Frequent correspondent Laurent sent me a most interesting advertisement, in which the letters of the word “Chevron” are made up of the words for ‘energy’ in a bunch of languages. I can identify most of them by using dictionaries and/or Google, but there are some I can’t. Here’s the image (click for large version):
And here’s what I’ve got so far, starting with the words making up the letter C; if anyone can fill in any blanks, I will be much obliged:

ŋsī – ?
ஆற்றல் [aatral] – Tamil
energy – English
ngolo – Kikongo? (according to this site, “NGOLO means energy, force, power. Moyo means life/spirit in the Kikongo language.”)
শক্তি [shokti] – Bengali
nukiorneq – Greenlandic
amaanda – a South African language
orka – Icelandic (I believe this is related to English work)
エネルギー [enérugii] – Japanese (obviously borrowed from German, because if it were from English it would be enaaji)
ພະລັງ? [pa:la:ng] – Lao
brændstof – Danish [actually means ‘fuel’ — tsk]
kawi – Swahili?
enerhiya – Hiligaynon (a language of the Philippines; a commenter adds that it could also be Tagalog or any other Philippine language)
енергия [energiya] – Bulgarian
enerģija – Latvian
pūngao – Maori
energji – Albanian
energie – Dutch, Afrikaans, Czech, Romanian
emandla – Swazi (Swati, siSwati)
fuinneamh – Irish (pronounced something like FWINN-ya, if you were wondering)
enerji – Turkish (j is as in French, like the s of leisure, and the word is borrowed from French, unless of course it’s from Sumerian)
bukola – ?
ऊर्जा [ūrjā] – Hindi
энергетика [energetika] – Russian
matla – Sotho (from googling I find it used in Southern Sotho and Tswana)
ენერგია [energia] – Georgian
توانائی [tavāna’i] – Persian (Many thanks to Tim May for providing the Unicode for me to copy; he adds: “Online dictionaries return “توانايي”, though, which gets a lot more hits, and so does “توانائي” and “توانايى”. The first one looks like it’s what it says in the advert, though.”)
قوت [quvat] – Pushtu? (also could represent Dari quvvat)
ឋាមពល [tha:ma’pɔl] – Khmer/Cambodian
Energie – German
能源 [néngyuán] – Chinese
күч [küch] – Kyrgyz (common Turkic word; cf Turkish güç)
energía – Spanish
شکتی [shakti] – Urdu
makasi – Lingala?
umfutho – ? (Obviously a language related to Zulu, but doesn’t mean ‘energy’ in Zulu as far as I can tell)
බලය [balaya] – Sinhala
эрчим хүч [erchim khüch] – Mongolian
에너지 [eneoji] – Korean
energia – Portuguese, Catalan, Polish, Finnish, Estonian, Hungarian, Basque
maatla – a South African language (Pedi?)
énergie – French
nishati – Swahili?
hinya – Kikuyu??
енергія [energiya] – Ukrainian
พลังงาน [phalaŋŋaan] – Thai
ingufu – Kinyarwanda
אנרגיה [energyah] – Hebrew
simba – ? (Unfortunately, the very well known Swahili word simba ‘lion’ pretty much makes Google useless here)
amandla – Zulu (It’s under -andla if you ever have to look it up in a Zulu dictionary)
energija – Lithuanian, Slovene, Croatian (or, if you’re old-fashioned, Serbo-Croatian)
ενέργεια [enéryia] – Greek
енергетски извор – Macedonian
inirjia – Aymara?
pachamamaq – Quechua
yana qori unun – ?? (I don’t even know if this is one, two, or three entries, but none of the words occurs separately)
energi – Norwegian, Swedish (also Danish, which is represented by brændstof)
pissens – Kreyol (Haitian Creole, from French puissance)
buka – ?
tenaga kerja – Indonesian
năng lượng – Vietnamese (a loan from Chinese 能量[nengliang])
daya – Malay
hery – Malagasy (Curiously, final i is always written y in Malagasy)
Ենէրգիա [energia] – Armenian
طاقه [Taaqa] – Arabic
enegiýa – Turkmen (?)
mbaretekue – Guarani
mphamvu – Chichewa
yemashala – ?
enerġija – Maltese
agbara – Yoruba

Update (May 2023). Alas, the image is no longer accessible, and the Internet Archive didn’t capture a snapshot of this post until a decade later, by which time it was already gone. Sic transit.


  1. The word “energie” means energy in Czech as well.

  2. Jimmy Ho says

    Could pissens be French-based Creole (maybe Haitian, if the ad was made in America), as in French “puissance” (power, potential, see Chinese neng 能)?

  3. I suspect that nukiorneq is Inuit.

  4. You already got the Finnish: energia – so I guess you did not need my help with the only language I could have helped with!

  5. Jimmy Ho says

    I just verified my intuition about Vietnamese năng lượng; if the Nôm Foundation’s Lookup Tool is correct, it is the reading for Chinese 能量 (so-called Mandarin ‘nengliang‘).

  6. Jimmy Ho says

    (By the way, I hope there is no other typo than the Latin ‘e’ for ε (epsilon) as the first letter of Greek ενέργεια; that would make it more complicated than it needs to be.)

  7. In the H 에너지 is Korean.

  8. I wonder if one of those words is Klingon–that would make it extra-nerdy. I think there’s a Klingon dictionary online.

  9. The korean 에너지 romanizes to “eneoji” approximately.

  10. Ah, thanks — I somehow missed that one! I’ll add it, and add Czech to the energie languages.

  11. I just looked up “energy” in the Klingon dictionary at
    The word is HoS
    Nerdy activity completed. 🙂

  12. orka – Icelandic (I believe this is related to English work)

    Yes, and thus also to the erg in energy.

  13. The Tamil word ஆற்றல் romanizes to arral, I believe, and translates as power.
    I don’t see anything in Canadian syllabics so I don’t know if Inuit could be represented. This is ‘power’ in Cree – ᐃᔥᐱᔒᒪᑲᓐ – ‘it has enough horsepower’

  14. Jimmy Ho says

    For what it’s worth, this English-Kreyol Dictionary (really a word list) compiled by Hertz Nazaire gives enèji for ‘energy’ and pisans for ‘power’.
    About work/werk: I seem to recall that the ‘w’ comes from the digamma in archaic Greek *wergon > ergon.

  15. The word in the syllabic alphabet, following umfutho, is definitely Sinhala and also appears as a translation of power in the Tamil Sinhala Dictionary

  16. George-Michael Pescaru says

    “Energie” is also Romanian, if I’m not mistaken.

  17. The possible Persian/Urdu word written in Arabic script (quwwat) might actually be Malay. I know Malay and Indonesian are already represented, but the Malay word in the list–kerja–means work, not energy (the Indonesian word–tenaga–is also energy in Malay). The Persian/Urdu word could be the Malay ‘kuat’, which means ‘strong’, ‘poweful’. Malay was often written in an Arabic script called Jawi up until only a few years ago; it can still be seen here and there. I could be way off here, but it sounds like a possibility.

  18. The diacritic under ‘d’ in ‘amaanda’, isn’t that a diacritic *on* the Lao word ພະລັງ?

  19. Ooops….didn’t mean to leave out the ‘r’ in ‘powerful’. Damn you, fingers…..

  20. Michael Farris says

    More specifically, nukiorneq is probably Greenlandic, a separate written standard from anything in Canada or the US.
    I suspect (with no research whatsoever!) that inirjia might be Aymara. Technically, according to the phonology (and writing system) I learned for Aymara, it should be inirjiya, but like most indigenous languages in the Americas Aymara often suffers orthographic indignities, of which -ia instead of -iya is relatively minor …
    Useless trivia … the Quechua word looks a lot like Aymara pacha mama (I may be omitting a diacritic or two) which means something like ‘mother earth’.
    Failing that, it’s some other indigenous language from Latin America (or maybe the Phillipines?)

  21. Andrew Dunbar says

    Of the ones you’ve gusses as Thai, only the ones at the bottom left of the h, the bottom of the e, and the top of the o are the Thai “พลังงาน”. It looks to be a compound related to the Lao word “ພະລັງ” which is expected.
    The others, which I won’t attempt in Unicode, are Khmer/Cambodian. This appears at the top of the h, r, and n. It doesn’t seem to be related to the Thai or Lao word.
    Sadly, I can’t see my other favourite Southeast Asian script represented: Burmese/Myanmar.

  22. Ben Zimmer says

    Daya is Malay/Indonesian.

  23. Ben Zimmer says

    Oh, and tenaga kerja is also Malay/Indonesian, but it denotes a slightly different sense of “energy” (lit. ‘manpower, work force’). I’m guessing a Malaysian source provided one gloss and an Indonesian source another.

  24. Strangely the danish “brændstof” means fuel, not energy which would be “energi”. Perhaps “energi” wasn’t exotic enough…

  25. Michael Farris says

    energija with a dot over the g (in the n) is Maltese.

  26. Jimmy Ho says

    Obviously, they haven’t been overly minutious with the “translations”. The Chinese word means precisely “source of energy”; the correct term used in physics is nengliang 能量, which became năng lượng in Vietnamese.
    Maybe the error comes from a hasty interpretation of ‘nengyuan weiji’, which does translate as ‘energy crisis’, but means literally ‘energy source crisis’.
    Even big companies overlook those “details”; this is still better than the ad for Garnier (a L’Oréal brand) you can see all over Paris, where a young Western man supposed to look like a ‘manga’ hero wears a shirt with the (badly calligraphed) character long 龍 (dragon) on it; the only problem is, it is printed in “reverse”, mirror-like.

  27. bathrobe says

    True, 能源 means ‘energy source’, but a company dealing in ‘energy’ (like Chevron) would only ever talk about 能源. ‘Energy policy’, for instance, would always be 能源政策.

  28. OK, the Sinhala is බලය balaya. Online Sinhala/English dictionaries returns that for both “energy” and “power”.
    The Bengali is শক্তি, if you want the characters (I make that shakti rather than shokti, but then I know nothing specific about the language).
    I don’t think my systems can render Unicode Khmer correctly yet, so I won’t attempt that one.

  29. Oh, and playing around, I think the Persian is توانائى. The last two letters are U+0626 and U+0649 (yaa’ with hamza and ‘alif maksura (dotless yaa’) respectively – I suspect I’m mixing spelling conventions with those names).
    Online dictionaries return “توانايي”, though, which gets a lot more hits, and so does “توانائي” and “توانايى”. The first one looks like it’s what it says in the advert, though.

  30. My, my, you all have been busy while I slept! I’ve had to take a break for breakfast after making all the emendations you’ve provided. Thanks to all of you, especially Ben Zimmer for clearing up the Malay/Indonesian stuff, Jimmy Ho for the info on Vietnamese and Chinese, and Michael Farris for catching the Maltese, and extra special thanks to EFL Geek, PhoeniX, Suzanne McCarthy, Andrew Dunbar, and Tim May for providing Unicode for me to use along with the other information; Andrew, could I trouble you for transliterations/transcriptions of the Thai and Khmer? Doesn’t have to be exact, I’d just like to have and provide some indication of how the words are pronounced.
    The diacritic under ‘d’ in ‘amaanda’, isn’t that a diacritic *on* the Lao wordພ
    Oops — why yes, yes it is! One mystery solved…
    Keep it up, everyone; there are many words yet to be deciphered!

  31. Makasi apparently means “strong” in Lingala. “Strong” isn’t “energy”, but it’s close enough to be suggestive.
    If quwwat looks Persian but isn’t, could it be Dari?

  32. Thanks, I’ll add Lingala as a possibility. Actually, quwwat — or rather, in this case, qovvatis Persian, and thus automatically Dari as well (I didn’t take it as Persian because there was already an unambiguously Persian term there), so that’s a possibility; another, which your question reminded me of, is that it’s Pushtu quvat, so I’ll add that too. (I guess the fact that the major Afghan languages use the same written word for ‘power, energy’ could be thought of as a unifying factor…)

  33. Enerhiya in the C can also pass for Tagalog or be from any other Philippine language with the Spanish loan. The more usual word, but really only for ‘electricity’, is coryente. I never learned the word, if it exists, that can really capture English energy pertaining to power sources/generation.

  34. Jimmy Ho says

    You’re welcome, LH. I can see you filled ‘pissens’; did you confirm it with other sources (I am curious, because while I had a high certitude about my guess, I was still slightly bothered by the orthographic difference)?
    bathrobe, you are right to point out that, in a case where Modern Chinese is more precise than English, they made the most coherent choice. Maybe we can agree that ‘nengyuan’ is not “the word for ‘energy’” in Chinese (unlike, say, енергия in Bulgarian). It would be interesting to know if there is a Vietnamese word năng nguồn (that would be the reading for 能源) and, if so, if its use differs in any way from that of the Chinese word (all I can do is identify obvious Sino-Vietnamese, but Google brings up the name of the International Energy Agency: Tổ chức năng lượng thế giới).

  35. Jimmy Ho says

    (Och, I forgot to conclude:)
    The official Chinese name of the same agency is Guoji nengyuan shu 國際能源署; this would lead to the supposition that ‘năng lượng’ is indeed used like ‘nengyuan’, and that the Chevron people have actually been pretty careful, at least in this instance.

  36. Jimmy: No, I didn’t confirm it, but it looked solid enough to include.
    Angelo: I’ll indicate that in the “Enerhiya” entry.

  37. bathrobe says

    I’ve also found 国际能源机构 for the IEA on the Internet. I wonder which is officially correct?
    Incidentally, the Chinese name for the International Atomic Energy Agency is 国际原子能机构 – no 源 or 量!).
    The Vietnamese for IAEA (according to a number of sites) is Cơ quan Năng lượng nguyên tử quốc tế. This is equivalent to 能量.

  38. bathrobe says

    I also found 國際能源總署.
    Could there be a Mainland/Taiwan split?
    Google results for each phrase in (1) All Chinese simplified and (2) All Chinese traditional:
    国际能源总署 1,140 hits
    國際能源總署 733 hits
    国际能源署 18,000 hits
    國際能源署 705 hits
    国际能源机构 23,800 hits
    國際能源機構 803 hits (but many Mainland sites)
    As you see, Vietnamese uses Tổ chức (組織/组织). Japanese calls it the 国際エネルギー機関.
    It seems organisations are even more complex than energy!

  39. Let me tackle the Khmer first. I don’t yet have a Khmer dictionary but I seem to have a Khmer font installed and there are no tricky ligatures or stacked characters in this word so I’ll try cutting and pasting from Alan Wood’s Khmer test page:
    Using the Unicode names: “tthamopolo”.

  40. Now for the Thai. I have a Thai dictionary but it doesn’t include romanizations. I found guide to Thai spelling on which, if I’ve used it correctly, gives “phlong-ngaan” for “พลังงาน”.

  41. Tim,
    Regarding Bangla, I think that shakti is a decent enough transliteration, but the pronunciation of today would more correspond to shokti. Compare traditional Calcutta – today’s official Kolkata.

  42. Looking through the comments after posting, I think that nobody has mentioned Swedish energi.

  43. I wonder if the Japanese word is borrowed from Dutch, not German, given the longtime and exclusive presence of Dutch traders prior to the “opening” of the country. There are other Dutch roots in Japanese, like “biru”, Dutch bier, beer; “garasu”, Dutch glas, glass; “koohii”, Dutch koffie, coffee.

  44. Andrew: Thanks very much — using your approximations, I was able to find the Thai in my Thai-English dictionary (Mary Haas’s excellent “Student Dictionary”) and the Khmer in my Khmer-Russian dictionary.
    anders: Thanks, I’ve added energi! It’s so hard to notice all these variations on a theme in that list of words…
    And yeah, I forgot to get back to Tim on that: in Bengali, historic short a has become o. I was bowled over when a Bengali woman told me Satyajit, as in Satyajit Ray, was pronounced Shottojit (stress on the first syllable)!

  45. Well, seems I can display that particular Khmer sequence well enough after all.
    Anders, Hat, thanks for clearing up the Bangla matter. I thought it might be something of that nature.
    Kawi appears to be an African language – there’s a series of science-education books focusing on renewable energy produced by UNESCO’s Science For Africa programme called KAWIthis page claims it’s Kiswahili, but a) we already have a Swahili word and b) I can’t find it in the dictionary in the next post. It might be worth checking your own dictionaries though.
    Incidentally, you haven’t put Muke’s Lao Unicode in the article yet.

  46. It’s not Swahili. I’m hoping an Africanist will drop by and elucidate some of these.
    Thanks for reminding me about the Lao!

  47. Sigivald says

    I’m just amused that the Danish is “brændstof” (which I’m assuming, from my German, means “stuff for burning”, or “fuel”, more generally), a good ol’ Germanic construction, while the Germans use “energie”.

  48. Having investigated further, I think that the Persian (in the form on the ad) should be توانائی rather than توانائى (these should look identical). You see, there are three relevant characters here in Unicode: U+064A ARABIC LETTER YEH, U+0649 ARABIC LETTER ALEF MAKSURA, and U+06CC ARABIC LETTER FARSI YEH. All of these have basically the same shape in all forms, but differ in their dots. U+064A is the familiar Arabic letter with two dots below. U+0649 has no dots. U+06CC has the two dots in initial and medial form but no dots when final or independent. I gather this is basically how the letter corresponding to U+064A is written in Persian. Some discussion of this here.

  49. I changed the Unicode — thanks!

  50. I think that the Greek ενεργεια would be better transliterated as energeia. That is a gamma after the r.

  51. According to this database, lowercase eng occurs in Bambara, Fula, Inari Sámi, North Sámi, Skolt Sámi, Wolof, and Dinka, while lowercase i with macron occurs in Hawaiian, Livonian, Latvian, Maori, and Cornish. Not sure whether that helps with the first one.

  52. I’ve been wondering about the Persian too. At the time I was going to bring up the “Farsi yeh” which is prouned as “yeh” but doesn’t have the two dots versus “alef maksura” which is pronounced as “alef” but takes a different form.
    Now my understanding is that Persian has a hybrid orthography adhering more to Arabic norms for loanwords from Arabic, and further for native words. So to decide what the possibilites for this letter are I had to decide whether it was a loan from Arabic. Given that the word uses “ئ”: “yeah with hamza above”. I’m pretty sure that Persian doesn’t use hamza in native words so that it must be a loan from Arabic.
    So I don’t really know too much about either language. I don’t know if Arabic loans in Persian use “farsi yeh” in place of “yeh”, or if they keep an “alef maksura” from the original Arabic…

  53. Jimmy Ho says

    “enéryia” is a good phonetic transcription showing the proper way to pronounce the word, while the transliteration “enérgeia” serves a different purpose, to give a one-to-one correspondance of the original Greek letters with Latin characters.
    What bothers me instead is, as I wrote earlier, that they carelessly put a Latin ‘e’ as the first letter. I doubt they’d have put the spirit on it anyway, but after all monotonic has been the official in Greece for some time now.

  54. Jimmy Ho says

    Ironically enough, the word happens to appear first in the ‘e’.

  55. Andrew: No, it’s not an Arabic loan; the base word tavān goes back to Pahlavi (Middle Persian) tuwān ‘might, power.’ I don’t know whether the form in the list is from Pahlavi tuwānīgīh ‘ability, power’ or a separate derivative using an Arabic termination, but in any case hamza is indeed used in native words—it’s the standard way to indicate that two separate vowels are coming together. In fact, Ann Lampton’s Persian Grammar uses this very word as an example: “It performs this function [separating vowels] in the following cases also:… (c) Between the final ا a orو u of a word and the suffixed Abstract ى -i…, e.g. … توانائی … power, strength.”
    Suzanne: As Jimmy says, gamma is pronounced as y before front vowels in Modern Greek.
    KC: That’s a depressingly mutually exclusive list! I’m really curious about that one; I may have to write Chevron and ask if they can put me in touch with whoever compiled the words.

  56. Sigivald: German uses “Brennstoff” for the concept too, notably on food packaging when listing kilojoules.

  57. Hat: Thanks for the explanation of the Persian equivalent of the diaeresis – it’s that kind of thing that makes this my favourite blog!
    Also I can’t help noticing a similarity between the 2nd syllable of Thai งาน / ŋaan and the 1st of Vietnamese năng, Chinese 能 / néng. Unfortunately I don’t have my Lao dictionary handy but I recall there was a 2-syllable word for “energy” which matched the Thai. What are the chances that “ŋaan” and “néng” are related?

  58. Michael Farris says

    IIRC ngaan is a nominal root that’s usually glossed as ‘work’ though ‘purposeful activity’ might be more accurate. I have no idea if it’s related to anything Chinese.
    I don’t know of any serious linguists that still think that Chinese and Thai are genetically related. Chinese borrowings into Thai are usually more mundane and not liable to show up in even semi-technical vocabulary (for which purpose Thai relies more on Indian and Anglo sources).

  59. audiofage says

    In Quechua:
    yana = black
    qori = gold (whether the material or the attribute, I’m not sure)
    unu = water (mixed with something else)
    just a shot in the dark

  60. About ενεργεια eneryia – οορς, right, I was thinking visually not phonetically.

  61. “What bothers me instead is, as I wrote earlier, that they carelessly put a Latin ‘e’ as the first letter. I doubt they’d have put the spirit on it anyway, but after all monotonic has been the official in Greece for some time now.”
    Since 1982. Polytonic Greek doesn’t seem to do well in browsers.

  62. This brochure in Swahili for a wind power company seems to use the word ‘kawi’ quite a bit.

  63. It sure does. I guess my references are out of date. Thanks, I’ll add the ID to the list.

  64. For energia – Portuguese, Catalan, Polish, Finnish, Estonian, you can add Hungarian, LH.

  65. Will do!

  66. Jimmy Ho says

    For energia – Portuguese, Catalan, Polish, Finnish, Estonian, you can add Hungarian
    … and Basque (Euskara? I’m afraid it only means “in Basque”).
    I just confirmed that other wild guess with the very official Euskalterm – La Banque de Terminologie Publique Basque (I also checked the entry in the Dictionnaire basque at Lexilogos).

  67. Jimmy Ho says

    Suzanne, I loved that ‘oors’, I mean ‘οορς’.
    I have to admit that, while I am very fond of character games in Chinese, I am instead quite resistant to the alphabetical equivalent (including Chevron’s ad). Maybe it is because writing French words with Greek letters, based solely on their similarity with Latin letters (‘énergie’ would become έηεργιε) was so popular when I was going to school in Paris. Nobody would understand that I was so upset by their use of a foreign language in total disregard to the way it really worked (even the ohterwise aweful Erasmian), merely to give their posters and signs an exotic look.
    However, I have to say that the passionated discourse you develop about writing systems on your blog may help me become more receptive to that exclusively visual perspective.

  68. Jimmy Ho says

    I meant to write “Nobody would understand why I was so upset”, etc. There are prolly tons of other mistakes, but, y’know.

  69. Magnus Hansen says

    I don’t know any danes, myself neither, who would use the word “brændstof” in the meaning of “Energy”. Brændstof means fuel. Energy is energi or “kraft” (probably more like power).
    Nukiorneq is standrd western greenlandic, but a probably better word would “nukik” which is power, strength or energy according to my dicconary.

  70. Thanks — I’ll take the question mark off Greenlandic, and if I get around to writing Chevron about the ad I’ll mention the bad Danish.

  71. Geez you are smart. Nice to know there are smart people in the world.

  72. Nordschleife says

    Just a small correction.
    I think the pronunciation of the Irish word ‘Fuinneamh’ is closer to ‘Fwinn-uv’ than ‘Fwinn-ya’.

  73. It all depends on the region; I’m going by the western (Connemara) dialect I studied.

  74. So, Swahili ‘kawi’ still applies? a shade of cognates seem to appear, that of arabic ‘quwwah’, though malay-indonesian “kuat” would be applied to mean strength. The Malaysian Electrical Board is TENAGA Nasional Berhad. Tenaga seems closer in this sense instead of ‘daya’ or ‘tenaga kerja’

  75. Nordschleife says

    The dialect I studied in high school was the
    Roinn Oideachas (Depatment of Education) version.

  76. ஆற்றல் [arral] – Tamil

    This should be aatral. ற when doubled is pronounced “tr”. (ற used to be pronounced t in the old days, and Jaffna Tamil still retains this pronunciation.)

    (I apologize for reply but the thought of anyone saying “arral” is such a record scratch to my ears.)

  77. Good lord, don’t apologize — I’m horrified to think I’ve been perpetuating a mispronunciation for almost a decade, and very glad to have it corrected! Also, thanks for commenting and getting me to revisit this enjoyable old thread. (Come back, Jimmy Ho!)

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