The following is a typical scenario in the stairway leading down to the underwater beluga viewing gallery:
Kid (points at narwhal model hanging from ceiling): What’s that?
Parent (quickly looks around for some signage): Um, er… why, that’s a narwhale, dear…
That’s some quality parenting right there, and just the kind of experience we hope our visitors have, but if you want to name-drop at a science party, it’s not quite there. It’s generally pronounced nar-WALL.
Marine animal names are easy to mispronounce. We don’t hear them often so our brains aren’t trained on how to say them. They are often foreign-sounding because they are rooted in another country or another time, as is the case for animal names with Latin roots.
So let us help you annoy others with unsolicited corrections. We present to you… the Unofficial Vancouver Aquarium Pronunciation Guide:
Arctic – you know, that place at the top of our planet; name comes from the Greek word “arktos,” which means bear
Common mistake: Ar-tic
Correct pronunciation: ARC-tic
Cetacean – a whale, dolphin or porpoise, name comes from the Latin word “cetus,” meaning whale
Common mistake: citation
Correct pronunciation: SEH-tation
Geoduck – a type of very large clam, name comes from the Nisqually Indian word “gweduc,” which means “dig deep”
Common mistake: geo-duck
Correct pronunciation: GOOEY-duck
Narwhal – an Arctic whale with a spiral tusk; in Old Norse “nar” means corpse and “hvalr” means whale, “nar” describes the narwhal’s mottled grey body
Common mistake: nar-WHALE (and while this is a variation, the pronunciation below is more commonly accepted)
Correct pronunciation: nar-WALL
Sea anemone – a spineless animal with stinging tentacles, named for the anemone flower
Common mistake: anenome, nemone and even anemonemone!
Correct pronunciation: a-NE-mo-NEE
Here’s a bonus one from our friends at the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network:
Bryde’s whale – tropical whale named after Norwegian Johan Bryde who built the first whaling station in South Africa in the early 1900s
Common mistake: bride’s whale
Correct pronunciation: BROO-dus whale
What other marine-related words do you trip on? List them in the comments section below!
Written by Karen Glanzberg, content writer/producer at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre.