Phi Phi Pho Phum

How are the names of Greek letters supposed to be pronounced? I always pronunce phi as “fie”, but everybody else seems to say “fee”. I’ve argued that if you are going to pronounce phi “fee”, you also have to pronounce pi “pee”, but to no avail. Or how about mu? I say “moo”, everybody else says “myoo”. Or omicron, is it “oh-MIKE-ron” as I say it, or “OHM-i-cron” as everyone else does? I’ve consulted a dictionary, but it lists both as valid. So what are the standard accepted pronunciations for these letters? How do the Greeks pronounce them?

“That’s entertainment!” —Vlad the Impaler

same question, but one i want to know about is “chi”

Woo Hoo! I knew that Ancient Greek class in college was gonna pay off someday.

From what I can see, you’re pronouncing them all correctly, with the exception of phi. I’ve honestly never heard it pronounced that way. It’s AH-mi-cron, and pi. For the most part, the frats and sororities have the names right, with the notable exception of X, which is pronounced khee, not kai.

Course, I’m not an ancient Greek, so I’m not necessarily right.

And the problem with small furry animals
in corners is that, just occasionally,
one of them’s a mongoose.
Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad

My totally uneducated response is what I was told during Rush (sad but true, I went through). The sorority in question is Alpha Phi, which does pronounce it “fee.” IIRC, they said that it was pronounced fee if it followed a vowel, or maybe if it wasn’t followed by another letter. Dang, I don’t remember. I probably shouldn’t even post this, but what the hell.

“It says, I choo-choo-choose you. And it’s got a picture of a train.”
– Ralph Wiggum

As a quick reference to my old basic modern greek book shows:

Xi, pi, phi, chi and psi are all pronounced with the sound of English long E, as in bee.

Omicron is pronounced similar to English short o, with the accent on the antepenultimate syllable. Omega is the long o sound.

Mu and nu have no palatalization of the consonant, so there isn’t what English speakers would perceive of as a ‘y’ consonant sound before the long U.

Upsilon has an initial sound similar to German Ü, a very pinched version of our long oo sound.

Most of the frats get the whole thing abysmally wrong, but then the Roman church has murdered Latin for almost 1500 years, so…

A hollow voice says, “Plugh”!

To which I answer, “Plover!”

I don’t know if this depends on the language in which you’re learning Greek. FWIW, when I was learning ancient Greek (in French), we pronounced the letters
phi, chi, psi, pi with the i sounding like ee in the word bee.
and the ch in chi as the english sh.

La franchise ne consiste pas à dire tout ce que l’on pense, mais à penser tout ce que l’on dit.
H. de Livry

The advantage to using the long I sound instead of the long E sound is that otherwise there’s a possibility of confusing pi with P, xi with Z, phi with V, and psi with C.

Ultimately it’s really more important to me to be understood unambiguously than to be unswervingly correct in my pronunciation of a dead language.

First you…never mind,Cessandra knows what I mean!

So how is “Xyzzy” pronounced? :smiley:

“I had a feeling that in Hell there would be mushrooms.” -The Secret of Monkey Island

In English or Spanish, dice? Pronounce Mexia.

Since WHEN is Greek a dead language???

Check out this link for accurate pronounciations of greek letters.

In it we see that the letters xi, pi, chi, phi, psi are pronounced ksee, pee, chee, fee, and psee with the ch pronounced as the german ch.

Also, beta is pronounced like the spanish v (a voiced bilabial fricative for you linguist types), gamma like the spanish g (a voiced velar fricative), and delta is a voiced th like in that (a voiced dental fricative).

Greek has no equivalents for English b and d, so it makes them via combinations of consonants-mp for b and nt for d, giving the useful Greek words mpier and ntonut (a wonderful flavor combination).

Sorry if this is more than you needed to know,


As the waitress with henna dye said, “Mexia is too damn red.”

What gets even wierder is modern Greek, which uses the classic letters but gives some an English and some a Spanish sound, e.g., eta (which was classically ATE-uh) has become EAT-uh, and delta is THel-tuh, with the voiced “th” of those.