Bad transliterations

I’ve tried a couple of times to start reading William Gibson’s novel Idoru, but I keep getting too distracted and annoyed by the title to focus on the book.

Apparently the title is supposed to represent the Japanese version of the English word idol. But the Japanese word that Gibson intended to refer to, the one that’s pronounced similar to idol, is written as アイドル, which is normally transliterated as aidoru. More specifically, those characters are transliterated as a, i, do, and ru. This isn’t a matter of different people making different but equally good choices of how to transliterate; if you’re transliterating that word, there’s no good reason to leave out the initial a.

And that second character, イ (transliterated as i), is pronounced /i/, more or less rhyming with the English word bee. So if a Japanese word were transliterated as idoru, it would be pronounced /idoru/, with an ee sound at the beginning.

So every time I read the word idoru in Gibson’s title, I pronounce it to myself with an ee sound at the beginning of the word, and then have to remind myself that that’s not how Gibson meant it to be pronounced, and then I get annoyed with Gibson again, and then I get distracted and can’t focus on the book.

So if you’re going to use a transliteration of a non-English word as your title, please use the correct transliteration (if there is one).

(I gather that Gibson and/or the publishers made the argument that non-Japanese speakers would see idoru and pronounce it correctly. But I can think of several obvious ways that English speakers might pronounce idoru that don’t sound anything like idol, so I feel like that wasn’t a good argument. Also, the book apparently features AIs, so I feel like spelling it aidoru would have been kind of clever.)

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