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."