Why do the Japanese pronounce Gary “geri”?

As in the fabulous British actor Geri Oldman. As this amusing GaijinPot thread points out, that makes it sound exactly like the Japanese word for diarrhoea. No particular need for it, either, as “gari” is perfectly possible in Japanese, and indeed the name for the red pickled ginger in sushi shops – making it a much better pronunciation all round!

5 Comments

  1. Jenny Hones said,

    August 31, 2012 at 6:45 pm

    Had to laugh at this one as we named our son Gary. Although most Americans pronounce his name like “gerri”, since my husband is British we pronounce it like the ga in gas. So in katakana we call him “gya ri” not “geri” nor “gari” But I do agree with your assessment that the latter works best.

  2. roaminsticka said,

    September 27, 2012 at 1:09 am

    Japan generally follows American pronunciation. Us Americans pronounce it closely to the “e” in “get”. This is a sound that is very difficult for Japanese to mimic. If you are American or know one just watch Japanese people laugh nervously at the attempt to copy that harsh EH sound. So – “gerri” is the best they can manage.

    The funny thing is that as obsessed as Japanese people are with word-play jokes they don’t do more with this actor’s name….

  3. Bird said,

    October 3, 2012 at 8:31 am

    The intonation is different, so it doesn’t sound the same. I was watching this american-made film about the japanese language and they had a character that made fun of how tacos and tako have the same pronunciation. But, tacos in japanese is タコス, not たこ. I point this out because foreigners sometimes miss small details. In this case, the pronunciation is still not the same, so there is nothing negative about saying geri. Now that i might have gotten your attention, i should add that Gary is often translated as ゲイリー which is a far cry from geri anyhow.

    There’s no word play. If you are unfamiliar with small nuances you might feel things sound similar.

  4. alexcase said,

    October 3, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    I’d never heard anyone say “geiri”, but you are right that is what it says on Gary Oldman’s wikipedia page. Everyone I know calls him Geri Orudoman though.

    I’ve no idea if the tones (which I assume is what you mean rather than intonation) are different, but anyway slight variations in pronunciation never stopped puns in any language and variations in just tone certainly never stopped the Japanese.

  5. alexcase said,

    October 3, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    I think the “e” (or “ei”) sound is almost certainly due to copying American pronunciation, but it is striking how rare that “a” to “e” change is in actual words. What is slightly more common is “o” changes to “a” (e.g. “baree” for volleyball) for, I believe, the same reasons.


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