How Do You Pronounce “Bokeh”?

The term “bokeh” is often used in the world of photography to describe the quality of the out-of-focus blur in photographs. Do you know how it’s pronounced?

The term comes from the Japanese word “boke” (暈け/ボケ), which translates to “blur”, “haze”, or “fuzziness”. It made its way into English-speaking world back in 1997 after Photo Techniques editor Mike Johnston (who now writes at The Online Photographer) included three articles on the topic for the March/April 1997 issue of the magazine.

An example of a photograph that features bokeh

An example of a photograph that features bokeh

In the articles, Johnston changed the spelling from “boke” to “bokeh” to make the pronunciation of the word more intutive, lest people pronounce it like “poke” with a ‘b’. Johnston writes,

[It was] one of the few issues of that magazine that sold out. My own contribution was…er, a letter. I decided that people too readily mispronounced “boke,” so I added an “h” to the word in our articles, and voilá, “bokeh” was born […]

Actually, to be precise, what I had noticed was not just that people mispronounced the word as it was commonly spelled, but that they had a tendency to ridicule it, making lame jokes about it as if it rhymed with “smoke” or “toke” or “joke.” Actually, even spelled boke, it is properly pronounced with bo as in bone and ke as in Kenneth, with equal stress on either syllable.

Some of the other ways the word is pronounced these days (which many people consider mispronunciations) include boh-kuh (with the second part sounding like “cut”), and boh-kay (which sounds like bouquet).

If you want to be correct, however, the straight-from-the-horses-mouth pronunciation can be heard in the video above by Justin Marx.

Image credit: I ♥ Bokeh! by maira.gall

  • ga1n


    Had Adolphus Busch been alive today, he would have realized how he couldn’t call it Bud-veiser after it was struck down by the EU–as that designation is reserved for the original Bohemian beer Budweiser Budvar.

    And the Anheiser Busch company markets it clearly with Budweiser (with a W) pronunciation! And what’s more interesting is that it’s owned by InBev who are a Belgian-Brazilian beverage conglomerate.

    So #1) yeah it’s Bud-W-eiser, and 2) don’t lay the blame squarely on Americans

  • Evan Skuthorpe

    Calm down princess.

    Firstly, proper nouns are English words. ‘Nikon’ is an English word. It’s like saying ‘Yuji’ (a Japanese name) is not an English word when clearly ‘Y’, ‘u’ ‘j’ and ‘i’ spell ‘Yuji’. Just because it isn’t of English origin doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist…

    Secondly, Versace is an Italian word, and like most Western European languages it’s Latin based so not really sure of your point. Versace is Italian and is correctly pronounced ‘Ver-sah-chi’.

    I think that proves my point really. Only someone ignorant of Italian would pronounce it as ‘Ver-Saise’. Much like Nikon, if everyone else is correct in saying that the Japanese characters sound like ‘Nee-con’ than the non-US way of saying Nikon is 100% consistent. Saying Ny-con is not.

    Now, you’ve clearly failed to see the subtle digs and humoUr in my posts so I’m not going to take offence at your response. All I was doing here is rebutting the claim that Nikon themselves called it ‘Ny-con’ when clearly they didn’t. Nikon USA, through the simple fact that they’re American, through their AmericaniSed bastardisation of the word, call it Ny-con and I’m simply pointing out that this isn’t the way to correctly say it.

    By the way, I’m not a ‘Brit’, I just live here. Regardless, I speak English without cultural ignorance of [insert country name here]. All countries have there own ways of speaking the same language, doesn’t mean all are correct!

  • June Clark

    NOT British spelling chum, WE take it from the latin, as does every other country!

  • June Clark

    Bokeh is JARGON! which is hot air instead of language! From the Japanes it may be, but we’re not Japanese speaking people and it’s bad form to mix dialects! Blur, fuzzy or out of focus qualities do it for us.

  • ga1n

    Princess? wow, did you think of that comeback all by yourself ?

    Not sure where you are going with Yuji–sounds like you are thinking out loud–are you refuting the point that it’s a proper noun?
    However, you are getting warmer.. you get that Versace is a proper noun which just validates my Nikon point.

    Funny, reading your previous posts, I find myself agreeing with your point about accepting both pronunciations. But somehow, you revert back to your original judgment that Nykon being wrong. Kinda 1 step forward, 2 steps back. And I find the detectable anti americanism patronizing in your post. But if it’s all part of your indelible subtle humor, which i’m missing, then it’s very subtle, almost pretty much undetectable.

  • Evan Skuthorpe

    …sigh… having proven yourself incapable of understanding my point, and as an angry confrontational sod, i bid you farewell.

  • ga1n

    Need i remind you, you resorted to name calling. So who’s the angry sod?

    Yeah, i agree to disagree w/ you. Just lay off the anti-americanism and we’ll have healthy discourse.

  • Evan Skuthorpe

    Oh just one more, if you insist…

    There is no anti-Americanism in any of my comments. Simply pointing out that a lot of what passes for the norm in American English is in fact wrong (with NYKON being the most relavent) doesn’t mean I’m anti America… For example… If you and I were having a real conversation, let’s pretend you were Spanish and we were both speaking English, if you pronounced your ‘J’ as a ‘Y’ I would correct you otherwise. Perhaps these subtle digs against Americans are now considered are anti-US/pro-terrorist in your eyes?

    In fact, having read through your previous comments you do really seem like a sensitive and argumentative type. You seem to have this ‘everyone is picking on America so I’m going to fight them’ mentality. Or at the very least, ‘how dare someone disagree with me, I’m going to pick at what they say no matter how off topic’ mentality. Grow up.

    That really was my last comment for you. Moving on to some photography related matters now…

  • Alfeetoe

    As the creator of the above video, I feel the need to clarify a couple of things. First, I was as surprised as anyone to see this featured here. I made it a year ago after a long discussion with a couple of friends and a ton of research. Saw an uptick in views and traced it back to here. Totally cool, but I wasn’t fishing for a plug or anything. Secondly, pronunciation is a hotly debated topic in many instances, and numerous factors must be taken into account: accentuation, regional variation, subjective interpretation of character, etc. After much discourse on the subject, and the aforementioned research, it was concluded that the closest pronunciation, in english, is what I listed in the video. Obviously this is up for debate and scrutiny, as anything. But the pronunciation listed is not MY pronunciation, but the correct one based on data and consensus amongst many, many sources. Just know, if you find it to be varied or flat out wrong, it is more the nature of the beast than a flat out fallacy. There was no flippancy to be had…it was all strictly based on research. Either way, just my two cents.

  • Kyle Brady

    That’s wrong also…a vowel is pronounced as the long version when another vowel is present 2 characters later. Nikon meets that criteria for the i but not for the o and therefore the i should be pronounced long (like “eye”) and the o short (like “ah”).
    Nikone on the other hand makes the o long (like “oh”) and would be pronounced “Ny-Cone”

  • Kyle Brady

    Your examples for adding the ‘e’ to the end only work because they are 3 letter words. Adding ‘e’ to the end of Nikon makes the ‘o’ long, not the ‘i’. The ‘i’ is already long since the ‘o’ comes 2 characters later.

  • Richard Ford


  • MilRil

    Thank you, Samuel. Ditto.

  • Toni

    Interesting that the narrator on the video mispronounces “pronunciation”. He says: pro NOUN see a shun. Correctly said: pro NUN see a shun. And that’s an English word, so it would be nice if those who chastise re Japanese could first get their English correct.

  • Ben-Ben

    Well you are going to have a tough time in Louisiana not spelling it Beauxket. Lol