Life Skills, Ubuntu

How do you pronounce the word Ubuntu?

First, why does it matter?

One time a woman named ‘Pam’ got very angry at me for calling her ‘Pamela’.  It didn’t matter to me, but it mattered to her.  It’s kind of like when you’re talking on your phone really loudly but don’t realize it until other peoples’ eye daggers start piercing your vital organs.  It’s kind of like putting your dirty feet on someone’s chair. If it negatively affects others, it matters.

What about foreign words?  Well, there are three choices:

  1. Say it right or do your best trying and continually try to improve towards the correct pronunciation each time you try)
  2. Make a word for it in your own language (like how the Americans changed ‘croissant’ to ‘crescent roll’)
  3. Shut your pie-hole

Number three is hard if you need to talk about the subject, and number two makes you look culturally arrogant. Option number 1 is the best way to win friends and influence people – say it right or die trying.

Let’s run the scenario with a name.  Let’s choose a Korean name like Eun Kyung Shin.

With option 3 (above) you will have to forever avoid talking about poor Ms. Shin.  You’ll have to use words like ‘you’ and ‘her’ and ‘your friend’ and ‘your wife’.  Eventually she will figure out you don’t know or can’t say the name and this will usually happen down the road and make for a more difficult recovery.

With option 2, after she says, “My name is Eun Kyung Shin” you say ‘So what’s your English name?  Annie?”  Enough said.

With option 1 you will embarrass the snot out of yourself trying to learn the name, but a breakthrough will eventually come and that person will love you for trying and finally getting it right.

So how is this related to Ubuntu?


It’s an African word.

It matters.

Stop saying it incorrectly and demonstrating your ignorance.

Quit saying “That’s how we say it down here.” and showcasing your arrogance.

Learn it.  It’s super easy.  It’s easier than the version you are working so hard to defend.  They are long vowel sounds that a baby can slobber.  It’s all the same long u sound as in ‘cartoon’ or ‘soon’ or ‘He mooned me’.




So if you ended up at this post, don’t be offended.  Just learn it.  Thank the person who sent you here to get schooled.

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7 thoughts on “How do you pronounce the word Ubuntu?

  1. Love the pic.

    I first learned the word Ubuntu when I was getting ready for some work in Rwanda. It was a word we had to use many times because of what we were researching (human rights, gender violence). I can tell you this: if we said the word wrong (and other words as well), we would have absolutely no credibility, and would appear as arrogant imperialists.

    There is this double standard — when “foreigners” say certain English words wrong or simply have an accent, some people would quickly get on “their” case, make fun of them, or call them ignorant. But somehow these same people don’t seem to have a problem saying the words from other languages wrong. They almost seem proud of it. It’s like “this is how we bastarize it down here” and we don’t care. Instead of feeling embarrassed by their ignorance and wanting to correct their mistakes, some actually feel superior in thinking that they can twist things in however way they want. Or they would rather make a “bun” out of themselves. 😉

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