Tonight's Sky
Sun
Sun
Moon
Moon
Mercury
Mercury
Venus
Venus
Mars
Mars
Jupiter
Jupiter
Saturn
Saturn

Tonight's Sky — Change location

OR

Searching...

Tonight's Sky — Select location

Tonight's Sky — Enter coordinates

° '
° '

Say Betelgeuse

How do you pronounce that star, that constellation, or that astronomer’s name?
Betelgeuse is returning to the morning sky, but few can pronounce it. That’s because almost none of our friends know the stars and constellations, so we rarely hear them spoken. But even during star parties, mispronunciations abound.

Gibberish is nobody’s fault. In the case of Orion’s alpha star, the movie Beetlejuice, starring Michael Keaton, permanently implanted that pronunciation in everyone’s mind. Looking it up in the dictionary is of little help — even its meaning varies with each reference book. Grab the nearest dictionary, and you’ll find that the word Betelgeuse means “the shoulder of the giant,” “the armpit of the sheep,” “the House of the Twins,” or one of several other contradictory things.

The final judge? My favorite authority was the late George Davis of Buffalo, New York, an attorney, avid amateur astronomer, and noted Arabic scholar. Starting in the 1930s, he spent seven years researching star names, traveling to the East to seek original sources. Most star names come from Arabic, but that language, like all others, has changed over the centuries. That’s one reason why so many myths and false ideas appear in print. To get at the truth, Davis started with 2,000-year-old Arabic and then traced those star names to their roots from the even earlier Sumerian.

Astronomy magazine subscribers can read the full article for free. Just make sure you're registered with the website.

Already a subscriber? Register now!

Registration is FREE and takes only a few seconds to complete. If you are already registered on Astronomy.com, please log in below.
ADVERTISEMENT

FREE EMAIL NEWSLETTER

Receive news, sky-event information, observing tips, and more from Astronomy's weekly email newsletter.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
asy_gravitational_eguide

Click here to receive a FREE e-Guide exclusively from Astronomy magazine.

Find us on Facebook