a 'd' rather than a 'j' unless you're being a bit casual.

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  13. What I tell you three times is true. :-)

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  14. Yes Norfolk. But other parts of East Anglia, too? And in Essex and London north of the river 'Duke' is often 'dook'.

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  15. Rachael Churchill27 January, 2022 09:25

    Similarly, the film Wreck-it Ralph makes puns between "duty" and "doody" (as in poo), and they're not especially clear to those of us who pronounce "duty" as "joo-ty" (or "dyoo-ty" if enunciating carefully) rather than as "doo-dy".

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    1. I wonder if that might be more interesting than it sounds. When I was a child (England early 1950s) many people attached great importance to making sure each child did a daily bowel movement. Having regular bowel movements was regarded as virtuous, and having irregular ones, as proof of a casual, disorganised attitude to life. This was sometimes politely referred to as 'doing one's duty' (pronounced dyooty) and 'duty' was even used as a euphemism for that which was produced.

      Small children jokes would interpret Lord Nelson's 'England expects .... ' address as having a quite different interpretation to that which he intended.

      I've never heard of, yet alone seen, 'Wreck it Ralph' and don't know of 'doody' as a word used for excrement, but if it is used that way, it just might have evolved from the same source in a part of anglophone where a casual pronunciation of 'duty' might come out (pun intended) as 'doody'.

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  16. I have memories from the mid-70's of being beaten up in a tiny place in Western Illinois, spelt Milan but pronounced My-lan.

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  17. Kind of on subject, I was surprised to hear many Australians pronounce debut as day-boo, when they use the British pronunciations of dune, etc.

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  18. What I find particularly interesting, as I am a fan of classic Radio from the 30's, 40's and 50's, is how everyone's pronunciation has changed. In t I e 40's Los Angeles had a hard G sound. And in one advertisement the word "protein" (pro teen) they pronounce as "pro tee un".

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Abbr.

AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)