PSA: It’s “Bokeh” not “Bokuh”

PSA: It’s “Bokeh” not “Bokuh”

Image: Apple

There are many sounds that native American English speakers have trouble reproducing. The French “r” (aka the “voiceless uvular fricative”), the rolled double “rr” in Spanish, tonal sounds in various Chinese languages like Mandarin and Cantonese.

But when it comes to the Japanese word that has entered the photographic lexicon to describe the quality of out-of-focusness, there is no excuse. It’s only two syllables. 

 

Bokeh. ボケ.

“Bo” as in “both.”

“Keh” as in “Kevin.”

It’s not “Bo-kuh” where the “kuh” sounds like “cover.” The mispronunciation is exacerbated by people like Apple’s Phil Schiller who repeatedly mispronounced the word during the launch of the iPhone XS.

Unlike a 4-syllable word like “karaoke” (butchered as “carey-okee”), bokeh is not hard to pronounce at all. There is, in fact, no “uh” sound in Japanese. “Nikon” might have multiple accepted pronunciations, but there’s only one way to pronounce bokeh. Let’s not perpetuate a mispronunciation through ignorance. 

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This article was written by

Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter.

There are 15 comments for this article
  1. Reggie Chin at 12:10 pm

    That’s something of a relief; not that “ugh” is wrong, but that “Kevin” is right. I’ve read that it should be pronounced as “bouquet” (“bow-kay”) is (mis-)pronounced; now I can sleep at night.

    A thousand thanks!

  2. Derrick at 6:00 pm

    I read it was pronounced “bo” as in “bottle”. That is different to the “bo in “both”. I get annoyed when people pronounce it “bouquet” like in a bunch of flowers. The number of professional camera reviewers on youtube who mispronounce this is astounding. It doesn’t take much effort to get it right.

  3. Joshua Jake at 12:56 pm

    Ha! This–after 7 years of misappropriating the gorgeous, formerly unsullied word “Aperture” for its photo organizing software, then slow-torturing it (and its naive first-adapters) to a most exasperating demise. Apple! Respect the fine glass!

  4. Shashwat Parhi at 12:58 pm

    Yeiiii! Finally someone who came out and explained the correct pronunciation to the rest of us. I was cringing every time he said that word during the keynote and was really begin to wonder if I was wrong all along.

  5. Frances Low at 12:59 pm

    The Apple spokesman should have done his homework and learned how to properly pronounce the word since he obviously felt it was advantageous to appropriate it. Since it’s a Japanese word, it should be pronounced as the Japanese pronounce it.

  6. John Madere at 1:20 pm

    Perhaps the more important question is why should any of us be using this term, invented in 1997 by a professor writing for some nerdy magazine called Photo Techniques? (look it up) Its actually pronounced “Low Depth of Field” or “Selective Focus”. No need to fetishize this technique that’s existed since photography was invented by giving it a trendy name. Obsessing about Bokeh is just creating circle of confusion.

    • Allen Murabayashi Author at 1:29 pm

      afaik, he introduced the term to an English-speaking audience, but the word was a term that described the quality of out-of-focusness (e.g. swirly, buttery, neutral, etc) – not the shallowness of depth-of-field.

  7. Cass at 10:00 am

    Yep, gotta agree that it is a strange thing that in the goodness of their hearts in educating people about photography on the internet, this teachers do not take the time to ensure they pronounce such a unique and relevant word as it was first intended… It will be interesting to note if it ever changes 😉

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