Home / I say.. You say.. (Pronouncing ‘Abu Ghraib’ and ‘Iraq’)

I say.. You say.. (Pronouncing ‘Abu Ghraib’ and ‘Iraq’)

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It’s fun to listen to the radio – and suffer through the TV news – and hear the multitude of pronunciations of the latest buzz words. Doesn’t one begin to wonder just who is pronouncing the words correctly? Is it the savvy, ultra multi-culti NPR reporter? Or the four-star general of the US Army, who cuts through the pronunciation of foreign words like I cut through Gouda while eating my evening meal?

Well, I’m not here to answer that question. But I do want to explore the different pronunciations.

Abu Ghraib:

We’ve all pretty much settled on the “Abu” part. It’s the second word that trips us up. So, which is it?

Ahboo Grabe – pronounced like “grave” but with a “b?” Ooh, bad example.

Ahboo Grah-eeb – someone – most likely the savvy NPR reporter – decided to break the word into two syllables and lengthen the “i.” Is this done to seem like they know what they are saying, or is it the proper pronunciation?

Ahboo Grab – pronounced like the English verb, and, well, apparently there was some grabbing going on there.

But what makes us think we can agree on a pronunciation of Abu Ghraib? We can’t even settle on one pronunciation of the country we’ve occupied for the last year.


So, which is it?

Eee-Rack – This seems to be the most popular, but this could just be an east-coast thang.

Aye-Rack – Imported to the US from Texas, this pronunciation has been embedded in our vernacular since Bush I fought round one of the war. “Aye-Rack” also sounds wonderfully intelligent when used in the word “Iraqi.”

Eh-Rack – Half-way in between the first two, this is a nice choice for the fence-riders, or those suffering from a serious identity crisis. For the sake of disclosure, this is my personal pronunciational choice.

In a recent Slate article How Do You Pronounce “Abu Ghraib”? – Hint: It doesn’t rhyme with “babe.”, Sam Schechner offers up something close to – but not quite like – Ahboo Grah-eeb as the proper pronunciation.

The first word is easy: “ah-BOO.” The trouble is the second word, which begins with a phlegmy, guttural “gh” sound uncommon in American English—the sound is peculiar to the Arabic letter “ghayn.” The “r” is easy, but the “ai” is a bit confusing: The word doesn’t share the diphthong vowel sound of “grave” or “grape” as many newscasters seem to think; instead, the vowel is closer to that in “ebb,” but is slightly more extended. So the proper pronunciation sounds something like a French person using a rolling “r” to render “grehhb.”

Charless Apple of The American Press Institute offers some help to the confused with How do you pronounce all those names, anyway?, which acts as a linguistic guidebook of sorts, for the Middle East “interveners.”

Even if the name-game isn’t completely solved, it is comforting to know that I am not alone .

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About Ryan Irelan

  • David

    All kidding aside, hostage Paul Johnson has been beheaded. Fuck Abu Ghraib. I wish they would kill all of those fuckers.

  • David

    Who cares? Once the motherfucker is bulldoozed it’ll be called a fucking dirt pile!


    Susan, I believe you are misinformed. The correct pronunciation is: Yabboo, Graboo, doo.

  • susan

    Abu Grah-Eeb is the correct pronunciation of the name of the prison. The words were transliterated from Arabic, wh/ like many languages does not combine vowels to make a new sound but rather assigns each a consistent value. A is always “ah” and I is always “ee.”

    If the vowel were meant to sound like A in fate they’d have written it Grabe.

    That said, it’d probably have been simpler to transliterate it Grah-Eeb for us. I’ve noticed many reporters are aware the word has two syllables but can’t bring themselves to break in the middle so say Guh-Rabe.

  • bhw

    Eee-Rack, Aye-Rack, and Eh-Rack aren’t the only choices. Lots of people end the word with “rock” instead of “rack.”

    Also, there’s the Ear- first syllable. It’s different, I think, from Eee-.

    So you could have:

    Ear-rack or Ear-rock
    Eee-rack or Eee-rock
    Aye-rack or Aye-rock
    Eh-rack or Eh-rock

    That might cover it. I say “Ear-rock,” but I don’t know if it’s right.