Skype And The Rise Of a Phenomenon We Can’t Pronounce Properly
I recently noticed an interesting phenomenon: Not everyone agrees on how to pronounce Skype, the Internet telephony service. An American friend calls it ‘Skypy’, a Belgian acquaintance calls it ‘Skypé’, and someone else calls it ‘Skypee’. I even noticed the excellent Skype Journal, when it talks about the video plug in for Skype, Vidpe, says it assumes ‘is the name of the product because it rhymes with Skype ‘. That would make it Skid-pee, would it not?
I always thought it was pronounced Skipe. And indeed, have gently mocked anyone who pronounces it otherwise, citing type, pipe, wipe, tripe, gripe, ripe, etc etc. I’ve called it Skipe in interviews with Skype execs. Hell, even my mother calls it Skipe. Still, I thought I should double check. And here, on Skype Frequently Asked Questions is the answer:
How do you pronounce the word Skype?
Skype rhymes with ripe and type.
So there you are. But that’s not the interesting bit. My theory from this is that the pronunciation thing is a reflection of the fact that Skype is a real break-out product. People who would not usually download products and figure out how to use them are doing so because of the immense savings, and it is this breadth of usage that contributes to the confusion over how to pronounce it.
Usually everyone knows what to call something because it spreads via the media — TV, radio, newspapers — so people are likely to hear the name before they start adopting it. Here people heard about Skype from friends, long before they heard about it from more formal channels, and started using it right then and there. On Factiva Skype got 35 mentions in September 2003 (compared with 529 for Wi-Fi in the same month) and yet the next month, the month of its launch, had been downloaded 90,000 times. Coverage in the mainstream media did not begin to rise until March 2004, by which time it had been downloaded 4 million times. Coverage was still spotty until the last quarter of 2004, reaching a peak of 200 mentions a month by which time it had been downloaded 20 million times. (Compare that coverage to blogging, which was getting more than 2,000 mentions a month by late 2004.) Skype, like ICQ and SMS before it, was hitting the big time because of word-of-mouth, not word-of-media. At least, not the traditional sort.
Skype is officially a revolution because we’re using it before we even know what to call it.