Before the rush

Before the rush
by evan-pak

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I've had a lot of trouble working out how to pronounce "bokeh".

Amusingly enough, I've thus far been unable to get any of the small handful of photographer friends I have to ever say it out loud, despite setting up a number of lead-ins like "how do I get that nice blurred background... what's that called again?"

So yeah, please, tell me! I already sound like enough of a spud when I'm trying to talk jargon with photographers without dropping a big fat "bock-ee" in the middle of an otherwise serious sentence.


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See also the "What is bokeh really?" question and the great non-pronunciation answers there. – mattdm Dec 31 '10 at 1:32
better home at – lalli Jul 18 '11 at 7:30
I go with bow, as in a crossbow, and cu, as in cut. Bow-cu, speed it up, and it sounds right. – dpollitt Jul 19 '11 at 2:20
@lalli, while you may be right that this question would not be out of place there, I strongly disagree that it is out of place here. – Shabbyrobe Jul 19 '11 at 2:48
I like to pronounce it "BO-KEH!" in an aggressive male Japanese accent like Kai Wong does for comedic value on DigitalRev TV :) – Nick Bedford Nov 19 '14 at 19:24

The definitive answer for the word in English is Mike Johnston's article on the topic at Luminous Landscape. Mike says "it is properly pronounced with bo as in bone and ke as in Kenneth, with equal stress on either syllable."

I say "definitive" because Mike is the person responsible for the h on the end of the word in English — he thought it would ward off the most egregious mispronunciation, rhyming the word with "poke" — and he hoped it would ward off "toke" and "smoke" jokes. I'm not so sure that worked for pronunciation (or else we wouldn't have this question), but I guess I'm grateful to for the reduced punning.

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Nice link. It was a very interesting read. I also saw on wiki that it could also be pronounced "boke-uh", like "poke-uh", but that hasn't been mentioned by anybody here. What's the go with that version? – Shabbyrobe Dec 28 '10 at 15:09
@Shabbyrobe: It should always be pronounced /bɒkɛ/ (bo·keh) and never /boʊk/ (boke) or /boʊkə/ (boke·eh). – Zaz Dec 28 '10 at 18:36
According to the IPA guide referenced by koiyu, bo as in bone means it would be pronounced "/boʊkə/", and "/bɒkɛ/" would be more like bo as in Bob. Now I'm extra confused! – Shabbyrobe Dec 29 '10 at 3:06
I'm sure the IPA is correct for the original Japanese word, but I've never heard anyone say it with the O making an "ah" sound in English. – mattdm Dec 29 '10 at 15:38
Actually, the IPA is incorrect for the original Japanese word, and the "bo as in bone" description is accurate. Check it out on Google Translate (hit "Listen") – Evan Krall Dec 30 '10 at 7:26

IPA /bɒkɛ/

Source: Wiktionary

It's worth noting that Wiktionary references Luminous Landscape articles and the other (which concerns pronounciation) is already covered in mattdm's answer.

A short IPA-guide for the relevant sounds (can also be found on the aformentioned IPA Wikipedia page):

b   buy, cab
ɒ   lot, pod, song, doll
k   chi, sky, crack
ɛ   dress, bed, fell, men
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I can't read IPA. Can you add the IPA meanings for those vowel sounds to the answer, please? – Shabbyrobe Dec 28 '10 at 15:02
Thank you for the update. – Shabbyrobe Dec 29 '10 at 11:37
No problem! Glad if it helps :) – koiyu Dec 29 '10 at 13:33
I'm 90% sure the IPA given by Wiktionary is wrong, or we're reading the IPA incorrectly. See my comment on mattdm's answer. – Evan Krall Dec 30 '10 at 7:32
Hmmm. Fix Wiktionary, then. :) – mattdm Dec 30 '10 at 14:22

Just came across this question and couldn't resist adding my two cents. The correct answer is somewhere between @mattdm's and @andrew's answers.

Japanese only has five vowel sounds (excluding dipthongs) that are always the same regardless of the associated consonants. These are: a (like the "a" in "ball"), i (like the French letter "i"), u (like the french letter "u"), o (like the English letter "o"), and "e", which is pronounced somewhere between the first "e" in Kenneth and the "ay" in "okay".

Long story short, "bokeh" has two syllables. The first one is like "Bo Jackson", although a little clipped sounding compared to the English. The second sounds like the Canadian tag question "..., eh?", just a little more clipped sounding.

I've lived in Japan for six years, speak Japanese fluently, and have co-authored a textbook on it if that lends any weight to my answer.

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I am a novice student of Japanese, but this is also my understanding of its pronunciation. Japanese is a very simple and elegant language, with minor dialectic changes as you move from region to region. – jrista Jul 19 '11 at 2:10
This answer also lines up with Google Translate's reading of "暈け" as commented by @Evan Krall – armadadrive Mar 27 at 13:15

How do you pronounce "bokeh"? Well, I pronounce it "bo" "keh", not "bokay" or "bokee" but in between, Bo-keh.

I probably make no sense.

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While "I pronounce bokeh 'Bo-keh'" makes perfect sense, it is in no way helpful to me! – Shabbyrobe Dec 28 '10 at 15:03

My wife is Japanese and she says if it is to relate to the Japanese pronunciation, it should be pronounced as bo-kay.

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Andrew, welcome to the site. How I love when a fresh newcomer revolutionizes the "common knowledge" of the masses... I wonder if there is more than one accepted way to say that in Japanese, maybe depending on geography? Or, when you asked her, did you also explained the meaning of the word to give it the right context? – ysap Jul 18 '11 at 2:46
@ysap There are regional dialects of japanese. As far as I know, the biggest difference between them is in some common words and phrases, but the basic pronunciation of syllables isn't drastically different. It sounds like @jefflovejapan would know more about this than I do. – Evan Krall Jul 18 '11 at 9:22
@Andrew - yeah, it's really close, but I bet if you ask her to say "ka ki ku ke ko" you'll hear the difference between her "ke" and your "kay". – jefflovejapan Jul 19 '11 at 3:06

I think the best way to learn how to say a word is to hear it used, especially in proper context. This video is a great way to learn how to use the word bokeh correctly, and entertaining to boot:

Battle of the Bokeh: Nikon 85mm f/1.4 D vs Sigma 85mm f/1.4

As mentioned previously, and for everyone's edification in case the link goes down, the correct pronounciation is "bo" as in "bone", and "keh" as in "ken". Another way to think of it is like a flower "bouquets", only with the long 'o' sound rather than the drawn out 'oo' sound.

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But am I picking up a British accent on a Japanese word? :-P – Craig Walker Dec 29 '10 at 15:40
Slightly, yes, mostly on the 'o'...however how he says it is the correct way to say it. I've heard some local Coloradan's say it as well, and they say it the same way (although without the tinge of British, which isn't much.) – jrista Dec 29 '10 at 18:24
That's a pretty good approximation, but the speaker is from Hong Kong. It's just like any other foreign word that's been incorporated into English in that the degree to which it's faithful to the original pronunciation depends on a number of factors, including the speaker's accent. – jefflovejapan Jul 19 '11 at 3:04

I've always heard it pronounced "bow-kay". Everyone I know says it that way. The only person who doesn't that I know of is Kai from Digital Rev TV who always puts on a funny voice and goes "BAAAW-KEH".. ;-)

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I prefer


because there is no risk of confusing it with bouquet.

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