Pronunciation of 'buoy'

It's only in the last two years or so that I've become conscious of the American pronunciation of buoy as boo-ee (rather similar to the French bouée).

Is this usual throughout the whole of the AE-speaking world?
Would AE speakers be puzzled at hearing me pronounce it boy?
Are my fellow BE speakers aware of this alternative pronunciation?
How is it pronounced in Australia, Canada and other countries represented by contributors to this forum?

Rover
 
  • Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Is this usual throughout the whole of the AE-speaking world? Pass
    Would AE speakers be puzzled at hearing me pronounce it boy? Pass
    Are my fellow BE speakers aware of this alternative pronunciation? Yes
    How is it pronounced in Australia, Canada and other countries represented by contributors to this forum? Pass (I have the impression that in Canada it's boo-ee, but I may well be wrong)
    Sorry, Rover - not one of my more illuminating answers....:rolleyes::D
     

    Matching Mole

    Senior Member
    England, English
    I'm well aware of the US pronunciation, I've heard it many times on the TV and in movies, although I don't know if it is universal in the USA.

    By the looks of the obsolete variant spellings in the OED, it was pronounced "bwoi" (or similar two-syllable variations, such as bouye, boyee and bowie) in Britain originally. Although there are parallel quotations that at least spell it "boy" ("Boy of an ancre, boyee". 1530). This would be consistent with the phenomenon of preservation of old spellings and pronunciations in the US that have become obsolete or only regional in the UK.

    "The pronunciation bwɔɪ, indicated already in Hakluyt [cit. 1600], is recognized by all orthoepists British and American; but bɔɪ is universal among sailors, and now prevalent in England." OED

    I don't know when "now" is, although boy is certainly prevalent in England. I would be interested to know if the claim that "bɔɪ is universal among sailors" (by which I take to mean in the UK and the US, and other English-speaking countries) is (still) true. Do sailors in the US Navy pronounce it "boy" when the non-sailing majority pronounce it "boo-ee". This would surprise me.

    (As an aside, "orthoepist" is a new one on me.)
     

    tannen2004

    Senior Member
    English/USA
    I grew up in the Midwest US where I always heard it pronounced "boy", so it wouldn't shock me in the least. Neither would "boo ee".
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    I remember the first time I heard the word boowie in an American film, I didn't know what they were talking about. This was relatively recently ... in the last five years or so.
     

    Crackalackin

    New Member
    Hebrew
    I grew up in Israel, learned english at school and have always pronounced "buoy" as "boo-ee" (i'm actually quite surprised it has a different pronunciation in the UK)
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I've never actually heard boo-ee at all but am aware of it through this forum. As far as I know, people in these parts including Australia say 'boy'. (We have a brand of soap called Lifebuoy by Lever Brothers - Wikipedia says it's no longer produced in the UK and US but it's still available here. I can still hear the adverts going life-boy. Have a listen to this from Rules - Australian 1940s! And this from 1971 - it sounds American. They're hilarious. It's 'boy' for both.)

    Can I just ask the 'boo-ee' people - Yankee, Crackalackin and others - if this is the pronunciation for the verb as well, eg 'I feel buoyed by the good news'.
     
    Last edited by a moderator:

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    It is for me. I would say "boo-ee" probably more often than 'boy" (but I would call the soap "Life-boy" because I've heard it said that way on the commercials.)

    "I feel boo-eed by the good news" sounds perfectly natural to me, but I've heard both boo-ee and boy in conversation.
     

    Yankee_NLPer

    Senior Member
    English-USA
    Now that you mention it. I believe when I was a child, I first pronounced buoy like the soap... buoy = boy and specifically because of the Lifebuoy soap commercials... Eventually, I switched because everyone I knew pronounced it boo-ee and they told me I was wrong...

    What I mean is that when I read the word buoy, I mentally said boy, but when I heard people say bu-ee, I thought it was a different word. I knew it was a float in the water, I just didn't know how it was spelled. I can remember arguing with my sister over the pronunciation. I also remember being very confused by some of the Lifebuoy commercials... what did a "bu-ee" in the water have to do with "Life-boy" soap?

    Yes, and buoyed is boo-eed also.

    This thread has clanged a few bells for me!!! Ding-Ding-Ding!!!
     

    brian

    Senior Member
    AmE (New Orleans)
    To turn the tables a bit, I never even heard it pronounced as "boy" until I came to Canada last year! (And I can't remember who said it - I guess a Canadian - but I was thoroughly confused.)

    In southern Louisiana, from the bayous to the marshes to the gulf and everywhere in between, we always say it "boo-ee," rhyming with "gooey."
     

    pickarooney

    Senior Member
    English (Ireland)
    I'm astounded that so few people have apparently never seen Baywatch :D
    That's where I, as one of its faithful occasional 4 billion viewers first encountered 'boo-ee'. I'd only ever heard 'boy' before.
     

    Brioche

    Senior Member
    Australia English
    I remember the first time I heard the word boowie in an American film, I didn't know what they were talking about. This was relatively recently ... in the last five years or so.
    In Australia it is pronounced "boy", and like you, when I first hear boowie in a US tv film, I did not know what they were talking about.
     
    Last edited:

    Spira

    Banned
    UK English
    @ 3000 holes.
    I just learned two minutes ago thanks to your thread that buoy can be pronounced boo-ey, despite spending a cumulative number of years in the US. However, I must say that I am a total land-lubber.
    I also just learned from this forum that the Life-boy soap of my childhood TV is not spelled Life-boy !!
     

    baddog

    New Member
    English
    This is something that has puzzled me since the late 90's when I spent some time in the US and Canada. It is definitely pronounced boy in Australia and until then I had never heard buoy pronounced as anything but boy. Had several debates with my North American friends about it too. I found it strange that buoyant and buoyancy were both pronounced as boy but that buoy came out as boo-ee. That then got us onto the subject of aluminium, but we wont go there on this thread :)
     
    Last edited:

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Thanks, Yankee. Can I also check how others who say boo-ee say 'buoyant'?
    I say boy and boy-ant for buoy and buoyant (but I'm a duallie UK/US). I've heard a lot of US speakers say "boy-ancy"* for buoyancy when talking about the tendency (or not) of something to stay afloat. Perhaps this meaning is sufficiently distinct from the mental image of the "bright orange object in the water" to allow easy differentiation in pronunciation? I heard some of them say boo-ee for that!

    *Admittedly in an obscure biophysics field of whether macromolecules or small particles, like DNA or proteins will sink or float, during centrifugation in solutions of different densities :D
     

    DSmith

    New Member
    English - U.S.
    Depends on what you mean by usual. Not uncommon.

    No, boy pronunciation is also common.
    In my experience boo ee is the most common. Honestly, I've never heard an American pronounce it as boy and I have been around for a "few" years and a "few" places.
     
    Last edited:

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I say boy and boy-ant for buoy and buoyant (but I'm a duallie UK/US). I've heard a lot of US speakers say "boy-ancy"* for buoyancy when talking about the tendency (or not) of something to stay afloat. Perhaps this meaning is sufficiently distinct from the mental image of the "bright orange object in the water" to allow easy differentiation in pronunciation? I heard some of them say boo-ee for that!

    *Admittedly in an obscure biophysics field of whether macromolecules or small particles, like DNA or proteins will sink or float, during centrifugation in solutions of different densities :D
    I haven't heard anyone say "boo-ee-ant" for buoyant.
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    I haven't heard anyone say "boo-ee-ant" for buoyant.
    Neither have I. However, several dictionaries show the pronunciation "BOO-yunt" /'bujənt/ as a variant.

    By the way, the Oxford English Dictionary has the pronunciation variants /bwɔɪ/ and /bwɔɪənt/ for, respectively, buoy and buoyant. I don't believe I've heard those either.
     

    Bluenoser

    New Member
    English - Canadian Maritime
    I pronounce buoy as "boo-ee." I used buoy recently and my partner whom is from the UK didn't know what I was talking about. He then said, "you mean the 'boy'?" which has led me to this thread. I've lived in multiple places across Canada and the US and cannot recall ever hearing buoy pronounced as "boy," however, it's not a word that is spoken very often, especially if you're not near a body of water.
     

    perpend

    Banned
    American English
    I grew up with "boo-ee" in Wisconsin, USA. There is some French influence in our pronunciations due to Marquette and Joliet.

    I'm wondering if some aren't hearing a "reverse" diphthong in "boy", that maybe sounds like "boo-ee" but the mind does a dyslexic cross-diphthong thingy. I'm sure that makes perfect sense. ;)

    I only hear "boy" as mono-syllabic, but in these parts, you might get a diphthong out of it from some speakers.

    "buoy", though, I hear as two distinct syllables.
     

    Delvo

    Senior Member
    American English
    This could divide according to exposure more than nationality. I grew up in a city in the middle of North America with no large bodies of water around, so nobody had routine experience with these things. They would see it in a book and try to guess that those who actually used such a word would say "boy". But I often visited grandparents whose house was on the shore of a large lake with a complicated shape, where residents used their boats for transportation as commonly as people elsewhere use cars and businesses would have a dock on one side and a parking lot on the other (or would be permanently floating themselves and have only docks). The word was in daily use in that community, and it was absolutely always "boo-wee".
     

    khaos526

    New Member
    English - US/Can/Aus
    I've always said "Boy". I've heard it pronounced the other way, but just assumed it was only a few regional places that said it like that. Of course living in the UK, Canada and Australia as well as the US. That could be a reason too I've always called it "Boy"...
     

    joanvillafane

    Senior Member
    U.S. English
    Responding to the question about the verb - I've always pronounced it as one syllable (boy). Grew up in NYC. So I have two different pronunciations - "boo-ee" for the thing in the water and "boy" when it is used as a verb.
     

    ayuda?

    Senior Member
    http://forvo.com/search/buoy/ [pronunciation of buoy in BrE (boy) and AmE (boo-ee)]
    [US, UK, Australia]
    [There doesn’t seem to be any question about “life buoy”: it’s life boo-ee.]
    Note: Be sure to click the word buoy. After that, click the arrow.

    Forvo.com is an interesting site and is always good for actual audio links concerning pronunciation questions in several languages.
    Also, from what I googled, it seems that the pronounciation is boy in the UK and other countries that were previously part of the part of the former British Empire.
    Canada, however, might tend to pronounce it both ways, with certain isolated areas [??] pronouncing it the AmE way.
    I thought for sure that all of the U.S., would pronounce it boo-ee, but that is apparently not the case, e.g., tannen2004. I have never heard it pronounced the BrE way before reading this post.
    Being from New England, if I ever heard,” I’m gonna throw the lobster(ah) pot and boy in the water(ah) and pick ‘em up in a few days,” I would call the cops.
     
    Last edited:

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    http://forvo.com/search/buoy/ [pronunciation of buoy in BrE (boy) and AmE (boo-ee)]
    [US, UK, Australia]
    [There doesn’t seem to be any question about “life buoy”: it’s life boo-ee.]
    Well, you have several American English speakers in the thread above saying that it's not "life boo-ee" for them. If you search YouTube for Life Buoy commercials you'll also find that the company pronounces it "boy".

    Forvo can be misleading because the sample rate is so low and it depends on voluntary recordings.
     
    Last edited:
    < Previous | Next >
    Top