“Yoghurt”

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I recently became aware of the product featured above. The thing that struck me as odd (as I believe it would most Americans) is the unusual spelling of what we know as yogurt. I suspected it was a Britishism because of Alan Rickman. To be more precise, there’s a scene in the movie “Love, Actually” in which Rickman is trying to buy some jewelry for a woman not his wife, and the sales clerk (played by Rowan Atkinson) won’t let him just get on with it. Rickman finally says in exasperation: “Dip it in yogurt, cover it with chocolate buttons!” He pronounces yogurt with a short in the first syllable–that is, to rhyme with hog–and that’s consistent with the yoghurt spelling.

(If you want to hear Rickman say this line, check out this hilarious YouTube mashup:


)

According to the OED, up until the mid-twentieth century, various spellings for the word (derived from Turkish) abounded, including yoghurd, yogourt,yahourt, yaghourt, yogurd, yoghourt, yooghort, and yughard. Subsequently, according to this Google Ngram chart, yogurt (red line) has prevailed in the U.S., and has roughly tied in the U.K. with yoghurt (yellow and green lines).

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Google Ngrams only goes up till 2008, and when more recent data come in, I’m sure that as a result of companies like the Minnesota-based Mountain High, U.S. yoghurt (blue line) will be on the upswing.

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19 responses to ““Yoghurt”

  1. I ran across this spelling in a Dick Francis novel. Nice to know that it changes the pronunciation.

  2. This does not match my admittedly limited experience. Yoghurt was a rare and exotic food (and spelled that way), until Dannon, and then Yoplait, made it popular via TV ads a few decades ago, I was surprised when I started seeing it spelled without the “h”. Now, there a dozens of brands on grocery shelves, not just in various flavors, but in styles, as well…and Dannon is reduced to a wisp of what it once was. Again, just my experience.

  3. I wouldn’t say that the presence of the H has any real bearing on the pronunciation. In fact some producers in Britain, such as Marks and Spencer, are now using the American H-less spelling, and some British dictionaries (for example Oxford) have the version without H as their principal headword, but I haven’t noticed that British pronunciation is changing.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/food/article-1187431/Is-yoghurt-cultured-yogurt.html

    It also occurs to me that the upper class British pronunciation of yoghurt has always been with a long O, whether spelt with an H or not.

    The short O is presumably our approximation of the Turkish pronunciation (which seems to lie somewhere between short O and long O), just as we pronounce Kosovo as /ˈkɒsəvoʊ/ with a short O, while Americans usually seem to prefer /ˈkoʊsəvoʊ/ with a long O. Something similar happens with Van Gogh.

    It seems to me, that we Brits quite often pronounce O in the first syllable of foreign words as short, when Americans prefer a long O in the same words.

  4. I suspect the various spellings are ways to accommodate the Turkish “ğ”, which in modern Turkish has the effect of giving a little oomph to the preceding vowel, while elsewhere in the Turkish world may be closer to a guttural “g”. If I had to transcribe “yoğurt” into English, I’d write something like “yourt”.

  5. Waitrose omits the aitch, so “yogurt” is clearly now the correct spelling.

  6. The spelling is I think a little bit of a moot point – since it is a transliteration from Turkish there are many different ways of doing it. Wikipedia has yogurt, yoghurt, yoghourt, yogourt, yaghourt, yahourth, yoghurd, joghourt, and jogourt, and I’m sure there are others.

    As to the pronounciation, I’m pretty sure that’s the only time I’ve ever heard anyone British use the “American” way of saying yoghurt. It was possibly for comic effect in this case.

    • A moot point?
      I was recently rather shocked to find that Americans take “moot” to mean, “trivial”, “insignificant” or “not worthy of discussion.
      To me it has always had only one meaning, the original one of “arguable” or “debatable”, ie suitable for discussion in the moot, the Anglo-Saxon council of local government, something we learnt about as children in history classes. There are “moot halls” in England, which were the places where the moots met. They are almost always the oldest buildings in the area.

  7. Pingback: Alan Rickman Appreciation Day | The Blog That Made No Sense

  8. commonparlance

    I’m not sure if it’s the spelling that determines the pronunciation here; why would a “gh” at the end of the syllable necessarily dictate the “short”-o sound favored by the British?

    It is worth noting that Brits tend to pronounce vowels in foreign words “phonetically”–that is, the “a” in “nirvana” or “Kant” (the philosopher) is short, whereas we Americans tend to pronounce these as “nirvahna” and “Kahnt.” Perhaps their “yahgurt” pronunciation is an example of this, given that it is a loanword from Turkish.

    • No, not so, we Brits do pronounce “nirvana” with a long ‘a’. And (wrongly) “Montana” for that matter!

  9. Random Australian Passerby

    I would agree that there’s not necessarily a connection between spelling and pronunciation with this word – here in Australia, the preferred and dominant spelling is “yoghurt” (Wikipedia disagrees with me here, but I think they’re wrong), and yet we pronounce it with a long “o”.

  10. Ornithorhynchus

    A few years ago, I went to the supermarket for my mother, who was getting too old and weak to go herself by this time. She had ‘yoghurt’ on her list, for my niece, who was staying with us at the time (nobody else in the family ever eats it). My Mom lived in Oklahoma her entire life, and was never the type to intentionally use alternate spellings. So I asked her why she used the British spelling in this case, and it turned out she didn’t even realize that it was British. It was the only spelling she could recall ever seeing. I guess she’d seen it in books, and it had stuck in her mind, whereas the occasions she had seen the American spelling had failed to make any impression.

    • I’m with your mom. It’s the only spelling I knew until it became popular on supermarket shelves in the last 20 years, or so.

  11. What about the ‘r’ at the end? Being a Brit I pronounce Yoghurt the same way as Alan Rickman. OED on line pronunciation guide includes both long and short o versions – they say British & World is /ˈjɒgət, ˈjəʊ-/ and US is (yo·gurt) /ˈyōgərt/ (see oxforddictionaries.com for full details as the pronunciation alphabets differ between British & UK pages) BUT what Oxford seems to say is that the r is not voiced in British English but is in US English. Their http://oald8.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/dictionary/yogurt gives soundbytes of each version. I don’t like their UK sound, Rickman’s is correct in my opinion, and I can hear him voicing the r. (I’ll be in trouble with my wife for this- she works for OUP who publish the OED!)

  12. The edition of the OED I trust has yog(h)urt with a long o in either case, and as a variant of yaourt. I recall Rick Stein decrying the pronunciation as an Americanism, but in the same programme he spoke of ‘sea bass’, which actually is one.

  13. It really doesn’t matter how one spells or how one pronounces it. The idea of correct spelling with no alternatives has only existed for about 200 years, and just because Waitrose spells it one way doesn’t mean that that will become the correct way. The spelling has no effect on the pronunciation; it is pure coincidence that I am a Brit and would spell it ‘yoghurt’ and pronounce it like Alan Rickman. For these foreign words there simply can’t be a single way of spelling them, and as far as pronunciation is concerned, in this case that would be determined by location and class.

  14. Surely there are two unrelated issues here: the difference in spelling, which as David P points out is neither here not there as it’s a Turkish word anyway, and the difference in pronunciation, which is not dependent on the presence or absence of the ‘h’, but simply down to the fact that Americans never ever use the British short ‘o’ sound. Hence “Van Go” etc. etc.
    Incidentally, commonparlance, you’re mistaken: we Brits do pronounce “nirvana” with a long ‘a’. And (wrongly) “Montana” for that matter!

    • I think some of the comments have missed the point.

      Pronounciatipns of words aren’t just split US/UK or Canadian or Australian whatever brand of English there are also differences in prounciation in each country!

      I use short “a” most of the time so tough luck if you think Montana is with long “a”s as I do not use them.

      It’s the difference between saying the word bath: bah-th or barth. Or perhaps you prefer gr-ahss or grarss.

      (I personally think a long “a” only belongs when there is an “r” after the “a” otherwise don’t fam & farm sound the same?)

      I usually will use the short “a” & know that some of the (many & varied) US accents will do the same.

      To get back to the point I spell yoghurt with an “h” as somewhere along the line I have it in my mind as the “correct” spelling.

      Whichever way I spell it I pronounce it yog-urt with the yog to rhyme with jog. Now since I have never heard a long “o” used by a US English speak to prounounce the word jog I find the long “o” usually used in US for yoghurt to be odd.

      But then English is weird: rough, tough, slough, dough anyone? Or by bye buy? Or there their they’re? Or have read a book and will read a book?

      Oh & Van Gogh is not (UK) “van goth” or (US) “van go” but instead (native Dutch) more like “van goch” with very guttural ending. They don’t call it double Dutch for nothing.

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