I had a moment of inspiration today about the word ocarina. In case you’re unaware of what it is, an ocarina is small wind instrument that probably became a lot more famous around the world after it was prominently featured in the 1998 N64 videogame The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
Of course, being as cool as I am, I was already familiar with the instrument, as it had featured as a useable item in the 1993 Gameboy game The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening.
Anyway, today I saw a picture of an ocarina somewhere, and it made me wonder if the word’s related to geese somehow.
You see, when I was playing those Zelda games back in my youth, I didn’t know the Italian word for goose.
Now though, I’m fortunate to have that knowledge. I now know that the Italian word for goose is oca. Could there be a link between oca and ocarina, I wondered? When you think about it, the squat little body and thin neck of an ocarina isn’t hugely different in appearance from a goose.
And yes, the two are indeed related, as ocarina is a diminutive form of oca.
The most interesting question for most people though, is how is ocarina pronounced? It’s not a word you hear very often, so most people are left to guess the pronunciation themselves. I’d always assumed the O had the same sound as Oh!, and the stressed syllable was the I (oh-ca-reen-a, basically).
Over the years though, I noticed a lot of people pronouncing the O with shorter vowel sound, like in bottle. Which sounded odd to me. For a long time I couldn’t really understand it, as my pronunciation seemed much more natural and easier to say.
But I began to soften my stance over the years, and slowly realised that maybe my pronunciation only felt more natural to me because I’d got used to it. Plus, the other pronunciation is by far the more common one, so after some time I had to wonder if I’d been wrong the whole time.
At least though, my pronunciation shares the same sound as the pronunciation of oca (though the first syllable of the standard pronunciation does sound a little like the French word for goose, oie).
But as I always say, there isn’t often one correct answer to a question about the English language, so you can pronounce it oie-ever way you want!