Ouija board is spelt with a ‘ja’ at the end, so why is it commonly pronounced ‘wee-gee’ or ‘weejee’ and not ‘wee-juh’ as you would expect it to be?
Some people will tell you that in British English the word is pronounced “wee-juh,” while an American English speaker would say “wee-gee”. However, this is not the case as the majority of British English also say “wee-gee”.
The word is so commonly pronounced in both versions, that today the pronunciations are interchangeable and both versions are acceptable.
Part of the confusion over the pronunciation could be down to the uncertainty of the word’s etymology. The most commonly accepted origin of the name is that it is an amalgamation of the French and German word for “yes”.
The French for yes is “oui”, which is pronounced as a breathier version of the English word “wee”. In German yes is “ja”, which is pronounced as it’s spelt. So the combination of “oui” and “ja” – or yes-yes – gives us ouija, which logically should be pronounced “oui-ja”.
However, it seems that this explanation is a myth. “Ouija” is of course a trademark that was first registered by William Fuld for Parker Brothers toys in 1948. The board was manufactured for Fuld by the Kennard Novelty Company, its owner Charles Kennard claims that the name came from using the board itself and that it is an Egyptian word meaning “good luck”.
In reality, Ouija is not Egyptian for good luck, but as the board reportedly told him it was during a session, the name stuck. Neither is the name anything to do with the London postcode W11 1JA. This was never the address of Parker Brothers.
Whatever the origin of the word, it’s clear that the correct pronunciation should be “wee-juh”, but there’s actually quite a lot of English words we say wrong like Wednesday and February. In these cases it’s because the word has changed over time and letters from older versions of the word are carried forward into the newer spelling, but the pronunciation changes.
In the case of the word Ouija, we say it wrong because we are trying to simplify it by giving it “vowel harmony”. A lot of words are pronounced differently to how they’re spelt just because it sounds better, like chocolate that has an “o” in it that’s not fully pronounced, and Christmas sounds more like a celebration of someone called Chris.
In Ouija the final syllable “ja” has over time come to be pronounced as “jee” under the influence of the long “eee” in the first syllable. The vowel from the first syllable transferred to the next – this is vowel harmony.
Because Ouija boards are the mystifying oracle, perhaps we’re more inclined to try to demystify its unfamiliar and mystical sounding name, the way we do this with unfamiliar foreign words is with rhyme, which make words more simple by reducing the variety of sounds in them.