Can we play “Whatchamacallit”?

So a recent mailing list thread about differences in pronunciation of certain geographical locations got me thinking about all the games that I have which have been pronounced in different ways, and as I go through that list, I wonder if I am saying the names like everyone else?  Some of the geographic examples in the inciting thread were:

  • Versailles, Kentucky (pronounced Ver-sales)
  • Mexia, Texas (MEE-hair)
  • Leicester, England (Less-ter)
  • Happisburgh in Suffolk, England? It’s pronounced Hays-burr-uh.

So, this made me look at my game collection and come up with a list of games that I’ve heard pronounced different ways.  A majority of the games here are place names, and I think that the variant pronunciations derive more from the American habit of not wanting to say foreign words as they would sound in their native country than anything else.

In this list, I’m mostly ignoring the umlauts – I know that I say those wrong, but I just can’t make myself shape my mouth into the right shape… So, for instance, Fürstenfeld is pronounced without the changed vowel in the first syllable.  I’d say the title with “Furr-sten-feld” when in reality that ü has a sound more like the u in urethane… so it should sound more like “fewer-sten-feld” – though even that isn’t quite right… If I included every game that I’ve heard mispronounced due to an umlaut, this would be almost neverending!

A lot of the remaining pronunciation differences revolve around whether or not to use the German or American way of saying words… For instance – do words that begin with a “W” sound like a “wuh-” sound or a “V” sound? If it begins with an “s”, do I use an s-sound or a z-sound?

I apologize in advance about the pronunciation examples below.  I’m trying to use phonetic explanations because I don’t want to have to figure out how to make those pronunciation symbols show up in this blog nor do I feel like I’m ever really sure how to say a word when I read all those weird symbols.

1.      Tichu – ah, let’s start with the age old debate. TEE-choo, TEE-shoo or TEE-koo.  Most folks that I know, myself included say (TEE-choo).  However, when you talk to the Fata Morgana people at Essen — you know, the people that publish it — they all say (TEE-koo).  Funny how they manage to still say it wrong after all these years!

2.      Settlers of Catan – how do you say the final syllable?  Is it cuh-TAHN or cuh-TAN?  The Mayfair guys go with the drawn out vowel sound in the first choice.

3.      Ys – The first of many Ystari games on this list.  I most often hear this with a long E sound (EEEEss) but sometimes with a short I sound – like the word hiss, but without the h – so (isss)

4.      Troyes – I took French in grade school, and from what I remember from that, this city name should sound something like (twaa).  But I’ve found that, so far, everytime I’ve said it that way, I get nothing but blank stares.  Then I say (TROY-ess) and everyone knows what I’m talking about…

5.      Peloponnes –  (Pell-oh-ponz) or (Pell-oh-poh-ness)?  Maybe (Pell-oh-poh-neez)?

6.      Cyclades – (SIGH-clods) or (SIGH-cla-deez).  Well, or I could be more Greek about it… then it would be (Sick-lah-deez).  I think the last option is right.

7.      Preußische Ostbahn – I think it’s just the eszett (ß) that throws people off.  Once you know that’s just a double-S, it’s not too bad.  Though I still wonder if the second word is “ahst-bahn” or “ohst-bahn”

8.      Tahuantinsuyu – this one is just a tongue twister. When I try, it’s often “Ta-hua-a-hua” or something garbled like that.  Alan Ernstein has told me on multiple occasions that it’s easy to pronounce if you just read it slow… Ta-hoo’ah-tin-soo-yoo.  I just can’t do it.

9.      Amyitis – More Ystari.  Maybe it’s all those Y’s and S’s?  I think it’s supposed to be (Uh-mee-tiss).  But I often hear (A-mee-eye-tiss) – as if it were a disease and sometimes (eh-MY-tiss) and even (eh-MY-ee-tiss).  Egads. So confusing.

10.  Adel Verpflichtet – This gets butchered for all sorts of reasons. First, it’s long, and typical of German words, it has too many consonants.  Second, it’s hard to remember that V’s in German sound like F’s.  So I think this would be (A-dell fur-plish-tet).  But it’s more common for me to hear (A-dell vurr-plick-tet).  I split the difference and pronounce this (By-hook-or-by-crook).

11.  Yspahan – (iss-pa-han) or (EEES-pa-han) or (iss-fa-han).  I’m starting to think all Ystari games need to come with a thumbdrive in the box with a .mp3 pronunciation guide preloaded on it!

12.  Le Havre – another french town that gets mangled.  How to say “Havre” – (hov-ruh) or (hov) or something different entirely? Again, my grade school French tells me that Havre should be two syllables, and the H sound should be dropped.  In addition, the article kind get squished together with the first syllable,  so it’s something like (lay’AV-ruh)

13.  Agricola – if you’re latin, you’d say (Uh-gree-ko-lah). If you’re thirsty, you might say (Ag-ree-ko-la).  If you’re me, you’d say (uh-grik-uh-la).

14.  Wallenstein  – Two problems here… does it start with a V sound or a W sound.  Then, how does it end… (stine), (stheen) or (steen).  I go with (VALL-en-stheen) and try to sound as German as possible without knowing if I actually am correct or not.

15.  Caylus – confusion on both syllables here… Does it start with a long A or long I sound – (kay) vs. (ki).  Is the second syllable (luss) or (loos) or (lews).  Dang you, Cyril!

16.  Vinci – (VIN-chee) or (VIN-kee).  I’ve even heard it called (WIN-kee).  I go with Vin-chee.

17.  Antike – (An-tee-KAY) or (An-tee-KUH)

18.  DVONN – is this one or two syllables? Is the D sound elongated or not?  (DEE-vonn) or (d’vonn)

19.  Mykerinos – could this possibly be the last Ystari game on the list? (Mee-ker-ee-nos) or (mick-ur-ee-nos) or (Mih-CARE-ee-nos)

20.  La Citta – how italian are you? (see-tah) or (chee-tah).  I’m a chee-tah guy.

21.  Blokus – it’s a compound name of some sort…. (Blow-cuss) or (Block-us).  My kids say Block-us, so that’s what we call it around here.

22.  Meuterer – (MOY-ter-reh) vs (Myoo-ter-reh).  I think the first is right.

23.  Medici – those crazy Italians!  (med-UH-chee) or (meh-DEE-chee).  As a European History major, I’ve always pronounced it as in the name of that old ruling family in Venice…

24.  Condottiere – (kahn-dih-TYER-ay) or (kohn-DOH-tee-air).  This may have actually been the first game that I owned that I wasn’t sure at all how to pronounce.

25.  Merkator – (Merr-KAY-terr) is how I used to say it.  Then Hanno from Lookout told me that he says (MEHR-cah-torr) – with the first syllable pronounced like a mare (the horse)

26.  Subbuteo – does it end with (TEE-oh) or (TAY-oh)?  Either way, without an EYE-run to flatten the board, this one is hard to play.

27.  Funkenschlag – (FUNK-en-schlag) or (FOONK-en-schlag).  Most players around here just call it German Power Grid.

28.  R-Eco – is it (eh-ko) like a reverberating sound?  Or a long E sound (EEE-ko)

29.  Bolide – (Boh-leed), (Boh-lee-day), or (Boh-lied)

30.  Famiglia – When I see this, I think of an Italian word and say (Fuh-MEE-LEE-yuh), though I know Henning for 2F says (Fuh-mig-LEE-uh)

31.  Rummikub – more final syllable issues – does it end like a baby bear or a geometric shape? (rum-MEE-kub) or (rum-MEE-kyoob)

32.  Crokinole – I have always said (CROW-kin-nohl) but when I was recently in Canada, I heard many folks say (CROCK-inn-nawl)

33. Hellas – I usually say this (HELL-us), but apparently if I knew what I was talking about, I’d pronounce it (AY-loss)

34. Dixit – this Spiel des Jahres winner causes all sorts of confusion around the table as well.  (DIK-zit) or (DIKS-it) are the most common ways that I hear the game pronounced.  However, when I was in Essen, (DEEK-sit) was the way many of the Europeans would say it.

35.  *Rio Grande Games – most people I know use a silent “e” in Grande.  When you talk to Jay Tummelson, it’s definitely (REE-oh grahn-DAY games) not (REE-oh grand games)

36.  *Z-man – Took me awhile at Essen to figure out who my English friends were talking about when they mentioned (Zed-man).  Somehow, the Canadians manage this better despite the fact that they call the last letter in the alphabet “zed”.

Can you think of any others? If so, tell us in the comments…

Do you pronounce these games in even different ways? (Because… of course, there’s no guarantee that how I choose to say them is correct at all!)

Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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27 Responses to Can we play “Whatchamacallit”?

  1. Dev Sodagar says:

    I think that this is a particular issue for the Americans. Here in the UK we do have some that cause a little confusion (Troyes being the example that comes to mind), however most of the examples you list seemed to be obvious given the European language they come from. I think that this is largely down to the UK’s nearness to Europe giving us a greater exposure to the languages.

  2. Tucker says:

    #6: I think the more Greek way would be with hard Cs all around, KIK-lud-eez.

  3. Tim Mierz says:

    Blokus – I’ve heard that the official pronunciation starts with “block,” because each tile is made of blocks and you block people with your plays.

    Yspahan – I’ve heard from very unreliable sources that it’s actually pronounced “camel game.”

    A recent addition: Prolix – At first I pronounced this as [ˈpɹa lɪks], although as it turns out “prolix” is a real English word meaning “wordy,” and is pronounced [prəʊˈlɪks].

    And I’m surprised a whole conversation of this can go by without Cyclades, which might be [ˈsaɪkleɪdz], [kɪkˈladeɪs], [sɪkˈladeɪs], [ˈsɪklədiz], or who knows what else.

  4. Tim Mierz says:

    Oops, I missed that you did include Cyclades… carry on.

  5. Stuart Dagger says:

    Since German spelling is fairly close to being phonetic, not knowing how to pronounce the words is down to being unwilling to learn a few simple rules.

    1) “w” is pronounced like an English “v”.
    2) “v” is pronounced like an English “f”.
    3) In the “ei” and “ie” vowel combinations, you pronounce the second letter and in its long form. So “ei” is as in the English word “mine”, and “ie” is as in the English word “teen”.
    4) The “ch” combination is a soft guttural. This takes a bit of practice for most native English speakers, though not for the Scots, who use it in words such as “loch”.
    5) The umlauts over vowels matter, because they change the sound. You just have to
    listen and learn: “a umlaut” and “o umlaut” are both sounds that exist in English and so are not difficult; the sound for “u umlaut” doesn’t exist in English and so is trickier. However, if you learned some French at school, then you should already have mastered it, because it exists there in words such as “tu”.

  6. Andrea Meyer says:

    Hi Dale,

    Preußische Ostbahn – It’s “ohst-bahn” ;-)

    I had a funny experience once when I tried telling people about my game “Hossa” and they kept understanding “Hansa” ;-)

  7. Jean Gagnier says:

    I recorded a tidbit for the French games in your list (Excluding Caylus and Amyitis, due to them being a made-up attempt at Latin, I believe). So, here go Versailles, Ys, Le Havre and Bolide:

  8. Mike Chapel says:

    I can never think of the name for the game Tahuantinsuyu. I usually say lets play a game of “tattoo-yatzee”.

  9. Larry Levy says:

    Tahuantinsuyu’s designer Alan Ernstein told us to just think of the lawyer’s mantra: Tah-hwan-tin-SOO-yoo, as in “I want to sue you!”

    Or, you could just play Inca Empire instead!

  10. Dale Yu says:

    A few replies…

    @Dev – yes, of course this is an American issue. I’m often disappointed at the unwillingness of my fellow Americans to open themselves up to other cultures, though I’m not surprised.. Our educational system doesn’t stress foreign language skills enough (IMHO), and the size of our country and the geographic distance makes it difficult for many Americans to get a chance to travel abroad.

    @Stuart – well, I have had 8 years of French… but it’s still quite possible that I butcher French words as badly as I do German ones!

  11. Dale Yu says:

    OK – a few more

    @ Andrea – Despite my reservations about playing Hossa (which have nothing to do with you and your game but more to do with a traumatic experience or four with showtunes), I’d much rather play Hossa than Hansa.

    @ Jean – thanks so much for helping with the audio! That does clear up some of my own confusions with the French titles!


  12. Chris says:

    The ultimate comment on pronounciation:

    It’s written “Raymond Luxury Yacht”. But it’s pronounced “Throatwobbler Mangrove”

    MP’s Flying Circus

  13. Jonas Milke says:

    I have recorded some German pronounced titles:

  14. frankhamrick says:

    I believe the two Greek sounding games should be as follows…

    Ki-KLAH-thes (Cyclades) [“d” pronounced as “th”]
    Pell-oh -pohn-NESS (Peloponness)

  15. Silvano Sorrentino says:

    About the Italian names… I will do my best, even if I am not a master in phonetics.

    16. Vinci: this is spelled “Vin-chee”; have you haven’t heard the pronounce of “Leonardo da Vinci” in some Dan Brown movie? ;)

    20. La Citta: if this was Italian, it should read “La Città”, and you pronunce it “Cheat-tah”, with a double “t” like “Harry Potter”.

    23. Medici: meh-DEE-chee sounds right.

    24. Condottiere: I do not remember if this supposed to be Italian, or a French title with the same spelling. In Italy, this is pronounced (kohn-dot-tee-air-eh), so you hear the last “E” (that we pronounce “eh”, like the vowel in “BAD”).

    26. Subbuteo : this is hard. Something like (soob-boo-teh-oh). The last “o” sounds like the “o” in “more”, not the “o” in “Moore”.

    29. Bolide – (Boh-leed), (Boh-lee-day), or (Boh-lied): neither one. It’s more like (Boh-lee-deh)! It ends with an “e” that sounds like the vowel in “BAD” as before.

    30. Famiglia: this is the hardest to explain, because you need to pronounce the “gli” sound; let’s ask the Mexicans for help: can you spell “tortilla”? So, it’s something like (fa-mee-lla), with the same “lla” in “tortilla” (more or less, but the “glia” sound is very typical in Italy, like the “gn” sound…).

    That is all, and I am waiting for other Italian gamers to correct my phonetic descriptions. It would be GREAT to have a page here on the site where you can hear the correct pronunciations of difficult titles, read by different countries gamers.

    Thank you for the great article!

  16. Matt J Carlson says:

    My sister (the english phd) and I discussed Blockus one time, so I had to ask the “official” folks over at GenCon one year… the pronounciation I was told was: “Block-us”

  17. Stuart Dagger says:

    re “Subbuteo”: This is one that features in quiz questions. The game is British; the name is Latin. The reason for the name is that there is a European falcon whose Latin name is Falco Subbuteo and whose English name is Hobby. The story is that the authorities wouldn’t allow the inventor to use “Hobby” as a trademark, and so he got round the problem with a pun.

  18. Dale Yu says:

    Stuart – that’s fascinating! I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before. Heck, I didn’t even realize that it’s British in origin… It used to be among my favorite dexterity games, but my complete lack of skill at it has pushed it a bit down the list.

  19. Surya says:

    While I’m not a native French speaker, I can tell you for a fact that the le in Le Havre is NOT pronounced ‘lay’ but ‘le’ as in ‘the’.

    As for Adel Verpflichtet, that’s a hard one, as I can’t think of any English words that have the ‘ch’ sound in them. It’s not ‘sh’ and it’s not ‘ck’, it’s ‘ch’ :D

  20. Melissa says:

    We say “Tish-oo” (the same way we pronounce the word “tissue”).

  21. Alan How says:

    Great article Dale. Is that Dayle?

    And Happisburgh is in Norfolk. I’m from Suffolk and my mother’s side are from Norfolk. We have a rivalry at football with Ipswich and Norwich, so we need to maintain purity about what belongs in which county. But your pronunciation is right though locals pronounce it Hays-brur.

    Famiglia – ever since I’ve been watching Cake Boss, I’ve been clearer that your Fuh-MEE-LEE-yuhn is right.

  22. LemuelG says:

    Yes, pronouncing German words is not easy … and for a German, describing pronounciation in English is not much easier. In any case, the f in “Adel Verpflichtet” should not be silent, and the emphasis in “Antike” should be on the second syllable (TEE), not on the third.

    Anyway, I recommend a German dictionary website called – it provides audio files for pretty much all German, French, Italian, Spanish, and even English words. Thus, you can look many things up … and if a word is not in the database, such as “Wallenstein”, remember that Germans pull words together, and look for “Stein” – which is indeed pronounced like “mine”.

  23. LemuelG says:

    I forgot: In Germany, there are regional differences in pronouncing “ch” – in some parts, it may be pronounced “k”, in others with something close to that guttural sound the Scots know from “loch”. Thus, many correct versions of Tichu are possible, even asking Germans.

  24. Charles Waterman says:

    Don’t know if anyone’s having trouble with these but here’s a little help from a fellow gamer living in Nihon:

    1) Shogun It’s pronounced (show-goon) NOT (show-guhn)

    2) Wasabi It’s pronounced (wah-sah-bee)

    3) Genji It’s pronounced (gen-jee – “g” as in goose, “j” as in juice)

    4) I’ll look into R-Eco and get back to you….

    Montebanc (not relation)
    alias Chuck Waterman
    Kumamoto, Japan

  25. Doug Hoylman says:

    We have two people (including the Italian) saying Medici is stressed on the second syllable, but all the reference books I checked say it is stressed on the first syllable, which is how the people I game with pronounce it. What’s the story?

    Since the name of R-Eco is presumably derived from “ecology”, logically the E should be long.

  26. Fraser says:

    On an episode of Garret’s Games & Geekiness Doug was doing a walk around a convention asking people what they were playing. At some table they were playing May-Or-Eee. I had no idea what the game was until I saw a comment on the guild later. I found out is was Maori, but not pronounced any way I had ever heard it before (and I have spent time in New Zealand!)

    For Blokus, I must admit to playing the Australian card and calling it “Bloke Us”

  27. John Locke says:

    1. Tichu – I always say (TEE-choo). In fact, when I want to play Tichu, I say something like, “I’d like to play TEE-choo. I could even TEE-choo (teach you).”

    13. Agricola – I pronounce it (Ag-ri-ko-la), even though I know lots of people who pronounce it (uh-grik-uh-la).

    16. Vinci – Since I think of Leonardo da Vinci, (the artist, not the actor,) I think it should be pronounced the same way.

    21. Blokus – Since part of the object of the game is to block your opponent(s), and the pieces are composed of squares, I call it Block-us.

    28. R-Eco – I agree with Doug. Since the name of R-Eco is presumably derived from “ecology”, logically the E should be long.

    31. Rummikub – Since it’s like Rummy, but play6ed with tiles, I think it’s supposed to be related to the geometric shape. So, I pronounce it (rum-MEE-kyoob), even though the tiles themselves aren’t exactly cubes.

    35. *Rio Grande Games – Since it makes me think of the Rio Grande River, I pronounce it with the silent “e”, too.

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