Bonus Episode 4: Let Me ‘Buoy’ Your Spirits

How do you pronounce ‘buoy’? In this bonus episode, we explore the history of the word and the reasons why the word is pronounced differently in various parts of the English-speaking world.

21 thoughts on “Bonus Episode 4: Let Me ‘Buoy’ Your Spirits

  1. Hello! Thanks for the bonus episode. I am a Hebrew speaker, and I noticed that the original word for bouy, is “bochna”, EXACTLY the word in Hebrew for the part of rubber that separates fluids from gas in tubes or syringes. Close enough to bouy’s meaning… I wonder where it came from…

    • Hi Meirav,

      I don’t have any specific Hebrew resources, so I don’t know if there is a connection between ‘bochna’ and
      ‘bouy.’ I have researched ‘bochna’ but I can’t find anything. Is there another spelling for ‘bochna’?

  2. Hi Kevin,

    Two things:
    1. this is Bonus Episode 4 but there appears to be no Bonus Episode 3 in the list. Did it use to exist but get removed after the topic was talked about in a later episode?

    2. the pronunciation of ‘buoy’ as ‘bwoy’ is one I remember from childhood (I actually estimate that you’re only a few years older than my hubby and I am, BTW) that certain people here in Australia would use. And it actually makes sense when compared to similar constructions of words in certain Romance languages. For instance, ‘buena’ (meaning ‘good’ in Spanish) is pronounced like ‘bwena’.

    • Bonus Episode 3 was a technical message about the podcast feed which was updated back in 2013. I deleted the episode after the feed changes were complete. So there is no Bonus Episode 3 anymore.

    • I have lived in Australia all my life (53 years) and have never heard buoy pronounced as anything but single-syllable “boy”.

      I’m also wondering how Americans say it when you “buoy up someone’s spirits”.

    • Question Laetitia: they “bwoy” pronunciation you mention in Australia, just wondering what part of the country that was from (should you every happen accross this again). It sounds to me like the “southern” accent being from QLD myself.

  3. 33Avery, you could take a second on Firefox or Safari or Chrome or whatever your preferred browser is and simply bookmark historyofenglishpodcast.com. He does give the podcast URL at the beginning of each episode.

  4. I have actually heard a different etymology for the word “butterfly.” Rather than a description of its excrement it was a mispronunciation, sort of.

    This etymology asserts that the term was originally “flutterby” which is a description of most people’s experience of butterflys. Eventually the consonants got shifted around a bit and the “fl” and the “b” got inverted so “flutterby” became “butterfly.” The same sort of thing that happens when children struggle to pronounce “spaghetti.” Eventually they learn to say it. But “butterfly” was one where someone (or more likely some group) had trouble pronouncing “flutterby” and the “mispronunciation” stuck.

    I am not a linguist so I may be completely wrong in this. But I thought this etymology was convincing.

    • That’s interesting. I have never heard that etymology before. It isn’t mentioned in any of my sources, but there is an alternate theory that butterflies tended to hover over butter and were thought to steal butter. Dutch and German have similar beliefs and similar words involving “butter” which apparently developed independently of English. This alternate theory is also suggested by the OED.

    • According to Etymonline the name already existed in Old English as “buttorfleoge” (butterfly). I cannot find a credible source for the “flutterby” etymology/origin, imo it’s probably unlikely.

      It’s interesting to note that butterflies are called “Schmetterlinge” in High German, which has a very similar meaning: “Schmette” is a primarily east, middle and southern German local term for a fat cream (There is also a German word “Schmettern”, which is the verb for “clashing” and “destroying”, which some people mistakingly believe the name is based on, but is unrelated).

      Some sources I have found suggested either a folk etymological origin (there are supposedly superstitions about butterflies stealing butter and fat) or that people named the animal after butter, as in “fly that is butter colored”. The third proposed origin is referring to the color of the insects excrement, as mentioned in the podcast.

  5. Recently discovered and love this podcast. Regarding the word buoy – and to those that do not pronounce it ‘boy’, how do you pronounce the words buoyancy or buoyant? I always thought that buoy was short for buoyancy aid.

    • The first syllable in “buoyancy” and “buoyant” is usually pronounced as ‘boy’ in American English. So the pronunciation of those words is consistent with the pronunciation of “buoy” in other non-US dialects.

  6. The soccer/football distinction arises because there are multiple forms of football – association (round ball, no handling), rugby (in two forms, league and union), Australian rules, Gaelic and American (as it is known outside North America), and probably many others. Soccer is a diminutive of ‘Association’ used in Britain, but in most countries it is known as football and the other forms of football are known by their particular version qualifier. It is my understanding that in the USA the term soccer was used simply because the qualifier ‘American’ for the version of football played there isn’t used – it is simply called ‘football’. Although the British will use the term soccer occasionally, it is far more common to simply call it football and for this to be understood as meaning association football. After all, it is the only version in which handling the ball is largely banned, so it relies on the feet more than all the others!

  7. I am English and an avid follower of the podcast. I had never heard buoy pronounced the way you did. Do people in the States really not say boy?

    • No, that pronunciation is not common in American English. (Though I am sure there are some regional exceptions.) Frankly, I was unaware of the regional divide until I did the episode where I pronounced the word.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.