How do you pronounce “Imgur”? Take the poll!

In a recent post on pseudotranslations, I wrote that Imgur, of imgur.com fame, was pronounced “imager”. But this skated over a lively and unresolved debate. The site itself says:

Imgur is pronounced “image-er/im-ij-er.” The name comes from “ur” and the extension “img” – your image!

But it’s not an intuitive pronunciation. When I first encountered the site I called it “im-gur” or “im-grr”. Because the g is followed by a u, it didn’t even occur to me that it might be a soft /dʒ/ sound. Most of the people I’ve spoken to about it agree, or they avoid saying it altogether.

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boromir meme - one does not simply say imgur

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All Things Linguistics followed up on my post and also noted the hard-g variation, which in IPA would be /ˈɪmgɚ/, /ˈɪmɡɝ/, /ˈɪmgər/, /ˈɪmgɛr/, etc. Curious, I asked on Twitter what people were inclined to say, and got many interesting replies. I’ve selected a few below, or you can read them all on Storify.

Several people were surprised, as I was, upon finding out how it’s supposed to be said. Many were unhappy with the mismatch between spelling and intended pronunciation, saying it should be spelled imager or similar. But the more intuitively pronounced names may have been unavailable, or undesirable for whatever reason.

I still say “im-grr” sometimes, because I like how it sounds. But I was content to switch once I learned the official preference. Not because it was official – I’ll never pronounce Nutellanew-tell-uh”, to use another odd example – but because it made a kind of sense I could get behind. Just not the phonotactic kind.

Hard vs. soft g is a perennial issue; I’ve already written about the great gif debate, twice. But with gif (and doge) there are sound arguments for various pronunciations. Imgur, with its obscure-bordering-on-cryptic justification, is more perverse: a weird beast, like its mascot the Imguraffe (a pun that only works with /dʒ/).

How to pronounce Imgur is a recurring subject on the site itself: even among “Imgurians” usage is mixed, though “im-grr” may predominate. For some it depends on who they’re talking to. Several Reddit users in this thread call it “image U R”, presumably because img = image. Others use a soft g but no schwa before it: “im-jer”.*

I don’t know if anyone has collected data on this, so I’ve made a poll. You can select more than one option if applicable. Vote and share at will, as the more votes it receives, the more reliable it becomes. In theory, anyway.

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Updates:

This isn’t the only instance of hard vs. soft g causing confusion in brand names: Nancy Friedman wrote about a firm called Virgance – with a soft g.

I’m also keeping the Storify updated, if you’re on Twitter and want to share your thoughts with me about this.

*

* See BuzzFeed for an overview of the connection between Imgur and Reddit.

(The image macros are my own doing; for background, see Know Your Meme on Boromir and Philosoraptor.)

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27 Responses to How do you pronounce “Imgur”? Take the poll!

  1. Dw says:

    “Imguraffe” pisses me off not only because of the “soft” G, but because I don’t have the weak vowel merger: the U suggests schwa rather than the “schwi” that I have in “giraffe”.

    Guess I’m lucky that I don’t have a huge need for hosting online images.

  2. I know it’s supposed to be pronounced “imager” but the voice in my head insists it’s “im-grr” so I avoid saying it altogether. It is the image hosting site that shall remain nameless.

  3. Svafa says:

    Being a techy accustomed to viewing file extensions, I’ve always pronounced the .img extension “image”. So the soft-g pronunciation just seems natural, as it’s obviously a reference to .img files; using a hard-g sounds unnatural.

  4. Stan says:

    Dw: I bet there are plenty of people who refuse to pronounce Imguraffe the way they’re meant to.

    Glen: My sister told me she’s been avoiding saying it aloud too, because she wasn’t sure how to pronounce it. I wonder if Imgur’s founders had any idea of how much confusion they were about to unleash when they named it.

    Svafa: That’s a helpful insight. I guess if you’re used to saying “images” in reference to .img files, the “imager” pronunciation will come naturally, or at least is much more likely to.

    • Svafa says:

      I will note, .img files are not actually picture files though. They’re closer to .iso files than, say, a .jpg or .png.

  5. Alina Cincan says:

    ‘Im-gur (hard g)’ until your post. Now, after reading the explanations, the correct pronunciation makes sense. Still, probably not the most inspired decision when they named the company.

  6. David L says:

    Stan, I have to know — how do you pronounce Nutella? The approved pronunciation seems fine to me, and I’m having trouble imagining how else you could say it.

    • /nʌˈtɛ.lə/ is how they pronounce it on the UK adverts, and the only way I’ve ever heard it (well, local pronunciation has the /ʌ/ as [ʊ], but it’s the same thing). /njuːˈtɛ.lə/ sounds silly, and /nuːˈtɛ.lə/ has /nuː/, which doesn’t occur in British English, for the most part.

      • dw says:

        “/nuːˈtɛ.lə/ has /nuː/, which doesn’t occur in British English, for the most part.”

        Noon, afternoon, noose, snooze, noodle.

      • Stan says:

        /njuːˈtɛ.lə/ doesn’t sound at all silly to me; it’s just not a pronunciation I’m used to hearing. To dw’s examples of /nuː/ in BrE I’ll add: snoop, snooker, snoot, and canoodle,

  7. Roger says:

    Their awkwardness looks so bad that it could be intentional. Advertising campaigns have centred on how to pronounce unwanted products before now.
    Take Hoechst. I had no idea what they produced, just that they made pronouncing it a corporate gimmick in itself.

    Or it might arise from the difficulty of finding a new name of any kind.
    Even if English has more words than many other languages, they may be too few for those who ransack the OED for something cute.

    But take “Uighur”. The /h/ may mark something about the /g/ that’s probably lost in English. But how do you hear the rest of it, as “Wigger”, “Weeg-er”, “Wigguh”, “Wiggah”, or how.

  8. Stan says:

    Alina: Perhaps not, if it puts potential users off using or mentioning the site. On the other hand, by provoking debate it gains attention from people otherwise unaware of or uninterested in it.

    David: /nʌ’telə/ (“nuh-TELL-uh”), the key difference being in the first syllable. But since I posted this a couple of people have told me they say “new…”, so it wasn’t a good example to use. In Ireland I’ve only ever heard /nʌ’telə/, so maybe it’s a regional thing. I associate it with nuts, and assumed that was deliberate, but I could be wrong.

    Roger: I figured it may have had to do with your second suggestion, the difficulty of finding a suitable and available word, rather than anything crafty. Someone on Twitter directed me to a Q&A at Reddit with the creator of Imgur, which includes the following exchanges:

    flipadelphia49: When you first created imgur, did you have any idea that people would be pronouncing it in so many different ways?
    MrGrim: heh, I guess, but that wasn’t really on my mind.

    DeadBacon: How did you come up with the name ‘Imgur’?
    MrGrim: I made a list of about 15 names that I liked and then looked at which ones were available. I liked imgur because it’s kind of a play on the acronyms, img for image and your for ur. So in a way, it’s “your imager”. It also rhymes with sharer, so “your imager is the simple image sharer”.

  9. I went with the majority choice, which I’d transcribe as [ˈɪmɡɜː] for us non-rhotics. Same vowels as “in her”, anyway.

    I wasn’t aware of the official Nutella pronunciation … and as soon as I write that, I realise we need a prefix meaning “official”, so let’s take out the fishy part of “official” and say … I wasn’t aware of the Nutella ficipronunciation, but personally I buy the competing brand Nutino (same thing but better quality chocolate), and eat it by the teaspoon from the jar with my coffee each day. I don’t know if Nutino has a ficipronunciation, but it has never occured to me to pronounce it like a subatomic particle.

  10. roppelo says:

    If I think back to my old monolingual (Northern English) days, I would have pronounced it /imgə/. Now, after many years of living in Finland, the interference from Finnish pushes me towards /ˈimgur/. In all honesty, I try to avoid saying it because I constantly second guess myself. I would never have thought of pronouncing it /ˈɪmɪdʒə/, which seems counterintuitive to me.

  11. languagehat says:

    I have always said “im-grr” and will continue saying it that way, without the slightest concern for what the owners of the company think people should say. Language is democracy in action, suckers!

    As for Nutella, like David L I have always pronounced it with a newt, and was surprised to learn others did it differently. Surprised but pleased!

  12. Stan says:

    Adrian: I like your prefixal ingenuity, but fici- may itself be phonetically ambiguous (I’m inclined towards “fissy” but am aware of other possibilities). As for Nutino, both /nə’tːnəʊ/ and /njuː’tːnəʊ/ offer themselves, but for all I know it’s meant to be /’nʊtənəʊ/.

    roppelo: It’s definitely counterintuitive. On more than one occasion I’ve found myself calling it “imager” in conversation before adding the more literal “im-grr” for clarity. (I’ve added a couple more IPA spellings to the post to accommodate rhotic accents.)

    Hat: Language is democracy in action, suckers! – I can see this working as an irreverent slogan on a descriptivist usage blog. The Nutella-related surprise is working both ways. I must ask more people about it to see if there’s any significant local variation.

    • Yeah, the phonetic ambiguity was part of the fun, and I thought it might get other people pondering alternative proposals… :-)

      Both Nutella and Nutino are Italian, and the latter very proudly declares the fact on the label, so at the factory they probably pronounce it as an Italian word. But the rest of us needn’t do likewise.

      I disagree with the rhotic vs non-rhotic pronunciations you’ve added — in my experience [ɚ] and [ɝ] are only ever used when transcribing rhotic English. So I would say: non-rhotic [ˈɪmɡɜː], [ˈɪmgə]; rhotic [ˈɪmgɚ], [ˈɪmɡɝ], [ˈɪmgər], [ˈɪmgɛr], [ˈɪmgur].

      (Note also that I’m using square brackets to indicate phonetic rather than phonemic transcription; this seems more appropriate if we are listing /ˈɪmgɚ/ and /ˈɪmɡɝ/ separately.)

      In response to the “Nutella” discussion, I think it’s possible the “newt” pronunciation would be more common if people learned the word from print rather than by hearing it pronounced by their peers. A correlation worth testing, perhaps.

      (Que happy memories of a small group of students in junior school sharing a serving-sized bucket of the stuff purchased from the school canteen … although I can’t quite remember how that worked now, in terms of* fingers, spoons, and combinations thereof.)

      * Phrase recently tweeted about by Stan, but it feels right here.

  13. dw says:

    re the Reddit conversation excerpted above:

    How the heck does “imager” rhyme with “sharer”? Is the stress of “imager” supposed to be on the second syllable?

  14. Sean J. says:

    As for Nutella: In German it is pronounced Noo-tella, or in other words: like you spell it. :)

  15. John Cowan says:

    For me it’s nut-ELla, with a glottalized t, as distinct from nu- or nuh-TEL-la. But it’s not like I talk about it much.

  16. Uri says:

    In the UK I’ve only ever heard Nutella anglified as nut-ella — just like IKEA is anglified as eye-key-a as opposed to the Swedish ee-kay-a. As for tech companies, there’s also scribd, which I pronounce as scib-dee but is officially pronounced script, and the UK chain CeX, officially pronounced sex but universally called see-ee-ex.

  17. I have never felt the need to pronounce it (nor to read it, until today).

    Another issue I did not know existed…

  18. Stan says:

    Adrian: Thanks for the helpful notes on IPA. I’ve no objection to that “in terms of”, incidentally; it’s only when it’s used excessively and as a substitute for clear thinking that I frown on it.

    dw: He seems to be using the word rhymes very loosely.

    Sean, Alina: I suspect this is the norm in quite a few languages (and dialects of English), my “nut” idea notwithstanding.

    John: I find that I talk about it even when I’m referring to a different brand of chocolate hazelnut spread (which I’ve lately been spreading on rice cakes to good effect).

    Uri: Those are interesting examples. I say Scribd fairly literally, like “script” but with a voiced final consonant. In Ireland I hear Lidl commonly pronounced as both “liddle” and “leedle”.

    Andrew: You never know when these matters will come in handy, though they might never.

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