How to Pronounce Unpronounceable Author Names

by | Feb 2, 2010 06:49 PM ET

A couple days ago, while strolling through the literary paradise that is The Strand in New York (selection and value!), I picked a copy of Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee. Later that day, when a friend asked me what book I had bought, I hesitated for a minute, not wanting to butcher the pronunciation of the South African author's name. Considering his renown, I probably should've been able to say it with ease, but alas, I didn't. All I knew was that the phonetic “Coat-zee” wasn't correct. Hence, I swerved around potential intellectual embarrassment and just responded “Disgrace.” Oh, the irony.

That situation shall not happen again, however. Slate informed me that Coetzee is pronounced “cut-ZEE-uh.” (That was my first guess, I swear.)

My search also led me to a handy list of author name pronunciations from The Millions. Who wrote Choke and Fight Club, among other titles? Chuck Paula-nik. How about the Russian genius behind Lolita? Vladmir na-BO-kov, not NA-bo-kov.

Et cetera.

Googling pronunciations might sound like a blatantly obvious how-to, but I highly recommend you take a gander at the list. Even if you don't sit around discussing Goethe (Ger-tah, according to Merriam-Webster) on a regular basis, you never know when you might need to toss out a well-timed Faust reference. Or at least tell a friend with confidence about your new book purchase.

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