How Do You Pronounce This Blog’s Name, Anyway?

OED JuntoBack in 2012, when the initial ideas for this blog were first being thrown around, I suggested the name The Junto. I did so, not least because working at the Franklin Papers tends to keep Franklin on the brain. But I also suggested the name because the blog seemed to me to be analogous to the original group in that it was started by a bunch of upstarts with the intent of creating intellectual discourse amongst a supportive and engaged community. And those were the two most important initial goals of the blog. At the time, I never anticipated that there would ever be any confusion as to how to pronounce the name. That may have been a good thing since I probably would not have suggested it otherwise (“pronouncability” being pretty important when it comes to naming things, apparently). So, you might ask: “What is the correct pronunciation?” Well, that’s the thing. There doesn’t seem to be one, at least not nowadays. So, in a hopeful effort to settle the question, I decided to try to find out how people in the eighteenth century pronounced “Junto.”

The confusion over the name became apparent pretty quickly when other people began mentioning the blog to me. Some were so uncertain that, rather than risk mispronouncing it, they would either ask what the correct pronunciation was or just call it simply, “the blog.” When Ken Owen was introduced by Jeff Pasley at the 2014 OAH panel on academic blogging, Pasley said, “He is one of the contributors and the host of the podcast for what I’m told is pronounced ‘the Junto’ blog.” We even spoofed the pronunciation ambiguity in our JuntoX video this past April Fools’ Day, culminating in a frustrated Ken Owen throwing over an American Revolution board game (NB: must-watch stuff).

Let me say from the start that I have always pronounced the word: \‘hʊntoʊ\ (click on IPA spellings to hear the pronunciations and here for a chart of IPA sounds). But many people also pronounce the “j” sound: \’dʒʌn toʊ\. The “u” also presents ambiguity, as you can see from the two differing short-vowel pronunciations, which are also mixed-and-matched with the two pronunciations of “j,” but a third alternative is to pronounce it as a long vowel (\u\). Together, that makes six possibly accepted pronunciations.

Let’s begin by looking at the definition and origins of the word in English. The OED defines “junto” as a “body of men who have joined or combined for a common purpose, especially of a political character; a self-elected committee or council; a clique, faction, or cabal; a club or coterie.” Furthermore, it notes that “in English History the term has been chiefly applied to the Cabinet Council of Charles I, to the Independent and Presbyterian factions of the same period, to the Rump Parliament under Cromwell, and to the combination of prominent Whigs in the reigns of William III and Anne.” Not especially popular groups, by any measure.

The first appearances of the word in English come from two 1641 works discussing the nature of episcopacy by Robert Greville and Henry Parker. The word continues to be used through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, slowly dropping the negative connotations it held during the Civil Wars and their aftermath. By the eighteenth century, though it was still used negatively, “junto” increasingly came to refer primarily and more generally to closed groups or private voluntary associations. The most famous example coming from 1727 when Benjamin Franklin “form’d most of my ingenious acquaintance into a club of mutual improvement, which we called the Junto.

Unfortunately, many eighteenth-century dictionaries did not include in-depth phonetic spellings. However, they did often include a reference to the word’s origins, and we can use that to speculate as to how the word was being pronounced. For example, the Spanish pronunciation favored the “h” rather than “j” sound, while the Italian pronunciation, from their word giunto, favored the latter.

The Dictionarium Britannicum, or a more compleat universal etymological English dictionary than any extant  (1730) includes no phonetics but cites the word as being of Spanish origin: Bailey, Dictionarium Britannicum (1730) [from Span]

Fast forward two-and-a-half decades to the second edition of Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language (1755) and we find:

Junto in Johnson's Dictionary, 2e (1755)

In 1775, John Ash’s The new and complete dictionary of the English language also referred to the word’s Italian origins (and presumably hard “j” sound):

Ash, The new and complete dictionary of the English language (1775)

I do not claim to have done an exhaustive search through eighteenth-century dictionaries (this is a blog post, after all). But one might speculate (in the absence of serious further research) that as time went on the “j” sound became more common. Either way, there appears to have been multiple pronunciations in the eighteenth century as well, and this is not even taking into account the “great vowel shift” that occurred in spoken English, which was at its height in the eighteenth century.[2]

However, there is one other option. If you notice from the first dictionary graphic from 1630 as well as the graphic of the first use by Robert Greville in 1641, the word is spelled with a “c.” That is because the word’s true origins come from the Latin word iungere, meaning “to join.”[1] The past participle, iūnctus, or “having been joined,” was also used as an adjective and in the dative and ablative forms was iūnctō, or “by/for having been joined.” In classical Latin “i” is pronounced as a consonant “y” and the “iu” diphthong was pronounced as \yoo\. And, in ecclesiastical Latin, the “j” was also pronounced as a “y.” This presents us with a third option for the pronunciation of the “j,” i.e., \’yʊntoʊ\ (voiced by Joe Adelman in the video above at 0:23).

If I had to hazard my own entirely speculative guess, I would suggest that men who were aware of the word’s Latin origins, and familiar with the language, may very well have pronounced the “j” as a “y.” One might also suggest that the kind of aspiring eighteenth-century artisans who would start such a club (and who likely had at least some minimal exposure to Latin) would be more inclined to mimic what would likely have been perceived as the more “learned,” Latin-derived pronunciation. In that case, I would hazard a guess that Franklin and company pronounced the word most similarly to Joe’s pronunciation: \’yʊntoʊ\.

Now, you could point out that the previous paragraph includes a half-dozen qualifiers and more than three conditional verbs. But that is the point! Considering the above, my advice to readers is this: Pronounce it any way you want! There is no single, “correct” pronunciation of the blog’s name . . . not now, and not in the eighteenth century.[3]


[1] If I were Roy Rogers, I would use this footnote to go into a long biographical disquisition about how, for once, my taking Latin as an undergrad finally paid off. Or I might tell the story of how I only decided to study Latin after reading an interview with Ed Morgan as a community-college freshman, in which he said studying Latin had greatly contributed to his writing style. But I’m not Roy Rogers, so I won’t.

[2] The great vowel shift would have had an impact mostly on the pronunciation of the “u.” In 1400, the “u” was pronounced \ʌ\ (as in “huh”) but by the mid-eighteenth century that “shifted” to \ʊ\ (as in “put”).

[3] The moral of the story being: it’s simply just not worth destroying a perfectly fine board game over.

3 responses

  1. Michael,

    Thank you so much for this article. I was inspired by BF’s Junto to start my own peer networking group, and have been conflicted over the pronunciation. The great thing is that your research & writing goes a long way in not only answering the question, but also providing a bit of a metaphore of what I think our group can embody: the idea that there is no “right” answer. It’s about the free exchange of ideas and enjoying the intellectual soup of each other’s company. So, thank your for the time you put in. I got a lot out of your piece above.



  2. That IS an interesting article, but I think the author errs.

    England in the 18th century was a place where Don Quixote was pronounced Don Quicks-Oat, Don Juan was pronounced Don Jew-an, and the French king Louis was called King Lewis, not King Louie.

    In his 1738 almanac, Franklin writes “Write with the learned, pronounce with the vulgar.” The name “Junto” was first used in a joking manner by the members of what was originally the “Leather Apron Club” and only later adopted in earnest. Not all of its members were Latin scholars, or knew much Italian or Spanish.

    So, though I like the sound of Yoon-to better, I’d bet a little money that the members of that club pronounced it Jun-toe.


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