Frequent commenter Tatyana just sent me the word ouguiya, which is in the dictionary and legal for Scrabble use. I had never heard of it but was thrilled to know it existed; when I googled it, I discovered the equally marvelous word ariary, of a similar nature. What do these exotic lexical items mean? The answers lie within.

The ouguiya is the currency of Mauritania; it’s from Arabic ūgīya, a dialect form of ūqīya ‘ounce,’ and should thus (in my opinion) be pronounced /u’giyə/ rather than Merriam-Webster’s preferred /u’gwiyə/. The Wikipedia article I linked to goes on to say “The only circulating currency other than the Malagasy ariary whose division units are not based on a power of ten, each ouguiya is comprised of five khoums (singular and plural in English; Arabic: خمس)”; this sent me to the article ariary, where I learned that “The ariary replaced the previous currency, the Malagasy franc (also known as by its French name, the franc malgache)…, on January 1, 2005. One Malagasy franc was valued at 0.2 ariarys; that is, one iraimbilanja.” Not being a Scrabble player at anything other than the most amateur (dinner-table) level, I wonder: is ariary unusable until a new Scrabble dictionary is printed, even though as the official name of a national currency it will presumably automatically be included?
It’s probably worth mentioning, by the way, that final /i/ is always written y in Malagasy (you have to wonder how they came up with that arbitrary-seeming rule); the word is pronounced /ari’ari/.


  1. Or the final y may not be pronounced at all; for example, “Malagasy” is pronounced the same as “malgache”.

  2. Thanks, I hadn’t realized how much elision of vowels there was — this page says “Unstressed vowels are often elided, e.g., word Malagasy with accent on the syllable -ga- is pronounced as [malgas].” You learn something every day.

  3. At first I thought this was some sort of silly spelling of Ogygia ;)

  4. Another is a type of lemur, the sifaka, which can be pronounced shifakh, or the fossa, a predator, sometimes pronounced foosh. This was a major pain for me when writing a story that took place in Madagascar.

  5. Martin M. says:

    As I recall, Douglas Adams made a lovely little observation (which I have always wondered about) on that very subject, in Last Chance to See, which, sadly, I just loaned out to someone the other day. His basic point was that “Antananarivo” (the capital) is pronounced more like “Tananarive”, which so upset the French that they forced the Malagasy to spell it “Tananarive”. Adams said this would be like the French invading Britain, and forcing the natives to spell “Leicester” as “Lester” – as he said, “we’d do it, but we wouldn’t have to like it.” (All my quotes are approximate; if someone has the book, they can feel free correct me.)
    Anyway, that’s how I learned to pronounce “Leicester” as an eight-year-old Adams junkie.

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