Yet another find from that eternal scavenger of the internet, aldiboronti (at Wordorigins): the full story of the creation of the term wiki, in the form of an exchange of letters between Ward Cunningham, coiner of the word; Patrick Taylor, the etymologist for the American Heritage Dictionary; and Catherine Soanes, a lexicographer for Oxford University Press:

I learned the word wiki on my first visit to Hawai’i when I was directed to the airport shuttle, called the Wiki Wiki Bus. I asked for that direction to be repeated three or four times until the airline representative took the time to define the word wiki for me. The next day I picked up a small book about Hawai’ian and learned more interesting things about the language.

I wanted an unusual word to name for what was an unusual technology. I was not trying to duplicate any existing medium, like mail, so I didn’t want a name like electronic mail (email) for my work. The community that formed around my site were willing to explore its capabilities without preconceived notions of how it should work. An example of such a notion is the “timeless now” in which “conversation” takes place.

Apparently he intended the word to be pronounced “weaky” (“My preference would be that the word be pronounced as a Hawai’ian would, and that wick-ey be an acceptable alternative”), but I don’t know anyone who says it that way (and to my ears “Weaky-pedia” sounds particularly ridiculous). Once you set the word free, it’s out of your control!


  1. Really? That’s how I’ve always pronounced both wiki and Wikipedia. I think a fair number of technical people pronounce it that way.

  2. I’ve always thought of it as ‘wicky’, and ‘weaky’ never stops sounding strange to me even though one of my colleagues regularly pronounces it that way. One thing bothers me, though: wouldn’t you say ‘veaky’ if you were really pedantic?

  3. Well, according to the Veekeepedia’s article on Hawaiian phonology, there is variation between [w] and [v], and the segment in question may actually be a labiodental approximant [ʋ].

  4. I can’t quite tell from the story whether this trip to Hawaii was in ’95 when he was already looking for a term or long before and it planted the idea in his head for later.
    ‘Cause it’s hard to believe that a boomer like Cunningham didn’t learn some Hawaiian from Hawaii Five-O. haole for ‘gringo’, wahine for ‘chick’, wiki wiki for ‘stat’.

  5. I think a fair number of technical people pronounce it that way.
    Huh. I guess this is one of those “jif/ghif” divisions.

  6. I definitely pronounce it “weaky”, though most people I know pronounce it “wicky”. (I saw the word written many times before I ever heard it pronounced, so my gut-instinct mental pronunciation had time to set in stone.)
    I even know one person who pronounces it “wikey” — like, “why” (unaspirated) + “key”.

  7. “weekee” is better than “wikuh(pedia)”, if you ask me.

  8. If one is going to Anglicize the Wiki- to Weaky, then one ought really to compensate by Hawaiianizing the -pedia to -pekia. Weaky-peckia. A more fully Hawaiianized pronunciation like Vikipekia is a bit better. I wonder if they ever considered the name Velocipedia for their rapidly growning brainchild.

  9. The ‘wikipedia’ pronunciation I’ve always wondered about is with an /eɪ/ in ‘pedia,’ so it comes out ‘paid.’ As opposed to, well, ‘peed.’ The people who say this tend to be fairly unselfconscious speakers, too, so I don’t think it’s a weird pseudo-classicizing affection. I’m sure they would pronounce ‘encyclopedia’ the normal way. Anyone else encountered this?

  10. A man once told his mother the following joke:

    Two tourists were walking down the street in Honolulu, arguing about how the name of the state is pronounced. “Look,” said one of them. “There’s an obvious local. Let’s ask him.”

    “Okay,” said the other. “Excuse me, sir; do you pronounce the name of your state ‘Hawaii’ or ‘Havaii’?”

    “Havaii, definitely,” said the local.


    “You’re velcome.”

    “I don’t get it,” said the man’s mother. “Vot’s funny?”

  11. >”weekee” is better than “wikuh(pedia)”, if you ask me.
    What’s wrong with “wikuh(pedia)”? Doesn’t that just follow the usual pattern of syllable stress in English?

  12. I confess, I say “wik@pedia”. Just like I say “carry-oaky” and “toe-kyoe” when speaking English. But I do pronounce them properly in Japanese. So, presumably, if I were speaking to a Hawaiian, I would pronounce “wikipedia” without a schwa too. … I think fieldwork on-site is needed; I’ll settle for a $5,000 grant.

  13. What’s wrong with “wikuh(pedia)”? Doesn’t that just follow the usual pattern of syllable stress in English?
    Nothing, and yes. But people have weird reactions to pronunciations that are not their own. (Witness my being weirded out by “weaky-pedia.”)

  14. James Crippen says

    I pronounce it /ˌwɪkiˈpidiə/ in English, despite the fact that I’m a Hawaiian language student. The Hawaiian name to me would however be /ˌʋikiˈpɛkiə/ perhaps with a [t] for the latter /k/.

  15. I’ve always said weekeepeedia, and this is mostly what I hear around me in Montréal (that, or Wikipédia, with the typical Québec French closed ‘a’). Never heard weekeepaidia, nor encyclopaidia for that matter.

  16. Only since I moved to an English-speaking part of the world have I started to pronounce the word with a weak or lax i [ɪ]. In German and French it is of course [i] or even [i:]. It’s not a native English word anyway…

  17. David Marjanović says

    In German it’s /ɪ/ all three times, but phonetically that tends not to be as open as in English…

  18. Is that how you say it? For me, the first “i” is long ([i:]).

  19. David Marjanović says

    I don’t put enough stress on the first syllable to make that possible.

Speak Your Mind