Conrad asks, “have you come across the US pronunciation of poem as ‘poiem’ (an approximation of course)? It’s a subtle difference, with a ‘y’ glide from the o to the e, rather than a ‘w’. [Such people] don’t pronounce ‘poet’ in this way, curiously.” I have heard it, but I had never thought to wonder about it, so I put it to the Varied Reader: do you use this pronunciation, and/or are you familiar with it?


  1. Not being American, can’t say I’ve heard of it. On the other hand, I’ve heard the pronunciation ‘pome’. Is this just a regionalism or is it a fairly common pronunciation?

  2. marie-lucie says

    I too have occasionally heard “pome”, but not “poiem” (not “pote” or “poiet” either).

  3. I’m American and have not heard poiem before. I’ve heard pome and pōtry particularly in the Southern American Midwest.

  4. I’ve heard “poiem”; my mom, an educated speaker with a master’s degree, uses it, and I’ve noticed it in other southern American speakers. I’ve never heard anyone say “pote” or “poiet.”

  5. I’ve heard poiem. Somewhere in the Southwest.

  6. The spelling poitry appears in Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers, but I don’t know what pronunciation is meant.

  7. I’ve never heard “poiem” (or “pome”) in California.

  8. I live in an area where /pin/ and /pen/ are often homophones, so it certainly seems like the sort of thing people around me might say, but I find that I rarely notice weird Ohio Valley/Hoosier pronunciations anymore.
    (Via an old post on Making Light, I learned that you can find marvelous examples of vernacular poetry by searching for “peom,” but that’s an orthography issue and quite separate.)

  9. From the best of my knowledge, the word ‘poiem’ does not exist in any language in the world. I guess sometimes ago, people misspelled the word ‘poem’ then circulated around so it became a “word” even though it was never recognized by any language.

  10. John Emerson says

    I’ve heard it, in the Misdwest, and thought of it as an affectation.

  11. John, I still wonder if it isn’t an artifact of /PIN/-/PEN/ homophony. Which, if I’m not mistaken, is found in parts of the Southwest as well as Indiana and the lower Ohio Valley. (Basically, you’ll find /PIN/-/PEN/ wherever you find biscuits and gravy.)
    “Ink pen” is ubiquitous in mein heimatland, so I can see where “poetry”–>”poietry.” But I can’t say as I’ve heard it, because I automatically account for dialect differences when I listen to speech. And most of the vernacular speakers I know rarely discuss poetry.

  12. From the best of my knowledge, the word ‘poiem’ does not exist in any language in the world
    Except in the original Greek, of course. Poietai made poiemata back then. It’s true that the Greeks occasionally left out the i, and the Romans generally left it out, and everybody else has followed their lead.
    It’s possible as was pointed out, that poiem as heard is a non-pin-pen-merger’s interpretation of a merger’s pronunciation, so thst the ie exists only in the hearer’s ear, but not in the speakers mouth.

  13. The only person I’ve encountered with this pronunciation was an educated Southerner. She was originally from Clemson, South Carolina but had spent her adult life largely outside the Southeast. I too thought it was an affectation, but apparently not?

  14. I recently moved to Colorado and heard “poiem” for the first time – from an Irish professor in my department.

  15. Only time I’ve ever heard it: Ernie said it on a Sesame Street LP with songs for all letters of the alphabet, when Bert made a machine that detected the letter “r”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QC5f1fKrrTw

  16. I used it growing up in southern Virginia, though I think if was more “poim” than “poiem”. But like “kewpon” for “coupon” and “onvelope” for “envelope”, that pronunciation disappeared some time after I moved to northern Virginia in my teens.

  17. @KCinDC: “Poim” — yes, absolutely! I was reading “poiem” as two syllables (“poy-ehm”), but “poim,” with a dipthong — yes, I hear that all the time. US, Southern, mid-Atlantic, southeast, deep south; Poe, Dickey, Faulkner, et al. Great poits, all.

  18. I’m from just outside of Bridgeport, CT, where my whole family is from (2 generations on average), and grew up saying “pome” and “po-ett.” I don’t bat an eye at the pronuncation “po-em” (although I wouldn’t spontaneously use that pronunciation), but “poiem” is not something I’ve ever heard and it would catch my attention if I were to hear it in common speech.

  19. I’m from the Pacific Northwest, and I say ‘pome’ unless I’m speaking carefully. I’ve never heard ‘poiem’ as far as I can recall.

  20. It’s common in Scotland – also poitry. I associate it with less educated people, possibly because i was born in England and didn’t hear it much growing up.

  21. I know someone from Glasgow who says “po-yem.” Maybe it’s a Scottish thing?

  22. Gary – I’m not sure when the meaning “poet/poetry” for “poietes/poiema” came into Greek, but I don’t know of this usage in Ancient texts, where “creator”/ “maker” is the literal, and standard meaning. I’m happy to be corrected here.
    But your point of course remains valid: that the vowel sequence exists in the original Gr form of the word.
    (Have a look at Howard Nemerov’s great little poem “The Makers”, which never uses the word “poet” but describes the first users of language who “worded the world” in a distinctly poetico-magical vein.)
    As for “poiem”, I have always viewed it as a largely middle-class affectation much more frequently found in female speech than in male. Anyone? Büler?

  23. Jim T Again says

    Here’s the Nemerov:
    The Makers
    Who can remember back to the first poets,
    The greatest ones, greater even than Orpheus?
    No one has remembered that far back
    Or now considers, among the artifacts,
    And bones and cantilevered inference
    The past is made of, those first and greatest poets,
    So lofty and disdainful of renown
    They left us not a name to know them by.
    They were the ones that in whatever tongue
    Worded the world, that were the first to say
    Star, water, stone, that said the visible
    And made it bring invisibles to view
    In wind and time and change, and in the mind
    Itself that minded the hitherto idiot world
    And spoke the speechless world and sang the towers
    Of the city into the astonished sky.
    They were the first great listeners, attuned
    To interval, relationship, and scale,
    The first to say above, beneath, beyond,
    Conjurors with love, death, sleep, with bread and wine,
    Who having uttered vanished from the world
    Leaving no memory but the marvelous
    Magical elements, the breathing shapes
    And stops of breath we build our Babels of.

  24. My high school English teacher in Kansas pronounced it this way. I loved her, so I always liked that pronunciation. She was from a military family that moved a lot, so I can’t speculate much about where she acquired that pronunciation, but I do know she spent at least some of her formative years in the South. I seem to recall that the actress Andie MacDowell also pronounces it this way.

  25. On a related note, here is another phonetic dicsussion on American English (in Russian and from the Russian viewpoint):

  26. Born and raised in southern California. Southern California parents, with Illinois emigrants further back. Never heard this variant.

  27. I was born and raised in Florida. I have heard ‘pome’ and say ‘po-im,’ but never heard ‘poiem.’
    I would write more, but my “biscuits and gravy” are getting cold.

  28. From New England, traveled widely in the US, and I’ve never heard “poiem”. What region of the US is it associated with? I assume this is not meant to be the dipthong that HP is referring to, but two syllables – “po-yem”?

  29. @Jim Tucker: When did ποίημα in Greek start meaning “poem” instead of “creation”? See Liddell–Scott–Jones entry. Pretty damn early: Cratinus, Plato, Isocrates. And Plato does still count as canonical Ancient Greek. 🙂
    Plato, Phaedo 60d: “Several others have asked about the poems you have composed, the metrical versions of Aesop’s fables and the hymn to Apollo”
    Plato, Lysis 221d: “while our earlier statement about friends was all mere drivel, like a poem strung out for mere length?”
    This would have been one of the many newfangled sophists’ words—like “sentence” and “word”—that Aristophanes derided in the Frogs and Clouds.

  30. I used to say it. I’m from San Antonio.

  31. It’s the pronunciation I grew up with in Scotland (where even BBC newsreaders use it), and I’ve heard it in Ireland too.
    When authors are being self-consciously dialectal, it’s often written as “poyum”.

  32. A long deceased colleague of mine always used that pronunciation. She was from Virginia.

  33. J.W. Brewer says

    The old Scots word for “poet” is “makar” (= “maker”), which I first came across in Dunbar’s oft-anthologized “Lament for the Makaris” (written just after 1500) with its “timor mortis conturbat me” refrain. I don’t know whether this was an learned calque from the Greek, although that seems plausible. The wiki article says that the current Scottish legislature has set up a rival Poet Laureateship whose 21st century incumbent is called “The Scots Makar.”

  34. One of my elementary school teachers, in Maine, pronounced the word “poiem.” I think this was my fifth grade teacher, who also liked to tell us to “keep it [not the poem] at a dull roar.”

  35. In Texas, from older native Texan speakers, I’ve heard /pōm/ or /powm/ more often than /poiem/. On the other hand, my father, who speaks English as a second language, says /poiem/ as well as /poiet/. I don’t know where he could have picked up that pronunciation, maybe in England or Scotland?

  36. I’m from Connecticut, and I grew up saying “pome” and “po-et”. “Po-em” sounds a little pretentious to me, like you’re trying too hard… like saying “com-for-ta-ble” like it’s spelled instead of “comf-ter-ble”.
    I’ve never heard “poy-em” here, but it sounds like a southern thing to me. I have a co-worker who grew up in Florida and always says “mi-un” instead of “mine” (As in, “This is mine.”). Sounds like the same thing.

  37. Keri: I think what you are hearing is this from the Wikipedia article on Southern Accents:
    The “Southern Drawl”, breaking of the short front vowels in the words “pat”, “pet”, and “pit”: these develop a glide up from their original starting position to IPA| [j] , and then in some cases back down to schwa: /æ/ → [æjə]; /ɛ/ → [ɛjə]; /ɪ/ → [ɪjə].

  38. T. S. Eliot did it all the time; there was a BBC radio documentary the other day which had a clip of him discussing ‘Journey of the Magi’, he kept talking about ‘poyms’.

  39. The ‘pome’ pronunciation sounds like the way my surname, Doyle, used to get mangled by Southerners (in the Army) as “Dole” giving rise top all the predictable half-witted nicknames. ‘Oil’ is the other word I remember getting this pronunciation – “Hey Dole, go get you a can of ole for the truck.”
    It is not Scotch-Irish, so it tracks more with grits and sweet potatoe pies than with biscuits and gravy.
    That ‘poyem’ stuff – given the distribution in the the Birtish Isles that people have mentioned here it sounds like it may have something to do with Gaelic phonology – the palatal/velar distintion – ‘o’ being a “thick” vowel and ‘e’ being “slender, it may be that a ‘y’ glide is considered necessary.
    So that would maybe cause it to track with the distibution of Scotch-Irish influences rather than lowland Southern. IOW, the two aren’t really connected.

  40. michael farris says

    At first I was going to say ‘No, I’ve never heard that’ because the spelling ‘poiem’ made my think of two syllables. However when I imagine it as poim (with maybe elongated i) I’m pretty sure I have heard it but I can’t say when or where or from who.

  41. My mother says poym. She is well educated, grew up mostly in far upstate NY, child of Vermont Yankee mom and Pennsylvania “Dutch” dad. I think of it as a shortened form of poh-eem. I think of the latter as a genteelism. It feels akin to the British pronunciation of Kenya as Keenya, but not to the US pronunciation of illegal as eelegal.

  42. I’ve never noticed hearing poym or poy-m, in Ireland or out. Is it specific to this lexical item or is there an accent where GOAT before /(ə)m/ sounds close to CHOICE?

  43. David Eddyshaw says

    It is indeed common in Scotland as various people have said – enough so, that as a child in Glasgow I certainly regarded it as the normal Scots pronunciation.

  44. Empty, I remember being told that the Ken-ya pronunciation only started during Jomo Kenyatta’s presidency (1964-78), the shift making the two names sound more similar. I don’t know whether it’s true. I do know that British pronunciation mostly changed to Ken-ya during that time, though I still say Keenya & wear baggy khaki shorts given half a chance.
    Tom Morello, Harvard-educated famous guitarist in Rage Against The Machine, is the great-nephew of Jomo Kenyatta.

  45. I realized recently that I say ‘pome’ almost exclusively. It’s a strange day when you realize that you actually use a widely parodied basilectal form (‘Those shure are some good pomes, Jim-Bob’) without having ever traced the parody to yourself. Po-it, Pome. New Yorker.

  46. I mean, to be fair, the schwa in the standard pronunciation of ‘poem’ is so ripe for assimilation into the diphthong of ‘po’ that I’m not actually sure if I can hear it in anybody’s speech, at this point.

  47. Originally from Southeastern Louisiana, and /poiem/ is common if not dominant. Furthermore, my New England-born wife constantly mocks by /pin/-/pen/ homophony …

  48. 40 year old male, born and raised in North Central Texas to dirt-poor Southern parents. I use Ernie’s pronunciation that @scazon posted. The “regular” pronunciation sounds far too short and lack-luster to these ears, but not as bad as pome.
    Interesting about the number of Scottish references here, when I get excited or drunk I develop a brogue, I often thought there were great similarities between the accents.
    But I somehow developed a freaky non-native accent that no one can place where ever I go, people usually guess Australian, Scottish, or South African…er…so yeah, I’m probably not the best exemplar for a Texan accent.

  49. Charles Perry says

    In “Groundhog Day,” Andie MacDowell says “poitry.” Born in South Carolina.

  50. OK, it wasn’t “poym,” but I heard the opening lines of the Eurhythmics. “Sweet Dreams are Made of This” yesterday morning, and Annie Lennox definitely has a ‘y’ glide on “this.”

  51. marie-lucie says

    With many songs, the melody distorts the natural rhythm of a sentence, and if words with a short vowel, like “this”, occur on a long note, the vowel can become long, like “thees”, hence the introduced glide as at the end of “thee”, followed by “s”.

  52. Annie Lennox definitely has a ‘y’ glide on “this.”
    You really can’t trust singing, though. She was probably trying to sound American, it’s pretty common in African American-based music (90% of anglo-US music since 1950, in other words).

  53. I’m (also) from upstate NY and recall a teacher or two saying poiem. I think I (also) associated it with “genteel” pronunciation.
    BTW, I recall being astonished in my late 20s when I heard someone who articulated “wh” to clearly distinguish it from plain old “w.” Her “what” was a pleasure to hear. She was from an old New England family, probably DAR. How many of you distinguish “when” and “wen”? (I don’t.)

  54. All my North Texas relatives say it that way.

  55. distinguish “when” and “wen”
    My father did, but I don’t. He grew up in the Chicago area. I’ve met others who do; the only specific case I can recall is someone who grew up in some rural part of the western US.
    Then there are those who only give “wh” the special treatment when they are being emphatic or dramatic. And those who go overboard with this and sometimes pronounce a “w” word as if it’s “wh”. (Can’t think of a good example.)

  56. I have always heard that “poym” was the correct way to pronounce it and that “pome” or “poem” was a bastardization of the word. I say “poym,” but since I grew up in various parts of the country, I’m not sure where I got the info or the pronunciation.

    I have lived up North and in the Deep South, as well as having ancestors from Scotland, but that was many, many generations ago when our family came to America. (early 1600’s) Hope this helps!

  57. Indeed, until today I always thought it was “Sweet dreams are made of these”, rhyming with “seas”, and Dr. Google’s search completion tells me that “Sweet dreams are made of cheese” is a known mondegreen. However, both the title of the official Eurhythmics video and the book appearing in the last three seconds confirm “this”.

    I say “powem”, like “powet”.

  58. I always thought it was “Sweet dreams are made of these”, rhyming with “seas”

    So did I when I first heard the song, but I was quickly disabused, probably by reading the Village Voice (which used to be worth reading).

  59. “POLM” I’ve heard in SoCal and now Iowa.

    I say “PO EM” like “POET, now, because I realized I’d inadvertently added an el.” I haven’t heard “POYM” in either state.

  60. Thanks, “polm” is a new one on me!

  61. I’ve heard “both” pronounced as “bolth”.

  62. Trond Engen says

    pOWm > pOlm and bOWþ > BOlþ. Lateralization of the rounded diphtong. Reverse-engineered labialization?

  63. David Marjanović says


  64. Good example.

  65. Reverse-engineered labialization?
    Velarization: [oʊ] > [ɔɫ] or so.

  66. I sometimes say “bolth,” although I’m not sure how often, or where I picked it up.

  67. In Groundhog Day, Andie MacDowell refers to French Poiety in her natural dialect. Seems like I’ve heard it the Southeast, as well.

  68. I have always said “poim” or “poym” and am from an area in the mountains of NC known for its Appalachian dialect. Neither of my parents pronounce it this way, but they are also not natives. This means I must have learned it from my teachers in school. I did not realize I had an odd pronunciation of the word until I said it out loud while teaching down in Florida (where people are actually not southern at all). When I said it, my entire class giggled and asked me what word I was saying. They had never heard of “poym”. “Poh-em” to me sounds British and fancy.

  69. Hey! I’m from Louisiana, and that’s the way I was taught and still say it (“y” slide), even though the “poim” pronunciation is now the standard. However, I find that change has also evolved as people have had more non-Southern professors and have tried to flatten out their accents more over the past 40 years. I personally love the variety of dialects throughout the country and continue to use the “y” slide when I teach.

  70. Good for you, Johanna — I’ll bet you’re a good teacher!

  71. My mother (from Texas/Arkansas) said “poim” and defended it by saying the pronunciation was based on the word’s Greek root.

  72. I didn’t realize that it wasn’t pronounced “poym” with an “oy” as in boy, toy, etc. until I said it while teaching in Florida and my students all started giggling at my pronunciation. I’m from a tiny town in the North Carolina mountains, where people say “tar” for tire and most people have a pretty thick southern or Appalachian accent.

  73. Tell your students it’s a perfectly good pronunciation!

  74. @Amy. “a tiny town in the North Carolina mountains, where people say “tar” for tire.”

    Do they pronounce the two words identically? How would they pronounce “tar on the tire”?

  75. Stu Clayton says

    The same way they pronounce “tire in the tar”, I expect. Homophones in English rarely cause difficulties in context. When they do, one adds more context so that they don’t. Prior to that, one may permit oneself a little chuckle.

    Your question leads straight into a reductio ad peevum maneuver.

    Another example: “bat”. What native English speaker will seriously claim not to understand “the old bat is up to bat”, said at the annual Senior Citizens Baseball Game ?

  76. David Eddyshaw says

    “Tar” and “tire” are homophones in Very Posh RP too.
    “Tower” as well.

  77. A teacher of mine once told our class about being asked by a college student, “What’s the difference between the tar you put on a road and the tar you put on a car?” Which reminds me of hearing a talk by a very well-known radio announcer, who grew up about six miles from me, in which he told of saying over the air, at a local station very early in his career, “So remember to put Firestone tires on your kyre.”

  78. “So remember to put Firestone tires on your kyre.”
    Hypercorrection! That brings back memories – I once wrote a term paper about that phenomenon.

  79. I have occasionally wondered whether the similarity in names prompted Bridgestone to buy rival tire manufacturer Firestone in 1988. Moreover, before I knew the history, I think I just assumed that Firestone was a brand name that had been made up by Bridgestone, and I was rather surprised to learn that the company had been founded by a guy named Harvey Firestone. Bridgestone, in contrast, was founded by a guy named Shōjirō Ishibashi, whose surname means “stone bridge,” but I wonder now whether he picked the calqued English name in 1931 based on the previously existing Firestone (1900) brand.

  80. David Marjanović says

    I’m wondering if Amy of 2022 is the same as Amy R of 2021… have you been here already and just forgot? (Happens to all of us.)

  81. I just read (International Journal of American Linguistics, 58.3, 312, 1992) about a collection of First Nations vocabularies of latter-day Canada, written by English speakers, published in 1743. The name Assiniboine was written by some as Sine poet, presumably /sɪnipoit/ or such, based on interpreting the French spelling of the Cree name using English orthography. I can’t explain the final t.
    This might be an early poiet. Or maybe someone was pronouncing the English diphthong as [oe].

  82. “What’s the difference between the tar you put on a road and the tar you put on a car?”

    In a word, the former is /tɑr/ and the latter is /tar/, which is a phonemic distinction in Southern American.

  83. In whose Southern American? Not before /r/ in my idiolect, or apparently the fellow’s in the anecdote.

  84. I don’t think all the locals have the distinction here in South Carolina, but some certainly do. The sociolinguistics governing who has to are not straightforward. Fritz Hollings, whose roots were in the Low Country German community, seems to have had it, but his accent had considered extreme even by some other native South Carolinians.

  85. Yes, I should have parenthesized the /r/, because for some people it’s there and for others it’s not. Of Gale’s three cousins (who are siblings), the two older ones are rhotics, the youngest is non-rhotic. Go figu(r)e.

  86. David Eddyshaw says

    My daughter spontaneously remarked that it was odd that she was the non-rhotic offspring of two rhotic parents. I explained that this is no mystery: the trait is autosomal dominant and both her parents are heterozygous.

  87. David Marjanović says

    Best dad joke eve(r), by fa(r).

  88. A demonstration of the Scots pronunciation, by the ever-enjoyable Eleanor Morton (several times, about the middle of the video, and once more around 1:42, pronounced slightly differently)

  89. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    @Y, your link doesn’t.

  90. Oops. Here.

  91. Delightful! (And very clear instances of “poy-em.”)

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