Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How Do You Pronounce Kalanchoe?

On the way to recycle the dead computers Saturday we were close to Bell's Nursery and I thought it would be a good idea to see if there were some reasonably priced flowering plants for my wife.  My friend thought it might be a good idea to do the same and we both bought some healthy looking kalanchoe plants.  Having grown up in LA and an interest in such things, I knew the name of this plant and told my friend, as we were checking out, "These plants are called 'KA-luhn-KO-e.'  

The other checker, with a bemused smile on her face, said, "It's kuh-LAN-cho."

I'm old enough to sometimes remember to attempt to be gracious.  I also know that the Latin names of plants are not always pronounced just one way.  So I smiled at the woman and said, "I learned something today, thanks." (It wasn't easy, but it felt strangely good.)

And this evening as I was looking at the growing sunshine in our kitchen (most commonly I've seen orange rather than yellow kalanchoe) I remembered that exchange, and no longer quite so graciously, wanted to see if maybe she wasn't wrong.

LandscapingAbout.com says this:

. . .  the pronunciation of the scientific names of plants can be downright confusing! And the confusion is exacerbated by the fact that, in some cases, there is more than one proper pronunciation for the word. Thus you can go your whole life hearing the certain (and proper) pronunciations of the scientific names of plants, only to encounter other (equally proper) pronunciations that leave you scratching your head.  [that was me scratching Saturday]
David Beaulieu, who wrote this article, compiled a list of the top 10 most difficult common plant names.  The last on the list is Kalanchoe.
10.  Kalanchoe: My favorite, with its 4 pronunciations, all of which are correct--
  • KA-luhn-KO-e
  • kuh-LANG-ko-e
  • KAL-uhn-cho
  • kuh-LAN-cho

If you're interested, the other nine names on the list are Clematis, Peony, Cotoneaster, Poinsettia, Chamomile, Achillea, LamiumLupine, and Forsythia. But if you want to know how to pronounce them you have to go to the landscaping website.
Again, the idea of 'correct' is limiting.  Correct often just means what we're used to.  And people pronounce words differently in different regions.  Of all the things George W Bush did, pronouncing 'nuclear' as 'nucular' was never an issue for me.  I figure it's a regionalism, like people in Alaska dropping the first  'c' in Arctic.


  1. Thanks. I often wonder about the plant pronunciations and then apologize when I pronounce their names, using several possible pronunciations to get my point across. Going to go look up Clematis.

    Re: nuclear though. I cannot consider it a regionalism. It is uneducated ignorance. It's not like Bush (and others) grew up in the 60s/70s hearing HS teachers or college professors saying a colloquial nucular. It is laziness and lack of curiosity and carelessness. It tells us that we don't have to know those scientific words.
    Sorry but a president saying nucular is a willful ignorant act. (SPalin says it too.)

    Thanks for letting me vent.

    1. one of my WORST pet peeves . . . particularly when the otherwise highly esteemed JIMMY CARTER says it. I just cringe -- it's worse than fingernails scraped across a blackboard.

    2. Anon, I hope you've read the rest of the comments. I'd only say, that if you grew up in a region where everyone said 'nucular' you'd find it natural. Here in Alaska, most people say 'arctic' without the first 'c' - artic. It took a while, but that's what I say myself now. Relief can only come by you letting go of this. Or not. :)

  2. Don't forget the always contentious Fuchsia!

  3. Anon, glad it's helpful. Now that you've finished venting, can I ask a couple of questions? Did you go to the link at nucular? People play with pronunciations all the time. I tend to say Artic rather than Arctic here in Anchorage. It's easier and it's what people in Anchorage say. I tend to add the 'c' back when I'm Outside. :)

    What about 'to MAY to' and 'to MA to'? Do you ever say 'ain't'? Is there something about 'nucular' that is different? Many people who use it know it isn't 'standard,' but they like to watch purists react.

    Thanks for the comment. I'm really not sure about nucular, but I do know it causes some people a nucular reaction and I'm curious why that word bothers people more than others.

  4. Pronunciation of plants is often dependent on what part of the country you are from and the nick-names are all different. When I was a Master Gardener in WA it was fun to watch two MGs arguing about pronunciation in an anal retentive way. I decided to have fun and mispronounce them on purpose, such as for cotoneasters, Cotton-Easters.

  5. I don't have an opinion about the word nuclear but the following video relates to the subject. Also the frost in NJ has not killed the Kalanchoe plant that I have on the porch---I think I will save it and bring it in for the winter. I don't know how to pronounce clematis either but I can grow fine specimens of the plant.


  6. Hi Steve,

    Sorry to say that I had not gone to your nukular link; I now have. Also sorry that I vented in such a heavy handed manner. I don't care whether people pronounce clematis or Kalanchoe correctly as I don't consider them common vocabulary but I do consider nuclear a common, everyday word.

    Anonymous@0545's youtube video is a good example of how pronouncing nuclear isn't that tough. Good video.

    The Wikipedia "nukular" link took me to this:
    "Some other frequent English pronunciations that display metathesis are:

    * asterisk → asterix
    * cavalry → calvary
    * comfortable → comfterble
    * foliage → foilage
    * introduce → interduce
    * integral → intergal or intregal
    * nuclear → nucular (re-analysed as nuke + -cular suffix in particular, binocular)
    * pretty → purty
    * relevant → revelant
    * iron → iern "

    Don't you think that the mispronunciation of any of these words is due to laziness, even it is common? I will admit though that some could mistakenly think that nukular, similar to binocular, is a real word.

    I consider the two pronunciations of tomato to be regional differences: the word is not re-spelled or misspelled. To get 'nukular', one has to move and change the letters (metathesis), i.e., not pay attention to the spelling.

    I am not a great speaker and am rather unsure of my grammar but I do find laziness in pronunciation annoying. I 'had to' correct my spouse's pronunciation of foilage to foliage this summer. Pointing out the mistake and explaining it was all it took. Ignorance of spelling/pronouncing can be corrected; laziness is the problem.

    Perhaps Bush said 'nukular' to get a reaction but it made him look lazy. Goofing around is one thing, speaking to the world is another. BTW, I am a biologist so perhaps this makes me more sensitive to this one word. Thanks again.

  7. Should add to the above that I want to pronounce clematis and Kalanchoe correctly but I don't fault others' pronunciation attempts with uncommon words like these.

  8. Anon, I appreciate the thought you've put into this. Your venting was pretty mild and not an issue at all. I think you've raised some interesting points. Here's a little more about how I got to my current (and changeable) position on this.

    I grew up believing that spelling and grammar had to be perfect. My year in Germany taught me things like why it's "I" or "me" in different cases. But years of teaching also taught me that the actual content is more important than fussing over minor typos. Yes, point them out, but don't worry. If you focus on what's wrong instead of what's right, you discourage most students. As I learned more about things like dyslexia I came to understand that spelling and pronunciation are simply physically harder for some people than for others. It's about how the brain functions.

    Then I read Steven Pinker (The Language Instinct) who said that proper English grammar didn't exist until it took over from Latin as the official governmental language. Then all sorts of self-help books came out to teach people 'proper' English. They made it up.

    It's pretty much arbitrary. I think that people who insist and people who refuse are working through power issues, not grammar, spelling, or pronunciation issues. It's not laziness if you don't care about being 'proper.' Languages are fluid and pronunciation evolves.

    That said, yes, there are many people who speak poorly out of ignorance and not out of defiance. Speaking and writing 'properly' helps one communicate more clearly.

    Again, thanks. Also thanks for the list.

  9. i just needed to know this for a school poem that rhymes. This is about how to pronounce Kalanchoe, not how to pronounce commonly mistaken words.

  10. Thanks for your gracious article! As someone who works in a nursery I often hear multiple pronunciations of plant names, and since I hold a graduate degree in English people are sometimes concerned that I'm going to correct them or sneer at their pronunciations. As far as I'm concerned, as long as you can make yourself understood and are attempting to pronounce things as best you can then you're doing just great!

  11. I smirk inside my head when I hear "mischeevius"

  12. I have also been googling how to pronounce Kalanchoe, and have found that there are many different ways that people think is the 'right' way. As an aside, I'm sure that the word 'than' is going to disappear soon, as so many (younger) people seem to be using 'then' instead of 'than'.

  13. Much like InkPenArt, I was also googling to see how others were pronouncing Kalanchoe and was pretty astonished by what I heard (mainly KAH-lun-cho) which I knew couldn't be correct, certainly from a Botanical Latin perspective, within which there are certain pretty clear rules of pronunciation. I would agree with OP that is should be ka-luhn-KO-e. The three "rules" that come into play here being that the emphasis should be on the penultimate vowel (the O, in this case), that each vowel should be pronounced as it's own syllable (which gives the "ee" syllable at the end, and that "ch" is always pronounced as a hard "k" sound, (never "ch", as in cheese).

    This all raises the question of whether (or not) common usage pronunciation of a word should over time, legitimately supercede the original or intended pronunciation, in the way that has happened with Fuchsia, for instance.

  14. As it's derived from Cantonese, the last syllable is pronounced "choi".


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