Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

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Loki: Hokey or Schlocky?

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

How do you say “Loki”?

By far the most common American—and certainly the Hollywood—pronunciation rhymes with “hokey.” Thus, in his novel American Gods, Neil Gaiman (whose purpose as a storyteller is an entertaining story, not historical or theological accuracy) nicknames Odin's blood-brother “Low Key” Liesmith.

But that's not how the ancestors would have pronounced it.

In old Norse, every vowel is either short or long. Historians of the language all agree that the O in Loki is a short one.

Thus, in ancient, as in modern, Icelandic, Loki rhymes with “schlocky,” not “hokey”: LAW-key, not LOW-key.

So, the thirteen thousand sol question (pagan money = sols and lunas): Does that mean that short-O Loki-rhymes-with-schlocky is the correct pronunciation?

Well, it's the historically correct pronunciation, for sticklers (like me) who care about such things.

But the fact of linguistic history is that words change over time. Nobody says k'NIKHT any more, as they did 1000 years ago; these days, our knights are nites.

So, Loki: hokey or schlocky?

You decide.






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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


  • Murphy Pizza
    Murphy Pizza Wednesday, 19 December 2018

    Dont get me started on how the names of Greek deities are pronounced now..
    ..oh, and enough with trying to phonetically pronounce Celtic languages - the rules are.different. Everyone just stop...stop....

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Wednesday, 19 December 2018

    Well, that's a pretty big bag o' snakes you just opened up there, Murphy (maybe I should say, we opened up).

    My scholarly side (and probably my show-off side as well) wants to give words their "original" (or at least native) pronunciation, but it's a simple fact of linguistic history that names--like every other borrowed word--tend to reshape themselves to fit the tongues and palates of their borrowers. What to do?

    Even within a language, the question remains. 1400 years ago, speakers of English called their goddess of dawn/spring EY-oh-streh (with, probably, a trilled R). When we call on Her today, is it better to give Her name its ancient pronunciation, or just to call her by what Her name has become in modern English: Easter? In this case, my personal preference is the latter, even though it makes some people cringe.

    And if we want to pronounce Samhain as pronounced in Irish, do we go with the ancient or the modern Irish pronunciation?

    In the end, we're the People of the Many. Multiple forms only enrich us.


  • Murphy Pizza
    Murphy Pizza Wednesday, 19 December 2018

    Indeed. My Latin prof used to say, "The problem with languages is that people use them."
    But if these ethnic recon trads are about re-appreciating their cultural heritage, the there should at least be some.effort toward correct language use. Right?..or am I off on this?

    Just a peeve; my Irish colleague back at UWM pronounced Tuatha de Daanaan properly:
    TOO- ha de DAH-nan.
    If I hear one more Druid or Witch say too-WAH-tha day DAY-a-nan one more time I'm gonna blow.

    There, I feel better.

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