Q: With Burma in the news recently, the word “junta” has been showing up a lot. I’ve heard three different pronunciations from newscasters: the “j” is sometimes pronounced like a “j,” other times like a “y,” and still others like an “h.” Which would be considered the most correct?
A: The word “junta,” usually meaning a council of military rulers, can be pronounced all sorts of ways. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) gives three pronunciations, all of them standard:
(1) HUN-ta (the “u” pronounced as in “foot”);
(2) JUN-ta (the “u” pronounced as in “ugly”);
(3) HUN-ta (the “u” pronounced as in “ugly).
The word is derived from the Spanish junta (pronounced pretty much like No. 1), and ultimately from the Latin juncta (feminine past participle of jungere, to join).
The word has been in English since 1623, when it referred to a council in Spain or Italy, but it wasn’t used in the military sense until the early 19th century, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.
In the summer of 1808, the OED says, the term was used for the local councils established in different districts of Spain to conduct the war against Napoleon. Later in the year, a central junta was formed.
An alternative spelling, “junto,” has been in English since the mid-17th century. The OED describes it as an “erroneous form,” but Merriam-Webster’s simply defines it as “a group of persons joined for a common purpose.”
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