How to correctly pronounce “Ukulele” ??? My epic battle with Jake!

How to avoid sounding like a prat, a poseur, or a cultural appropriationist when pronouncing “ukulele.”

So I was all prepared to get into a fist fight with ukulele superstar Jake Shimabukuro. You see, I came across an online video and article with the headline:

Watch Jake Shimabukuro explain how to pronounce “ukulele.”

Oh, my.


–My dander was almost up.

–My goat was nearly gotten.

–My fly was was very close to off the handle.

Because I KNOW how to speak English, and, while the word is Hawaiian in origin, ukulele is now (also) an English word.

  • I'm not “mispronouncing” the word Germany when I don't pronounce it Deutschland. Because I'm not speaking German.
  • I'm not mispronouncing the Dutch artist when I say his name, Van Go, instead of making that icky kitten-with-a-hairball sound at the end. Because I'm not speaking Dutch.
  • And I’m not mispronouncing ukulele when I don’t pronounce it like Jake. Because I’m not speaking Hawaiian.

I am speaking English, and I am using the English words for the things that also exist in other languages.

Because, as the kids say–Duh–we have different words for the same things in different languages.

So that headline had me ready to fight.

After exercising and limbering up my clicking finger, I clicked to start the video.

And what a let down.

First of all, that's NOT what the video was about. Nine-tenths of it is Jake playing a song on the ukulele. Only the first tenth is him answering the question about how to pronounce the word.

And, damn his eyes, he doesn't come out swinging, a guy with a chip on his shoulder, shouting about cultural appropriation…

He very sweetly says something like, “Well, in Hawaii it's pronounced like this…”

And that, my friends, is the right answer.

When in Hawaii, or if you're Hawaiian, say it the way they do in Hawaii. If you're not, or you're not, you don't have to. In fact, you might avoid sounding pretentious, like a show-off in cheese shop ordering “how-da” instead of “goo-da” if you don't.

You can learn to “pronounce” the trickiest chords–E, Eb, and D–in video mini-course, “Defeat the E.” I’m in the underground bunker finishing up the videos right now, so the grand opening will be soon! More info here.

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