A memorial post (in Russian) for Solzenitsyn (покойся с миром) over at Avva led with a quote from The First Circle that used the word фейхуа [feikhua], a variant of фейхоа [feikhóa] ‘feijoa’; the translation was obvious, but (as often happens with unusual botanical words) I realized I didn’t actually know what a feijoa was, or even how to pronounce the name. The Wikipedia entry explained what it was (and why you rarely see them in these parts: “maintaining the fruit in good condition for any length of time is not easy”), but didn’t tell me how to say it, so I turned to my trusty Merriam-Webster Collegiate:

Pronunciation: \fā-ˈyō-ə, -ˈhō-ə\
Etymology: New Latin, genus name, from João da Silva Feijó died 1824 Brazilian naturalist

What the…? If it’s from a Brazilian name (pronounced fei-ZHO), why on earth would the two pronunciations be fei-YO-ə and fei-HO-ə? The latter I can understand, because there are a lot of Spanish loanwords (e.g., jalapeño) with j = /h/, but why j = /y/? And surely a fair number of people pronounce it the obvious way, with the normal English pronunciation of j, which is how I was mentally pronouncing it? So I decided to get a second opinion, and went to the OED, which had (I’m too lazy to try reproducing the IPA) fei-DZHO-ə (with the normal English j) and fei-YO-ə, in that order. Feeling somewhat comforted but still wanting backup, I went to the AHD, which had fā-zhô’ə, -jō-, -hō-; in other words, fei-ZHO-ə (with Portuguese j), fei-DZHO-ə (with English j), and fei-HO-ə (with Spanish j)—exactly the selection and ordering I would have chosen if I had the magical ability to impose pronunciations on a speech community.

But since the three dictionaries disagree so radically (M-W’s favored pronunciation isn’t even mentioned by AHD, and vice versa), I turn to you, o Varied Reader. If you know this fruit well enough to call it routinely by name, how do you say it: with joe, hoe, yo, or the foreign-sounding but etymologically accurate zho? (Or, god forbid, with yet a fifth version?) If you happen to know how those who deal with fruit professionally say it (if there is a consensus), that would be great added information.


  1. ZHO. We have some growing in our garden, should you ever find yourself near Davis. (Fruit’s ripe late October in these latitudes…)

  2. I read it in English exactly as “фейхоа”, because I’ve never hitherto encountered the word in English, but it’s not uncommon in Ukraine as a flavor of carbonated beverage.

  3. I bought some feijoa sparkling wine at a farmer’s market it New Zealand, and the makers who sold it (and also grow the fruit for other uses) said “joe”. They have all kinds of kooky pronunciations down there, of course.

  4. The j = /y/ reading might be coming from German, although I have no idea why people might think this word came from German.

  5. YouTube is full of New Zealanders pronouncing it.

  6. So it is, and they apparently say FAY-joe-ə, which is plausible.
    The j = /y/ reading might be coming from German, although I have no idea why people might think this word came from German.
    Exactly. I thought of German j, but why German? It doesn’t look even a little German, and the fruit is not from anywhere near Germany.

  7. If it’s a genus name it has to be pronounced with ‘ho’, as a Latin word. Though as you’re not a botanist, you don’t have to follow botanical traditions.

  8. rootlesscosmo says

    I use Portuguese “zh,” because I learned the Portuguese for a bean feed (uma feijoada) before I saw the name of the fruit, and didn’t know the fruit was named for a naturalist called Mr. Bean.
    (For years I thought calling beans “flageolets,” the name of a kind of wind instrument, was a witty allusion to their being the musical fruit; this fond belief was shattered when I found out it’s from “phaseolus,” same as “feijoa” and “frijòl.”)

  9. michael farris says

    “If it’s a genus name it has to be pronounced with ‘ho’, as a Latin word”
    But surely, to the extent it exists in Latin, j = y? That’swhere I assumed that pronunciation came from. Why would j be pronounced h in any other European language besides Spanish (and some Basque dialects)?

  10. Heh. Decades ago, some agriculturalist decided they were an ideal fruit for New Zealand, and they now grow in abundance here. Suburban children play games throwing them at each other when they are in season because feijoa trees are so prolific that even one produces vastly more fruit than one family wants to eat.
    The Brazilian origins are long-forgotten, and we pronounce it fee-joe-uh, maybe stressing the second syllable a bit more than the first.
    The fruits are egg-shaped and pleasantly tart, like a more acidic guava. Usual approach is to cut them in half and scoop out the innards with a spoon – the rind is not very nice.

  11. ATILF claims that the two French ‘flageolets’ have different origins, one, the instrument, from *flabeolum & the other from phaselus. And that the former influenced the form of the latter.

  12. I think it’s safe to say that I didn’t notice that when I read The Inner Circle. I vaguely recall there being some snide remark about Moses and why it took him forty years to lead the Hebrews out of the desert, but I couldn’t find it again when I wanted it.
    Denisovich was my introduction to Solzenitsyn, and I’ve read Cancer Ward, too (with a break of some 18 months halfway through …).

  13. Hebrew: fe-JO-ya
    (We grow it in our yard. It’s yummy.)

  14. JO like the English name Joe?

  15. I’m a Kiwi who loathes feijoas, despite having a very productive tree in my back yard which grows some of the biggest specimens my feijoa-loving famikly and friends have ever seen. I also don’t know IPA, so I’m going to have to wing it. The most common pronunciation I hear here in Hawke’s Bay, a prime horticultural area on the North Island’s East Coast is FEE-joe-a. It is possoble that some Kiwis say FAY-joe-a, but my money is on that being a Zild FEE being heard as FAY to outlanders.
    I won’t touch them as fruit, but a friend makes a real nice chutney out of them.

  16. wallyworld14 says

    A personal experience of mine may shed some light on the whole j=y thing.
    My last name is Ahuja (pronounced /ə.hu.dʒa/), but people who encounter my last name for the first time will sometimes pronounce it /ə.hu.ya/. They have the impression that it is a Spanish surname (it’s actually Indian) and think that they are producing a so-called “spanish j”. In fact what they are doing is producing the phoneme /dʒ/ as if they were a native spanish speaker, as native spanish speakers tend to pronounce /dʒ/ as /y/.
    My guess is that the realization of the j as /y/ in feijoa is the result of the misoconceived notion of the “spanish j”.

  17. Are these Americans, wallyworld14? I think Americans often know Spanish “j” is approximately /h/, so I’d expect if anything that they’d apply that knowledge to non-Spanish words, as in the “feijoa” pronunciation LH found, or George H.W. Bush’s pronunciation of “Sarajevo” as “Sarahevo” (which I vaguely remember but can’t find with Google and so might’ve dreamed).

  18. wallyworld14 says

    They are Americans indeed. Remember that languagehat’s observation of the j=/y/ thing is coming from an American dictionary.

  19. I’m from Santa Barbara, California, where people generally make an effort to pronounce Spanish words close to how a native speaker would say them. And we have feijoas in the supermarket. But I can’t think of anyone ever pronouncing it any other way than fe-JO-a or fe-JO-ya or occasionally fe-JOY-a, though that last one probably results from people not paying attention to how the word is spelled. It really does seem like everyone should say fe-HO-a, given how most people pronounce the Spanish y here, but I’ve never heard it.

  20. This is yet another example of the difficulty in interpreting orthographic in foreign words – particularly for English speakers, but now it seems for Russians as well.

  21. Not speaking Portuguese the name feijoada rang a bell with me, and of course it’s a dish: meaty chunks and manioch sprinkles that is offered everywhere in Brazil, the j pronounced. It’s their ‘national dish’, whatever that means, according to Wiki. (I don’t think having a national dish can be a good indicator of good food : what, for instance, are the national dishes of India, France, Italy and China? I don’t know, there are none.)

  22. People in the San Francisco Bay Area, going to burrito joints as they do, have a pretty good grasp of Spanish pronunciation, but the local town of Vallejo is still pronounced va-LEI-yo. No phonologist I, but I wonder if both cases might have something to do with the vowel in front of the consonant; seems that e or ei, combined with some general confusion about foreign j’s, in American pronunciation might slide more easily into the /y/ sound.

  23. my money is on that being a Zild FEE being heard as FAY to outlanders.
    Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s what happened. I don’t encounter the Kiwi accent often enough to have a good sense of the phonemes.

  24. … as native spanish speakers tend to pronounce /dʒ/ as /y/.
    Except when they pronounce /y/ as /dʒ/! It’s veering a little off-topic, but I have to share this.
    I used to do research on ethnolinguistic identification of names for a living.. and one of the weirdest things I cam across where all these names that looked like perfectly normal American female J-names, except they all started with Y, as in Yennifer, Yeanette, Yocelyn, etc., and they occurred with Latin American last names..
    Turns out that in some dialects of Latin American Spanish, orthographic ‘y’ has come to be pronounced /dʒ/. It must’ve been a while back, too, since the woman who bought my old house 2 years ago was named Yennifer.. and I’d say she was 30±5 years old. (You can hear an example of /dʒ/ for ‘y’ fairly clearly in pop singer Marc Anthony’s popular song “Dimelo”, which you can find and listen to through Google video. At about a minute in, he says, in the chorus, “por tu amor estoy muriendo yo”—”for your love am dying I”, with /dʒo/ for “yo”.)
    It’s the age-old problem of borrowing words.. do you try to preserve the spelling or the pronunciation? You can usually only have one.
    Yennifers in Latin America have found an interesting compromise.
    So, careening out of control back toward the original topic… feijoa as /fedʒoə/ still makes no sense.. oh well.

  25. John Emerson says

    There’s a lot of regional variation. An Argentinian once corrected my pronunciation of a name, but his correction was only valid for Argentinian Spanish.

  26. Here’s a fun google: national dish of.

  27. Charles Perry says

    Vallejo is pronounced as it is because the phoneme h never precedes and unaccented vowel in English. (Everybody pronounces the h in “vehicular,” but only police officers pronounce it in “vehicle.”) So the y in the Vallejo pronunciation is just a glide.
    I always pronounced feijoa (I have a tree in my back yard; handsome plant, takes gracefully to pruning) FEI-zhwa, probably having feijoada in mind. I’m now going to pretend I always pronounced it fei-ZHO-a.

  28. Thanks, Charles – after four years of driving my vehicle through Vallejo I finally have a rationale for the damn place.

  29. Crown, A. says

    There’s a lot of regional variation. An Argentinian once corrected my pronunciation of a name, but his correction was only valid for Argentinian Spanish.
    What was the name: Emerson?

  30. Crown, it was probably Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. You know those Argentines pronounce “ll” funny.

  31. Trey, [dʒ] (better: [dʲ], but neither Anglophones nor Hispanophones hear the difference) is an allophone of /y/ in most of the Spanish-speaking world. Cf. the Spanish Wikipedia article on Tajikistan and on the Arabic Alphabet, especially the transcription of jiim.

  32. KCinDC, it’s жanfairpwжgwyngyжgogerychwyrndrobwжжantysiliogogogoch among the older generation and шanfairpwшgwyngyшgogerychwyrndrobwшшantysiliogogogoch for the whippersnappers, I think.

  33. Dan Milton says

    Anent Wallyworld and Trey’s comments above, I knew an Argentinian who wrote about her visit to “Wayington”.

  34. Crown, A. J. says

    I didn’t find any national dishes I’m dying to try. Maybe Korea.

  35. @ Trey
    “Yennifers in Latin America have found an interesting compromise.”
    We had a young Chilena “Jennifer” stay with us for nearly 6 months, and she pronounced it with an English “J”, as did her family back in Valdivia. She would actually correct people who attempted a “Spanish” pronunciation, whether “h” or “y”.

  36. “what, for instance, are the national dishes of India, France, Italy and China?”
    Chow mein.
    Gosh, don’t you know _anything_?

  37. All my friends pronounce it with a J like in John, but that’s because they’re professional Scrabble players and mispronounce words intentionally to help them remember how they’re spelled.

  38. Charles Perry says “the phoneme h never precedes an unaccented vowel in English”. Does he ever drink Rioja? How does he pronounce that?

  39. I suspect with a secondary stress on the final syllable (-hah). If there were no stress at all, it would be ree-OH-ə.

  40. Which Tyler says

    What about the J in Majorca? Pronounced like a Y, jou know.

  41. Not really. The traditional spelling, Majorca, is traditionally pronounced as it’s spelled, with English j; the Spanish spelling, Mallorca, is pronounced with y. Now, there are doubtless people who are used to the Spanish pronunciation and therefore use it even for the traditional English spelling, but that seems like a borderline case.

  42. “Does he ever drink Rioja? How does he pronounce that?”
    Hah ha. Why, RioXXXXa, of course. Just to sound like he’s actually been in Spain.
    I’m from the Bay Area, and we never called feijoas (on a bush) anything other than guavas. Easier to pronounce, maybe.

  43. Mallorca is pronounced as Y in Spanish but it is not exactly a Spanish toponym, it is a Catalan toponym from the Balear Islands, where it is pronounced as ZH.
    As a name with Portuguese origin, and not Spanish, feijoa should be pronounced as ZH.

  44. It’s funny to read, in Russian Wikipedia, that фейхоа is named after Жуан да Сильва Фейжу (!)
    The California-grown feijoas are large and thick-skinned and, alas, no match to the Azerbaijani feijoas of my youth. It happens with almost every kind of a fruit or berry in the US: the size grows, the skin thickens, and the aroma fades away 🙁

  45. Sad but true.

  46. marie-lucie says

    I usually miss summer posts as I tend not to be home at that time, so it is nice to read older posts which I completely missed earlier.

    I think that I had seen the word feijoa before but associated it with feijoada which I knew involved beans. I did not realize it was a fruit.

  47. marie-lucie says

    I also did not realize that the two kinds of flageolets had different origins. The flute kind is an old folk instrument.

  48. Anyone remember the Fageol Twin Coach?

  49. It’s a bit late, but to Ph: What??? No no no. “Mallorca” is pronounced both in Spanish (Castilian) and Catalan with a palatal lateral.

  50. Rodger C: Well, in such parts of the Hispanosphere as retain a palatal lateral, yes.

  51. Anyone remember the Fageol Twin Coach?

    Never heard of it, but of course I wanted to know how it was pronounced. The guy in this YouTube video says “FAY-juhl,” and this site (which has a great deal of information about the company and its founders) says “‘Fadgl’ … was printed plainly in large letters on the vehicles … because people had such difficulty with pronouncing the name.” I wonder where the name Fageol is from?

  52. I’d never heard the name pronounced until now but always assumed FAJ-ee-ol. (I’ve known the name since childhood as that make of bus was used on a route near our house and its looks made it memorable.)

    “Fadgil” can be heard quite distinctly in this video of the one-off 1939 Super Sonic race car. (They’re looking for half a million for a full restoration. Who here’s gonna pony up?)

  53. According to this site, “Frank R. and William B. Fageol, two of the four Fageol (pronounced fadjl) brothers, Rollie, Frank, William and Claud, (were) an amazingly productive family of French, Prussian and Welsh descent who held over 125 US Patents between them, many of which were influential in the development of early motor trucks and buses. . .

    “Before the family relocated to California in the early 1900s the Fageols had been involved in various automotive ventures in and around Des Moines, Iowa, the city where their parents (John J. Fageol & Mary M. Jones) had relocated to after their September 7, 1876 marriage in Hancock County, Illinois.

    “The family patriarch, John Jacque Fageol, was born on November 15, 1854 in Nauvoo, Hancock County, Illinois to Antoine and Anna Mary (Albrecht) Fageol. Antoine Fageol (b. June 8, 1812-d.Feb. 27, 1877) was a French national and the 1850 US Census list his occupation as farmer, Anna Mary (Albrecht) Fageol was born in Prussia.”

    So it looks like the name is of French origin. For those interested, lots more begat stuff at the site.

  54. Like the flageolet, the mirliton is a vegetable (chayote squash) or a musical instrument (kazoo) of French parentage. Unlike the flageolet, the words are not independent. One is named after the other due to their common shape.

  55. marie-lucie says

    I suspected that Fageol was of Southern French origin. I googled it and found many references, some to genealogical sites. Sure enough, the name comes from le Périgord, a small province in Southwestern France, famous for its force-fed geese, its foie gras and other fat-rich but delicious preparations.

    Since the flageolet bean owes it initial fl to the addition of an l under the influence of the flageolet flute, we can reconstruct an earlier fageolet, or rather fageol (pronounced as if spelled ‘fajol’) since the ending et is a diminutive suffix. There are a number of derivaties of fage, in both place names and family names.

    Another French form of the same root occurs as fay, as in the names Fayot, Fayet, Fayol, Fajoux,, and more.

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