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

  • David

    Too bad his “correct” way to say it is also incorrect. It’s not a long O, as in “bow.” It’s a standard Japanese short O, which is similar to a standard O in just about any other language. Try saying “amigo” in a Spanish accent, not American.

  • ga1n

    I prefer “boca”. Just has a better ring imho.

  • Jeannine Green Brewer

    How about “shallow depth of field”?

  • Richard Ford

    Oh – and the CNN style of mispronouncing Beijing like “Beixing” which has taken over some parts of the world. I wonder when Nanjing will get massacred too in pronounciartion?

  • Samuel

    I usually find myself saying “bo-kay” which is undoubtedly wrong but i like how it sounds.

  • Tomatotomayto?

    And the infamous ‘Neekon’ or ‘Nykon’….

  • Duke Shin


    The blurry-circle effect.
    It’s great to be an ignert ‘Murican, yall

  • michaelp42

    I’m supposed to take pronunciation advice from an American? How do you say “aluminium” again for me? :-)

  • Marius Gherghe

    Johnston didn’t know French. “Boké” would have solved the problem.

  • nemethv

    This gets amusing in languages that pronounce every letter (such as Hungarian), as in that one even the H at the end is pronounced :) Sounding very odd…

  • beautox

    heh ;)

  • 4wallz

    Well when spelled correctly, ALUMINUM is easy to pronounce ;-) (from Canada, the world’s largest producer of the metal).

  • Jonathan Maniago


    I’m not quite sure which is more annoying: the fact that it’s still incorrect, or the fact that he thinks it’s the correct pronunciation.

  • Ankyo

    +1 for David. If it’s a Japanese word then short Japanese o as in “box” equal stress on both syllables.

  • Brad Garner

    “Sir Humphry Davy proposed the name aluminum, back before the element was officially discovered. However, the name ‘aluminium’ was adopted to conform with the -ium names of most other elements. In 1925, the American Chemical Society decided to go back to the original aluminum, so the United States uses a different name from most other countries. The IUPAC periodic table lists both spellings. “

  • Evan Skuthorpe

    And we all know that Nikon is pronounced as in “Nick-On”. Every American I’ve ever met pronounces it as in “Ny-Con”… I cringe every time I hear it.

  • cockney bloke

    Why don’t you fokeh off!

  • PeterGekks

    nice to see a banner for football hooligans on your side….. a shop for people who injure and kill for fun.

  • MikeAlgar42

    I always thought it was Bok Eh
    So like Wok eh but with a B

  • Bill

    I lived in Japan for 8 years and speak the language fluently, and I’d have to say that you’re pretty much, just about on the money there mate…….. except for the “W” . Just pronounce it “Bo” as in bottle, and “Ke” as in kettle :-D

  • Bill

    You’re missing an “i” there. That should be spelled, ALUMINIUM….!

  • Bill

    Yeah, but it’s completely WRONG you dickhead.

  • Bill

    But it’s WRONG, you idiot.

  • Anthony Rivers

    British spelling: aluminium
    American/Canadian spelling: aluminum
    Both are correct in their respective countries. Dictionaries, people.

  • Richard

    Except that it doesn’t mean shallow depth of field, it’s an aesthetic term used to describe one of the effects (a quality of blur) that happens in some shallow depth of field photographs. Not all photographs with shallow depth of field exhibit bokeh.

  • Stan

    Wow, a 1:17 video to teach you how to pronounce a two-syllable word.

  • Ken Elliott

    I pronounce it “blur” and everyone seems to understand what I’m talking about.

  • Kris J Boorman

    As long as it’s not Kai’s bloody “BORRKUH”

  • ga1n

    thank you so much for reminding me so eloquently. Please now grow up.

  • ga1n

    haha! funny

  • ga1n

    Listen i’ve been to Japan myself — and I cringe at how they pronounce “Frank Lloyd Wright” or “Budweiser”– but I accept that’s just how they pronounce our words. I’m not going to go about calling them idiots for how they prefer to say it.

    This is like the gazillion time that bokeh’s pronunciation has been debated.

    I don’t think the Japanese pronunciation is so sacrosanct. It’s becoming really a tired overwrought topic.

    We allow dialects and accents in language–why should this word be an exception?

  • dr1911

    Does being able to correctly pronounce this word make your images better? No, it just makes you sound anal every time you correct someone else.

  • Tommy Sar

    Well, in America, the commercials by Nikon uses the “Nykon” pronunciation. But if you read the katakana spelling of, ”ニコン” it is pronounced, “neekon” with the “o” not being like “online” but “oh, yeah.”

  • Evan Skuthorpe

    Fair enough, but as with other US-English miss-pronunciations I wouldn’t take an American’s pronouncement as the correct way. In the English language ‘i’ in this case is the soft ‘i’ as there is no ‘e’ at the end of the word. If there was an ‘e’ it would make it the hard ‘i’ as in ‘eye’. Regardless, Nikon as spelt in English, it would be pronounced ‘Nick-On’. If it were pronounced ‘Ny-Con’ it’d have to be spelt Nikone… Hence the shoe brand Nike (pronounced ‘Nigh-Key’ by the way…)

  • Samuel

    Well, that escalated quickly. Theres no rights and wrongs in an art man. Channel your inner hippy.

  • Samuel

    I dont mean to judge prematurely “Bill” but you seem like a bit of a prick.

  • Rob LaRosa

    Hey, when Nikon stops pronouncing it Ny-Con in their ads, so will I.

  • Rob LaRosa

    It still sounds like you’re saying “bouquet” to me but with the accent on the second syllable.

  • Kodachrome64

    You have an amazing talent for sounding like an arrogant jerk. You lived in Japan for 8 years and speak Japanese fluently, but you’ve been alive for how long and still don’t know how to be a decent human being?

  • Lance

    I know what you mean regardless of which pronunciation you use which is what counts.

  • mthouston

    Some of one have way to much free time…..

  • Samuel

    Call it what you want, its the same thing either way. This rule goes for most pedantic arguments of semantics. Ni-kon/N-eye-kon etc.

  • Fred Nerks

    The way the English language has degenerated in both the spoken and oral word, it doesn’t really matter how it’s pronounced. Most people, other than those in photography, are not going to know what it means, anyway.

  • gairaigo akita

    Actually, it’s pronounced baka ;)

  • David

    The point is that the guy who created the video claims to know how it’s properly pronounced, yet he doesn’t, and he’s teaching others how to say it incorrectly.

    And I’m neither German nor a beer historian, but I’m assuming Adolphus Busch intended Budweiser to be pronounced with a V and not a W, therefore making the American pronunciation of an American company’s name incorrect as well.

  • Tommy Sar

    The thing about the English language is that it borrows a lot of words and spellings from other languages. With them, comes inconsistent rules of spelling and pronunciation.

    After all, “year” rhymes with “hear” “gear’ but not “bear.” But “beer” rhymes! “Bear’ rhymes with “pear” and even “pair” and “hare.”

    Whether or not it’s a “styli” or “styluses” depends on who you ask.

    “Nikon” is a made up word by Japanese and the romanized spelling is based off of Japanese romaji rules. For the Japanese, all “i’s” are “ee’s” with “a’s” as “ah,” “o’s” as in “oh,” “u’s” as “oo” and “e’s” as in “eh.”

    Unlike English, the Japanese spellings are much more consistent so you really can’t mess up. Because of that, I chose to follow the romaji pronunciation.

    But really, though. If Nikon doesn’t care, why should we? Say it however you want. Tomato, tomahto, whatever.

  • Evan Skuthorpe

    An anglicised word from a Japanese original is still an anglicised word. The (incorrect) American focus on the ‘i’ changes the tone of the word to something it’s not – Nykon. The ‘i’ isn’t ‘eye’ unless it has an ‘e’ on the end. Some words to assist: Kit v Kite, Bit v Bite, Mit v Mite, Sit v Site etc… You can back-up your pronunciation anyway you like but it still isn’t ‘correct’. That’s all I’m saying.

    God knows that the English language is such a marvelous thing. It can be adopted, updated and grown unlike any other. But Americanisations are just that, specific to America! Not the language the rest of us speak. Don’t even start me on the Colour v Color and America’s aversion to the letter ‘U’ etc…

    Besides, I think you meant to write ‘Tomato’ / ‘Tomayto’ – let’s not miss-spell the correct pronunciation now ;)

  • Evan Skuthorpe

    Nikon never pronounced it Ny-Con, only an American who works for Nikon USA. Here in the UK, in Japan, in Australia and throughout most of English speaking Asia (Singapore, Hong Kong) it’s Nick-On. Now let us have our differences so we can continue to laugh at each other…

  • Tommy Sar

    To be clear, I never argued for “Ny-con” or Nick-on” other than Nikon USA uses “Ny-con”

    If I were to use your argument and rules, I’d say the English spelling is incorrect. If “Nikon” results in “Nick-on” by your rules, the spelling failed to accurately produce the original pronunciation.

    Perhaps a letter to Nikon to change the spelling to “Neekohn” so as to accurately spell how it is pronounced by its’ creator, is in order.

    Maybe I ought to change the spelling of my name to “Tammie” as well.

    Nah, I’ll agree to disagree.

    Really, the English language has mispronounced foreign words all the time and vice versa. It happens. What is correct is determined by general usage. In America, it’s Ny-con. In the rest of English world, it’s “Nick-on” and in Japan it’s “Neekohn.”

  • ga1n

    First, Nikon is not an English word. It is a proper noun. A name isn’t confined to the domain of language’s pronunciation rules. (Ie Versace .. we don’t call it Ver-Sace like face and we don’t impose a romanized spelling).

    And secondly, If you’re indeed a brit, you should know already you need not look further than your own country’s population to see the everyday mis-pronunciations of the english language.

    3rd, if it’s promoted as Nykon in America – then direct your browbeating of it’s pronunciation to the japanese HQ that approves the marketing campaigins. (All Nikon’s marketing is ultimately approved by parent company).

    Please spare us your patronizing arguments.. You like Nick-on good for you. We like Ny-kon – leave us alone.