With so many foreign brand names, designers, and terms, the world of interior design and home decor can be a linguistic and phonetic minefield. How do you pronounce the German appliance company Miele, for example? What about famed furniture maker Michael Thonet? Up until this week I said MEE-lee and Tho-NAY — not any more!
Identifying the authentic pronunciation is only half the battle, of course. Volkswagen is pronounced quite differently in Germany but German Americans living here are probably loath to say "I am driving a Foks vaagen" because it would sound pretentious and smug. On the other hand, shouldn't we make an effort to pronounce foreign words or names with some degree of accuracy? Is Arne Jacobsen going to go the path of Des Plaines, Illinois (hilariously pronounced Dez Playnes)? Is there a limit to the Americanization of words?
Well, it depends. Here are my guidelines:
1) Try to at least learn the correct way to say the word or name in its native tongue (even if you don't use it).
2) Decide whether this accurate pronunciation will be understood by most of the Americans around you.
3) Consider if your pronunciation will make you sound like a pretentious tool.
4) Take into account how widely known the name or word is. How instilled and established is the American pronunciation? For example, the Swedish pronunciation of IKEA (ee-KAY-uh) would sound pretentious because IKEA, as said with an American accent, is a household name here.
Case in Point: Miele. I recently learned from a German friend that the correct pronunciation of this German appliance company is "mee-luh". I doubt this pronunciation would confuse those around me. And I don't think saying "mee-luh" would make me look like a pedantic snob in part because people seem generally flummoxed about how to pronounce this particular brand. Americans have not yet settled on an acceptable Americanized version. Moreover, Miele (unlike Volkswagen) is not a household name nationwide.
Below is a list of difficult-to-pronounce or oft-mispronounced names and words in the home decor trade. With a little research (with help from polyglot friends, useful websites, and phone calls to company headquarters), I have taken a stab at the accurate pronunciations. Tell us if you disagree with my pronunciations or have any additions to this list!
Brands & Designers
Le Creuset: (French) Ler Crew-say.
Miele: (German) Mee-luh (to rhyme with Shiela).
Braun: (German) Brown
Charles and Ray Eames: (American) Eeemz (rhymes with "dreams")
Harry Bertoia: (Italian-American) Ber-toy-YA
Frank Gehry: (Canadian-American) Like the American name Gary
Arne Jacobsen: (Danish) Arn-aye YAH-cop-son
Hans Wegner: (Danish) Hans (ending in "s" not "z") Vine-nehr (with glottal stop at the end of "vine")
Le Corbusier: (Swiss) leh Core-BOO-zee-ay (hear it pronounced)
Georg Jensen: (Danish) Gyor Yen-sen (hard G on Georg)
Eero Saarinen: (Finnish American) Arrow Sar-in-en
Michael Thonet: (German, Austrian) Perhaps because we associate the Thonet bentwood chair with Parisian bistros and because his name looks so French, many Americans pronounce Thonet as Tho-NAY. But Thonet himself used the German pronunciation (TAWN-it). An Apartment Therapy reader named Harley confirmed this once on an Open Thread, “Anke says that the correct pronunciation rhymes with LAWN-at, the ‘h’ being silent.” Hear the name pronounced on Pronounce It Right.
Jargon and Vocabulary
Biedermeier. Bead er myer
Chaise longue: sheyz lawng, not sheyz LOUNGE
Faux bois: foh-BWAH
trompe l’oeil: tromp-LU-ih
Images: Clockwise from top left: 1stDibs, Amazon, Trendir, 1stDibs, Miele.
Plinth and Chintz
Pronounce it Right