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Volume 21 No. 6
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NBC struggles with correct pronunciation of Pyeongchang

How do you pronounce the 2018 Winter Olympics host city?

You’ll hear a variety of takes on “Pyeongchang,” and one place you didn’t hear a consistent answer was NBC’s programming on Nov. 1, when the network, its affiliates and cable platforms celebrated the 100 Days Out milestone.

That morning, “Today” show host Matt Lauer alternated between Pyeong-“chung” (rhymes with “rung”) and Pyeong-“chayng” (rhymes with “bang”) in a matter of seconds. Then during some banter at Rockefeller Plaza, Apolo Ohno said “chung” and Al Roker said “chayng.”

From his remote live spots from the city itself during the day, Mike Tirico used “chayng,” while “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt said “chung.”

Even “Today” host Matt Lauer (with Lindsey Vonn) was tripped up by the pronunciation.
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As it turns out, NBC’s official position is “chayng” (“bang”), according to Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Broadcasting and Sports. It was a relatively recent decision, he said, after some debate internally. “It’s cleaner,” he said.

This is something of a turnabout in Olympic circles. For more than a year, communications staff, executives and marketers deep in preparations have passed along word that the “a” in the second syllable should be ignored, contrary to American English speakers’ instincts, and replaced by an “o” or a “u” sound.

That’s in line with a popular YouTube pronunciation guide as well. An NBC spokesman declined to comment on a rumor that NBC only switched guidelines after attempts to train talent didn’t stick.

The International Olympic Committee and Korean organizers have already taken one liberty with the name of the city. The IOC routinely refers to the city as “PyeongChang,” even though the middle “c” is not traditionally capitalized, in order to better distinguish it from North Korean capital Pyongyang.