# How to pronounce kilometer

davidbattin,

I would think that the accent should properly go as: KEY-low-ME-tur, with the primary accent on the first syllable, beecause:

1. “Kilometer” is really a “compound” word, made up of two distinct words (“meter,” a unit of distance…and “kilo,” a prefix meaning “1,000.”) By pronuncing it “kill-OM-e-tur,” you obscure that fact. Heck, “kilo” is used as a word in its own right…or shortened to “K,” indicating 1,000…as in “Y2K.”

2. The whole idea behind Metric was to “KISS”; that is, produce a logical and orderly measurment system based on even orders of magnitude. No more having to calculate the number of seconds in a fortnight, or grains in a short ton!

To that end, one needs names for the varying orders of magnitude, that reain CONSTANT regardless of what is being measured; i.e.

kilo- [whatever]
deca- "
centi- "
etc.

Thus, as a scientific system of measurement, the general rules of the English language are SUBORDINATE to the need to produce a RATIONAL, CONSISTENT NOMENCLATURE.

P.S. centi- has the exact same number of syllables as kilo-, and you wouldn’t pronounce it “cen-TIM-i-ter,” now would you?

Yeah, what HE said. I tried…meanjoe did better.

BTW, the kilogram, in weight, is a perfect cube, measured in meters, of absolute water, the liter (or litre depending on where you are) for the amount (more correctly volume) of water contained in there, and there are a few others. Get all your history of the metric system.

Wait a minute “3 clicks” is composed of 2 single syllable words, how can the emphasis be accented anyway but one? Now if you want to say you can emphasize either the “3” or the “clicks”,well this is not the same as placing an emphasis on a leading or trailing syllable, but a leading or trailing WORD.

In anycase it is only those darn Europeans that even say “kilometer” (and much too much I must add).

That’s fair, but if you allow that they’re both single syllable words, I don’t see that it’s such a reach to talk about accenting one or the other syllable, rather than one or the other word. I was after something else.

I was hoping someone with a name like “oldschool” who knew what a click was, might recognize the question, “Do you have anything like a hot dog sandwich?”

The word “click” took me back to being in the U.S. Army in Germany in the '60s. A GI, unable to read a menu written in German, would invariably use that formula for ordering a meal. He’d hope to get something that had the safe taste of a hot dog but might be some sausage like it sliced and served on bread.

I mentioned that to my wife when we we’re on vacation in Germany in the '80s, and I’m sure she thought that “invariably” was an exaggeration. We sat at a lunch counter at Frankfurt airport on the way home. A young guy across from us looked up from his menu at the waiter and asked, “Do you have anything like a hot dog sandwich?”

I would say “Do you mean 3 cilometers?” and based on your spelling, “You take boint.”

“How about, since it’s by root, a British word, we ask a Brit?”

Again, not correct. Thank you for playing our game.

Well, this has been very interesting. Who knew that there would be so many opinions about pronunciation from the Cartalk audience. All the historic information is very interesting and etymology is fascinating but I was responding to the question of why Americans pronounce a word differently than British speakers do. As a forensic linguist who specializes in the study of pragmatics I was somewhat out of my area of expertise since this is a phonology question but the general rules of modern linguistics still prevail for me. Linguistics is descriptive not prescriptive. It seeks to explain how language differs in different language communities and not to dictate how language should work in any particular group of speakers. In my initial post I offered the idea that American pronunciation ‘usually’ works a certain way. You can find many variations in language use among a group as large and diverse as Americans or Britons. There are patters within that variance though.

This has been really fascinating. I doubt there would be as much interest in the noise in the left front wheel assembly of my 1997 Honda Accord station wagon.

A cubic meter of water would have a mass of 1000 kilograms or a metric tonne. Please note that I didn’t write ‘weight’. The kilogram is a unit of mass, not weight. What’s the difference? A kilogram of mass is a kilogram of mass on earth, on the moon, on Jupiter, or in the zero gravity of outer space yet it would have a different weight on every one of those places.

A pint is very nearly a pound of water also.

The only pints I have experience with that are “nearly a pound of water” are American pints. Now those pints from the UK, clearly something more going on than water.Lots of jokes about American pints that are not really fit for print here.Have you heard the one about American beer and the canoe?

I always enjoy how far off topic these things end up.

Anyway…

There are lot of words that two pronunciations are acceptable, like “toe-MAY-toe” vs “
toe-MAH-toe” (same for “potato” and “banana”), and in particular between the US and UK versions.

That being said do you pronounce a something that takes a temperature a “thermo-meeter” or “ther-MAH-meeter”? And you don’t call the mileage device in a car a “oh-DOE-meeter”.

Americans don’t pronounce the “a” in “laboratory”, but the Brits add an extra “i” in “aluminum” by saying “al-you-MIN-ee-um”(aluminium".

I remember in grade school the teacher was going to show us the “lavatory”, well me being a kind of geeky second grader was very disappointed when we were shown the bathroom and not the labratory.Why would a teacher use the word “lavatory” when speaking to second graders?

Syllable-counting does not explain the two pronunciations of “micrometer,” one the instrument and the other the unit (although the latter is more often the “micron” in modern usage).

Maybe she hoped you’d realize that, while “bathroom” might be on the money for what you have at home with a tub next to the toilet, it doesn’t quite work for what’s at school. “Lavatory” is a place where all you might expect to do is lave, so it too lacks some accuracy. Taking your side, I don’t know anybody who says, “I’m going to the lavatory,” no matter where it is.

I rather like k’ LAH m’ter, just like I like cen TI m’ter and m’ LI m’ter (apostrophes as weak “uh” sound).

I like that pattern. I pronounce “classificatory” as cl’ SIF ik’ Tor ee (secondary stress on the syllable with single capital). I always heard it pronounced as Class 'f IK a Tor ee, which always sounded awkward to me.

The pronunciation CENT 'm Ee ter (the usual form) is natural because it’s the way I learned the word. Ignoring the learned application, it seems awkward. I don’t care for the pattern. I’m not a linguist, but that seems like a foreign influence not natural to the English language.

I don’t think it’s all that “simple,” but maybe this is part of it. When the 17th-century scholars came up with rules for Anglicizing Ancient Greek (or Latin for that matter) they deemed that for words with three of more syllables, we’d put the stress on the antepenult. (Even though the Ancient Greeks didn’t follow any such a reliable rule, the early scholars didn’t yet understand how Greek was actually stressed.) For example, “SOC-ra-tes,” “pro-TAG-or-as,” “CALL-i-cles,” “thu-CYD-i-des,” “aris-TO-phan-es,” “HYS-ter-on, PRO-ter-on” …okay, so we don’t say “ar IS to tle” (and true, there are many other Anglicized exceptions). So I think people are just unconsciously following this pattern.

When the 17th-century scholars came up with rules for Anglicizing Ancient Greek (or Latin for that matter)…

And therein lies the rub.

This was the beinning of the period in time where English began to vie for “Lingua Franca” status against French and Latin, and English linguists had a BIG inferiority complex about French being “Latinate,” vs English being a lowly “Germanic-derived” language (with, admittedly, an extensive Latinate vocab.)

This inferiority complex drove the “hyping” of the Latin roots, and quashing of the Germanic ones. The results of this trend are with us today, for example:

1. We still say “the data are,” despite the fact that “data” and “information” are in every instance interchangable. This all goes back to the fact that the word “data” is plural in Latin. (Can anyone even tell me what a “datum” is, exactly, and at what point you know you have more than one of 'em?)

Do you really think that if the word had come from German (or, God forbid, Slavic) anybody would care whether it was originally plural?

1. An attempt to “force” English to adhere to Latinate rules was behind the “don’t end a sentence in a preposition” edict, with which we are unfortunately still saddled.

As an amateur logophile and a professional nitpicker (I’ve been proofreading and copyediting for most of a decade), I’d like to toss my hypothesis into the stew.

The nomenclature of the metric system makes “KIL-o-meter” the logical pronunciation; every other kilo- unit has the accent on the “kil”.

The spanner in the works is that there are lots of words ending in “-ometer” that represent measuring devices we use or talk about every day, such as thermometers, barometers, pedometers, speedometers, and even sphygmomanometers (the things doctors use to take your blood pressure). These words all put the accent on the “o,” and consequently, for a lot of people, it seems more natural to accent “kilometer” on the “o.” “Centimeter” and “millimeter” don’t suffer this change of accent because the last letter of the prefix isn’t “o.”

Languages evolve, of course, and the “correct” pronunciation of a word is the one (or the ones) that people use and understand. Both “KIL-o-meter” and “kil-OM-eter” are too entrenched to go away, so for the foreseeable future it’s going to be a case of “you say tomayto.”

But I noticed something odd when Tom and Ray raised the issue of “forsythia,” and whether it should be pronounced “for-SITH-i-a” or “for-SIGH-thi-a.” Penny said that since it was named for a man named Forsyth, the long “i” pronunciation of the second syllable must be retained. But I’m pretty sure Mr. Forsyth pronounced his name with the accent on the first syllable–“FOR-sighth” rather than “for-SIGHTH.” Penny didn’t seem to have any problem with the shift in the accented syllable there!

I had a chemistry professor who pronounced iodine ‘EE-o-deen’ instead of ‘EYE-o-dyne’.
Why do we pronounce iodine differently than we do its related elements, flourine, chlorine, and bromine?

I always thought that a bartender must have asked what was with the flowers the drunk had with him, and he answered, “They’re for Cythia.” (As in “Wass this shere sauce?”)

A couple of people writing for this thread seem to have blamed Britain for the metric system. I thought Britain sensibly resisted the metric system for as long as they could. I’ve always liked the human scale of the English systems of measurement, where a foot was as long as somebody’s foot, if an unusually long foot. Have you checked to see what your tire inflation pressure should be in pascals? Who buys a kilogram of lunch meat? In Germany, they might ask for a Pfund, meaning half a kilo, because a kilo is too big. Why is there no metric system for time if the metric system is such a great idea?

If we learned arithmetic-base-twelve, there would be 10 inches in a foot, and a foot, unlike a meter, would still be divisible into an even number of halves, thirds, quarters, and sixths. There would be 20 hours in a day.

Why don’t you people shape up?