The Grammarphobia Blog

Windows update

Q: My friends often laugh when I say the word “windows,” for I pronounce it WIN-diz (as if it rhymed with “whiz”). I grew up in and around NYC. So the question is, where did I get that pronunciation?

A: The standard US pronunciation of “window” is WIN-doh, according to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.) and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.).

The plural “windows” would be pronounced WIN-doze. We can’t find any standard dictionary in the US or the UK that mentions WIN-diz as a variant pronunciation of “windows.”

But pronunciation isn’t mathematics. Just about everybody varies a bit in pronouncing some word or other.

That’s why it’s taken programmers so long to develop decent speech-recognition software. And even the best programs still screw up once in a while.

Interestingly, American Heritage has an entry for “winder” (pronounced WIN-dur) as an upper Southern US variant of “window.” The plural would be pronounced WIN-durz, somewhat similar to your WIN-diz.

AH also mentions “winder” in a regional usage note accompanying its entry for “holler” used as a variant of “hollow.”

One feature of upper Southern US English, especially Appalachian English, the dictionary says, is the “pronunciation of the final unstressed syllable in words such as hollow, window, and potato” as “ur.”

Holler, winder, and tater are merely variant pronunciations reflected in spelling,” AH adds. “As a noun, holler has the specific meaning in the Appalachians of ‘a small valley between mountains’: They live up in the holler underneath Big Bald Mountain.

The Dictionary of American Regional English says the WIN-dur pronunciation has also been heard in the Northeast, and it cites “sporadic instances” in western New York. We’ve also read of it in Rhode Island and southern coastal Massachusetts.

That’s getting close, but we don’t recall hearing “windows” pronounced as WIN-diz in the New York metropolitan area. (We recently discussed the New York accent on our blog.)

However, we’ve often seen “Windows” spelled “Windiz” in references (usually critical) to Microsoft’s operating systems.

WindizUpdate, for instance, is an alternative, Web-based software update service for Windows. And another program, WinDiz, lets you browse zip-file archives.

The word “window,” by the way has an interesting history. Here’s an etymology note from American Heritage (we’ll break it up into paragraphs for readability):

“The source of our word window is a vivid metaphor. Window comes to us from the Scandinavian invaders and settlers of England in the early Middle Ages.

“Although we have no record of the exact word they gave us, it was related to Old Norse vindauga, ‘window,’ a compound made up of vindr, ‘wind,’ and auga, ‘eye,’ reflecting the fact that at one time windows contained no glass.

“The metaphor ‘wind eye’ is of a type beloved by Norse and Old English poets and is called a kenning; other examples include oar-steed for ‘ship’ and whale-road for ‘sea.’

“Recently we have restored to the 800-year-old word window a touch of its poetic heritage, using it figuratively in such phrases as launch window, weather window, and window of opportunity or vulnerability.

(Speaking of metaphors, expressions like those remind us of an old proverb: “The eyes are the windows of the soul.”)

Sorry we can’t be more definitive about the source of your pronunciation of “windows,” but we hope you find this effort to answer you eye-opening.

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