Oh no, it's ngmoco:)

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Apple previewed iPhone OS 3.0 earlier this week, and they conveniently posted a video of the event on their website. I was grateful to be able to watch the video, mostly because I wanted to hear how the folks at Apple pronounce the name of the iPhone-centric game designing firm ngmoco:).

The namers of ngmoco:) are setting the bar very high in the "weird Web 2.0 branding" department: it's all lower-case, with an emoticon tacked on at the end. And of course it starts with the consonant cluster ngm. If ng is supposed to represent the velar nasal [ŋ], then the cluster [ŋm] is something we'd only see in English medially in the word engma (one name for the velar nasal) or straddling a morphemic boundary as in hangman or ringmaster. Some languages might be able to handle initial [ŋm] — from a quick look, Wambaya in northern Australia appears to be one of them, and possibly some Inuit languages as well. (But not Vulcan, sadly.) In English, initial velar nasal is a no-no, let alone an initial cluster with another nasal, [m]. Even the syllabic velar nasal is a stumper for most Anglophones, as I discussed in my post on Maya Soetoro-Ng.

As you can hear at about 50 minutes into the video, the actual pronunciation as used by Apple's Scott Forstall and ngmoco:) CEO Neil Young is, more pedestrianly, [ɛn dʒi moʊ koʊ]. The name of the company, it turns out, is an acronym for Next Generation Mobile Company. When Young founded the company last year, some press accounts rendered the name as NGMoCo, which at least makes the acronymic origin (and pronunciation) a bit more transparent. But on the company's website you can see that they choose to render it as ngmoco:), with the ng and trailing emoticon in red and the moco in blue. You know, just to add another bizarre typographical convention into the mix.

Perhaps [ɛn dʒi] for ng- is an obvious pronunciation to the techie crowd, if those letters are now widely recognized as standing for next generation. (As opposed to, say, no good.) Acronym Finder reveals a number of similar abbreviations, like NGMA for Next Generation Micro-Architecture (Intel), NGMAN for Next Generation Metropolitan Area Network (UCSF), and NGMAST for Next Generation Mobile Applications, Services, and Technologies (an international conference). But of course in all of those cases, the NG is capitalized to indicate an initialism pronounced by letter names as [ɛn dʒi]. The creators of ngmoco:), on the other hand, are too cool for capitalization.

So the pronunciation mixes an initialistic component (N G) with an acronymic component (mo co). This type of letter/word pronunciation combo isn't unusual in the tech world: consider CD-ROM and JPEG, for starters. And just as NG/ng has gained recognition as a conventional shortening of next generation, the acronym moco is popping up with increasing frequency as an acronym for mobile company — as in mocoNews.net, a site covering the mobile industry. Nancy Friedman notes that the moco acronym has the unfortunate meaning of "mucus" in Spanish, which didn't stop Nissan from marketing a car named the Moco. And a few years ago, Microsoft waged a battle to take over the domain name mocosoft.com from a Spanish company with an odd sense of humor.

Regardless of cross-linguistic issues, the clipping of mobile company to moco is just the latest in a long line of syllabic acronymy that I discussed in my 2005 post "From Nabisco to NaNoWriMo." At the LSA meetings in January, I was pleased to see that Kyle Gorman and Laurel MacKenzie of the University of Pennsylvania had taken some of the ideas I had tentatively raised in that post (specifically about such forms as HoJo and SoHo) and worked up a genuine research project, as presented in their paper "'A Boho in SoHo': Emerging specificity in English templatic hypocoristics." You can see the PowerPoint of their presentation here (where the title has been expanded a bit to "A Po-Mo Boho in Soho"). So now we can add ngmoco:) and its fellow mocos to the ever-growing list of what Gorman and MacKenzie call "CoCo hypocoristics."

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28 Comments »

  1. Oskar said,

    March 20, 2009 @ 2:03 pm

    I would have to imagine that the most famous case of NG standing for Next Generation is ST:TNG, also known as Star Trek: The Next Generation.

    I have to say though, I'm pretty techy person. I follow all the tech news, I listen to the podasts, I read and comment on the tech blogs, but I did not connect NG with Next Generation at all. When I first saw it, I thought ngmoco;) was an African name or something (not unheard of in the tech world, I'm typing this on an Ubuntu computer as we speak). MoCo I've atleast heard about, but that didn't connect instantly either.

  2. Mark P said,

    March 20, 2009 @ 2:03 pm

    I think the ngmoco-type of naming is kind of like purple and green spiked hair replacing a Beatles mop to show that someone is really, truly different.

  3. Benjamin Zimmer said,

    March 20, 2009 @ 2:10 pm

    @Oskar: Thanks for the tip on the ST:TNG echo. I see that an earlier iteration of the company name was ng:moco:), with an extra colon thrown in for good measure, perhaps as some sort of evocation of the colon in ST:TNG.

  4. dr pepper said,

    March 20, 2009 @ 2:16 pm

    ngmoco:): Crashing parsers since 2009.

  5. Cameron said,

    March 20, 2009 @ 2:22 pm

    "moco" for "mobile company" of course directly mirrors the long-established term "telco".

  6. parkrrrr said,

    March 20, 2009 @ 3:10 pm

    How does one pronounce the common Vietnamese surname Nguyen? I, based on what I was once told by an acquaintance who had that surname, have always pronounced it as beginning with a velar nasal.

  7. Benjamin Zimmer said,

    March 20, 2009 @ 3:23 pm

    @parkrrr: Quoting Michael Farris from a 2002 thread on the Usenet newsgroup sci.lang (IPA de-ASCII-fied):

    It depends on where the speaker is from. Very generally, in the north [ŋwien] with the syllable peak being [i] and the tone will be high and tense and might even contain a glottal stop, something like [ŋwiʔen]. In the south, [ŋwiəŋ] or [ŋwiŋ] or even [wiŋ] might be heard and the tone starts lower doesn't go up as high and the glottal stricture is less.

    Western speakers typically omit the velar nasal (and the tones, of course) ending up with something like [wɪn] or [gwɪn]. Or else they try an ill-advised spelling pronunciation like [nə'guˌjɛn].

  8. Simon Cauchi said,

    March 20, 2009 @ 3:37 pm

    "In English, initial velar nasal is a no-no"
    Not in every variety of English it isn't. Here in New Zealand we're accustomed to seeing it in Maori words and names, e.g. Ngaio, Ngata, Ngati Toa, Ngai Tahu. Granted some Maori and Pakeha speakers pronounce an initial [n] instead of the velar nasal there. But just try saying Ngaio: it's quite easy really. The plural definite article in Maori is "nga", so the sound comes up pretty often.

  9. Benjamin Zimmer said,

    March 20, 2009 @ 3:39 pm

    @Simon Cauchi: Point taken. But the vast majority of English speakers would pronounce the first name of Ngaio Marsh as ['naɪoʊ].

  10. Yuval said,

    March 20, 2009 @ 4:00 pm

    This made me think of five-in-a-row.
    I wonder why…

  11. Bobbie said,

    March 20, 2009 @ 5:25 pm

    NG = NO GOOD?
    The defense company formerly called Blackwater recently changed its name to Xe. As if that will get rid of the bad press…. And we have a an internet company called @lantic.

  12. Rubrick said,

    March 20, 2009 @ 5:43 pm

    I wonder if we can expectany ngmoco:) MMORPGs.

  13. Laurel MacKenzie said,

    March 20, 2009 @ 8:40 pm

    Thanks for the shout-out! For the record, the title of the talk was originally going to be "A Po-Mo Boho in SoHo," but the LSA abstract submission form wouldn't allow a title that long, so "po-mo" had to get the ax. We snuck it back in for the actual presentation, though.

  14. Mark F. said,

    March 20, 2009 @ 8:41 pm

    One thing I have observed with Nguyen is that, whatever the original Vietnamese pronunciation was, the owner of the name may have chosen a different pronunciation to go by when speaking English. I have had people tell me they preferred "neeyen".

  15. Aaron Davies said,

    March 20, 2009 @ 8:57 pm

    i wonder if ntt docomo enters into this at all?

  16. ramcosca said,

    March 20, 2009 @ 10:38 pm

    Funny enough, moco means booger in Spanish. Just sayin'!

    Love your games! Keep it up!

  17. Ryan Denzer-King said,

    March 20, 2009 @ 11:30 pm

    Regarding a cluster, I'd be surprised if it weren't present in some Bantu languages. /kp/ and /gb/ are so common as coarticulated segments that it would seem strange to leave out /ngm/.

  18. Benjamin Zimmer said,

    March 21, 2009 @ 12:45 am

    @Ryan: Kevin Scannell has a web crawler to gather text corpora for minority languages, and he sends along a number of examples of /ngm-/ words in different languages. The Bantu representative is Ndebele — a Bible translation includes the words ngmiphotshongo and ngmlilo (an even more impressive cluster, if accurate).

    Other languages represented in Scannell's list include Dangme (ngma, ngmami, etc.) and Palauan (ngmekerang, ngmo, ngmai, etc.).

  19. Lazar said,

    March 21, 2009 @ 5:12 am

    And we can't forget Welsh mutated forms like "yng Nghymru". ;)

  20. Darryl McAdams said,

    March 21, 2009 @ 5:08 pm

    MoCo is most saliently, for me, "modern contemporary", as in the blog mocoloco.com, which covers modern contemporary art and design. I don't think I've ever noticed it used to mean "mobile company".

  21. Christian DiCanio said,

    March 22, 2009 @ 7:47 pm

    Do any of these companies realize that moco means 'mucus' in Spanish?

    It gives an entirely different meaning to mocosoft. Everyone wants to visit 'soft mucus dot com', right?

  22. Benjamin Zimmer said,

    March 22, 2009 @ 10:25 pm

    @Christian: Since mocosoft.com was set up by a Spanish company, I assume the domain name was intended as some sort of rudely subversive joke at Microsoft's expense. As for the Nissan Moco, I have no idea if they even marketed the car in Spanish-speaking areas — if so, perhaps they pulled a name-switch a la Pajero/Montero.

  23. outeast said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 6:09 am

    Ok, I get how 'ngmoco' should be pronounced now – but can we be said to have said the name at all if we don't smile at the end?

  24. dgraham said,

    March 24, 2009 @ 3:47 am

    Regarding Docomo, it's apparently* meant to be short for the typically Japanese phrase "do communications over the mobile network" while also being a play on "doko demo" ("anywhere" in Japanese). Although, to my foreigner ears it sounds more like "dokomo" which means "everywhere". Also, my Japanese isn't so good, so if someone can confirm the meanings of those words that would be helpful.

    *Current source being Wikipedia, but I'm positive I've seen that as an actual slogan on company flyers

  25. KCinDC said,

    March 24, 2009 @ 9:41 am

    In English, initial velar nasal is a no-no

    In this it sounds like the singer pronounces the treasury secretary's name as Ngeithner.

  26. Merri said,

    March 24, 2009 @ 11:45 am

    Ngman is a person name in Australia.
    http://www.wikieducator.org/User:Ngman-wara

    The problem of pronouncing initial NG is especially sharp in French, a language which lacks any initial NG (the only occurrences of any NG group being in English or pseudo-English words), because many person names in former French colonies begin with pre-nasalized G, usually spelled N'G and invariably pronounced "en#g", which is utterly wrong.

    Of course, this pre-nasalized G isn't a velarized nasal, but rather a "consonant diphthong". Nevertheless, for those who are unable to pronounce pre-nasalized consonants (that is, most of us), English NG would be less of a massacre.

  27. Quicksand said,

    March 25, 2009 @ 8:36 pm

    Ah, the ":)" is silent, as is the "O)))" in the band name "Sunn O)))" (which name is cribbed from an amplifier company's logo).

  28. ngblogger said,

    March 26, 2009 @ 4:17 am

    wlcme 2 th futr ;)

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