The Correct Pronunciation of ‘Genome’

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The Correct Pronunciation of ‘Genome’

“When I was studying in the U.S.A., I was once extremely embarrassed because of my incorrect pronunciation of the word ‘genome.’” Bio-chemist Lee In-gun recalls his wrong pronunication of the bio-chemical term ‘genome’ now that it has become part of the common vocabulary. “Since that episode, I have asked the Korean press to correct its habitual mispronunication of genome, but it’s taken a long time. When a series of Bio-industry reports were printed in JoongAng Ilbo, beginning on May 15, Koreans began pronouncing the word correctly for the first time.” The problem was that the press was pronouncing genome with a ‘g’ sound instead of a ‘j’ sound.

Pleased and relieved, scientists are insisting, however, that this error should have been pointed out much earlier.

Genome is a compound word made up of the prefix ‘gene’ and the suffix of ‘chromosome.’ The term genome was used for the first time in 1930 in Germany. Yet, since the U.S.A. has become the leader in international scientific research, the pronunication of genome will no longer change from its current pronunciation. German and Japanese scientists, who used to pronounce the word differently, are no longer adhering to their previous pronunciation. Now, the ‘norm’ is to pronounce genome ‘je-nom,’ not ‘gge-nom.’

Nonetheless, the domestic press has not seriously begun to use the correct pronunciation of the word. Their reasoning behind this is simple: “because we have used the Japanese or German pronunciation until now, we’ll just confuse people if we start using the other pronunciation.”

However, the press’ carelessness has already caused Koreans serious confusion. Recently, incorrect pronunciation of genome by Korean reporters caused serious misunderstandings with foreign reporters.

This mispronunciation can lead to more serious problems, especially for students studying biology related fields, or those who will become the leaders of Korean society. Once students become accustombed to listening to the wrong pronunciation and pronouncing the word accordingly, who will take responsibility for it?

Those against changing the Korean pronunciation of genome, say, “We know we’re saying it wrong but changing the pronuniciation which we are already comfortable with will just cause more confusion.” Better late than never, however. There are 360,000 genome-related sites on the Internet, and since we are becoming a bio-chemical as well as a technological world, the word genome is becoming part of our daily vocabulary. The correct use of scientific terms is necessary for the correct understanding of those terms. Words must be used and spoken properly, with no exceptions.

by Hong Hye-gul

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