Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Lovecraftian Pedantry

In a letter to the amateur writer Duane W. Rimel, dated July 23, 1934, H.P. Lovecraft addresses the issue of how to pronounce the name "Cthulhu."
The name of the hellish entity was invented by beings whose vocal organs were not like man's, hence it has no relation to the human speech equipment. The syllables were determined by a physiological equipment wholly unlike ours, hence could never be uttered perfectly by human throats ... The actual sound -- as nearly as any human organs could imitate it or human letters record it -- may be taken as something like Khlûl'-hloo, with the first syllable pronounced gutturally and very thickly. The u is about like that in full; and the first syllable is not unlike klul in sound, hence the h represents the guttural thickness.
Chaosium thus has a lot to answer for on this score, as a great many people now believe, thanks to their RPG, that the name is correctly pronounced "Ka-thul-hoo" or some variation thereof. Maybe that's close enough for government work, I don't know, but S.T. Joshi records that Donald Wandrei once pronounced the name as Chaosium does in HPL's presence "and received nothing but a blank stare in return." Personally, I think mispronouncing Cthulhu is more forgivable than mispronouncing Conan or Tarzan, given Lovecraft's own statement that the name was never meant to be spoken by human tongues, but it's a mistake nonetheless.

35 comments:

  1. I once read somewhere that the closest the human speech apparatus could get to pronouncing Cthulhu was to firmly attach the tip of the tongue to the soft pallet and "cough" the word "Clue-Lou"

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  2. Doesn't matter what you call him, so long as you don't call him for dinner.

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  3. I have a suspicion that HPL was pretty loose with blank stares.

    I have long known that the Chaosium pronunciation was incorrect. But I attend the HPL Film Festival every year, and if everyone pronounced it the HPL way there would be entirely too much spittle flying around for my comfort level. So I'm fine with Kuh-Thoo-Loo.

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  4. What's always seemed weird to me about this is that there's only one L in "Cthulhu."

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  5. I'd be more offended if Lovecraft's pronunciation had appeared in his published works. You make up words in your fiction and don't provide pronunciation, you're at the mercy of your readers. And Kuh-Thoo-Loo seems a perfectly reasonable interpretation to me.

    If we're reduced to digging through personal letters, clearly it wasn't that important to him. In many ways this is Lovecraft's "Doubledore is gay."

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  6. Bertie Wooster insists on referring to someone named "Cool Lulu" in "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier." Which is closer to Lovecraft's pronunciation, really.

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  7. I thought there was another instance where Lovecraft gave a different pronunciation, the one that most people use. I can't remember where I read that though. Anyone have a cite for that?

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  8. Reminds me of one of the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser stories where Leiber goes out of his way to address all the serious-minded people that insist on pronouncing it "Faf-erd", when in Fafhrd's native tongue no one would ever think of saying it like that. Don't recall exactly, but I think he never does give the correct pronunciation.

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  9. Chaosium's pronunciation actually changed over the years. The second edition CoC I first owned gave it as "Kuh-THOOL-hoo," with vocalization of the second H. Later editions seem to have bowed to the more common, slurred "Kuh-THOO-loo."

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  10. Hehe that's gonna get me a drink next Friday at the gameclub :)

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  11. He'll always be "daddy" to me...








    :)

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  12. So why is Cthulhu spelled the way it is? If the name sounds like Khlûl'-hloo surely you would write it down in the closest phonetic approximation. Why write it down as Cthulhu? Where's the 't' come into it? ...losing sanity here!

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  13. Spawn of Endra,

    Yes, it's from the beginning of "Lean Times in Lankhmar," where he implies that Mouser's "perverse" mispronunciation of Fafhrd as "Faferd" had caused a rift between the Twain. Of course, in the story "Ill Met in Lankhmar" (which was written later), Fafhrd says that his name is pronounced "Just Faf-erd." The only difference between the two is the hyphen, which I take to mean that there is a difference, one that is too subtle for most Lankhmarts to notice or perhaps to vocalize.

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  14. This truly is pedantic. :)

    I usually say it "Thoo-lyoo:" the "C" is silent, as in "cthonic," the "u"s are long, and the "lh" in Portuguese fashion as "ly."* Although the good, old-fashioned "Kuh-thoo-loo" sneaks in there, too.

    *(Because of a summer intensive course in Portuguese taken many years ago.)

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  15. Wow. One hell of a non-issue IMO. I think because it has no bearing whatsover on what this Old One is, what it does, and how scary he is in a role playing game. If anything, Ca-thoo-loo (the way I pronounce it as a CoC GM or otherwise I guess) at least doesn't get as many laughs when you say it as pronouncing it "Ca-Haloo" or whatever that "proper pronunciation." But call him Kaloo kalay for all I care.

    And damn, as a GM I probably pronounced almost all the names wrong in my games. My games still kicked ass.

    James, I'm kind of thinking you probably would not like they way I pronounced Nuclear either, so I won't go there.

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  16. We don't call Cthulhu.
    Cthulhu Calls us.

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  17. "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn dominoes."

    ...which I understand translates to:

    "In his house at sunken R'lyeh, dead Cthulhu lies dreaming, wanting for the pizza guy."

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  18. You like Ka-thul-hoo, I like Khlûl'-hloo...
    You like Yog-Soth-oth, I like Yog-Sot-hoth...
    Ka-thul-hoo, Khlûl'-hloo
    Yog-Soth-oth, Yog-Sot-hoth
    Let's call the whole thing off...

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  19. Coldstream -- You are a genius.

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  20. Hmm...Intersting. Mind you, it raises further questions, but then some of his letters make me wonder if Lovecraft wasn't trolling with his answers.

    Alan De Smet-I generally agree with your sentiment, but come on. Dumbledore was no surprise. Heck, I called it the minute that tabloid reporter started publishing articles questioning if harry was spending too much time around him.

    The announcement wasn't exactly the big clue.

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  21. @Spawn of Endra -

    The pronunciation/spelling of Fafhrd's name aside, and in the spirit of the original post (i.e., total pedantry) I feel compelled to point out that his companion is the "Gray" Mouser, not "Grey" Mouser. :)

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  22. "BigFella said...
    Koo koo kachu?"


    I think the Beatles might have been on to something...

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  23. Booberry said: "I have a suspicion that HPL was pretty loose with blank stares."

    To me, this is very funny. :-)

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  24. The only thing saving this post from taking your usual Pedantry Blue Ribbon is the mention of the Lifetime Pedantry Achievement Award winner S.T. Joshi. Slyly played!

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  25. "The actual sound -- as nearly as any human organs could imitate it or human letters record it -- may be taken as something like Khlûl'-hloo"

    Then why put the "t" in there???

    Yes, I know it's spelled Cthulhu, but it's pronounced "Luxury Yacht".

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  26. When I did an audio book recording of "Call of Cthulhu" I made a point of pronouncing it in several different ways.

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  27. I think this weirdness is on the author, HPL didn't really make these names common, and that was certainly with intent. He isn't a philologist like Tolkien, HPL probably made up names by mashing syllables together and fudging it until it looks right, like the rest of us.

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  28. 'HPL probably made up names by mashing syllables together and fudging it until it looks right'

    HPL went through considerable personal growth and change over the course of his life - this case seems to be a case in point. He probably started by mashing syllables, then put it aside for a few years, then came up with the "khlul-lu" approximation years later.

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  29. I've always hated the "how is it pronounced" question. "and heard the ominous syllables which can be rendered only as 'Cthulhu'" - if it's pronounced "Khlûl'-hloo," then the syllables can be rendered as "Khlûl'-hloo." If any letters were meant to be silent, then it could have been rendered without those letters. If the C is pronounced as K, it could have been rendered as a K; if it's pronounced as S, it could have been rendered as S. If it truly could only have been rendered "Cthulhu," then the C must be pronounced in a way that only C can be pronounced, the t and h must both be pronounced (but could be pronounced as in "the" or as in "fathead"), the l and h must both be pronounced, and neither u can be pronounced "uh" or "oo".

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  30. @ Anthony "I usually say it "Thoo-lyoo:" the "C" is silent, as in "cthonic," "

    Just to try to out pedant the popular pedantry being proferred... "Cthonic" is actually spelled Chthonic (two 'h's in the Chth- part) which linguistically contribuites to the silent 'C' at the beginning.

    I always thought it would be fun to try and pronounce the name while belching after downing a pack of pop-rocks and half a bottle of champagne... but other than that I still pronounce it the incorrect "Cuh-THOOL-Hu" (the second 'L' is key!) just because that was the pronunciation that gave me shivers when I was 14.

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  31. "In his house at Toronto, dead Grognard lies dreaming?"

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  32. "That is not dead that can eternally blog. But with really lame Google/blogger bugs even bloggers can die."

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