June 11, 2018

We Asked a Linguist How to Pronounce ‘PUBG’

Is ‘PlayerUnkown’s Battlegrounds’ Pub-Gee? Pub-Guh? Pub-Gah? Pee-You-Bee-Ge

By now you must have heard about hit battle-royale shooter PlayerUnkown’s Battlegrounds, which has sold 7 million copies since it launched in early access back in March. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds has a tongue-twister of a name that is unnatural to say and a pain to type out. This has led its players to shorten it to a simple acronym: PUBG.

But the thing is, no one can agree on how PUBG should be pronounced, as witnessed in numerous forums around the internet.

While some players like to say Pub-Gee, where the G rhymes with “bee,” others prefer Pub-Guh, where the G makes an “uh” as in “gun.” A few even swear that it’s pronounced Pub-Gah, ending with an “ah!” sound. Less common are Poo-Bee-Gee and Pee-You-Bee-Gee.

Meanwhile, at the E3 2017 trade show, the game’s developer Brendan Greene avoided saying the name out loud as much as possible.

So, how exactly are you supposed to say PUBG?

According to linguist Robert Daland, an assistant professor with UCLA’s Department of Linguistics, there is a perfectly good reason why no one can figure out this phonetic freak of nature. The trouble stems from the final two letters in the PUBG acronym.

“No English words can end with a B sound followed by a G sound,” he told me in a phone interview.

Unlike acronyms that have passed seamlessly into English vocabulary, like SCUBA (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) or LASER, (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation), PUBG was not designed to be pronounceable. It falls in a category of emergent acronymization, along with other internet shorthand, such as LOL and OMFG.

At this point, a native speaker has to make a decision: What to do with that G?

One approach is to break the acronym down into familiar sounds, giving them the word “pub” with a leftover G. That’s Pub-Gee.

Equally valid is the technique of looking at the G, seeing what word it represents, and borrowing the sound from it. In this case, the G stands for “grounds,” which is pronounced like “Guh-round,” leaving us with Pub-Guh.

Well, that narrows it down. But adding to the headache is the fact that PUBG is played all over the world.

“People from other countries might not be as conscious of how Americans pronounce the names of their letters,” said Daland. A French speaker, for instance, would see the G and say “Ja.”

Clearly, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds acronym is truly a product of the internet age. No matter what you say, you will be wrong somewhere.