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11:11am on Monday, 27th August, 2007:

How to Pronounce HiPiHi


At State of Play V, I went to a talk given by iDA, the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore. I got there early, and spoke with some of the other people there. One of them was Hui Xu, founder and CEO of HiPiHi, who was there with his translator, Zafka Zhang. Of the many interesting and penetrative questions I could have gone with, I took the opportunity to ask the one thing that anyone who has read about HiPiHi wants to know: how do you pronounce its name?

Zafka was quite excited that I'd asked this, as actually there was some serious thought involved in choosing the name "HiPiHi". He explained that the fact that there are three is is auspicious in China, because three is a "good number" (the word for "three" sān, sounds vaguely like the word for "living/growing", shēng). Taken as three parallel lines, they are associated with creation; I guess that would be because three unbroken parallel lines in the I Ching have that meaning. He also said that the three is looked like the Chinese character for "society", but I don't know where that comes from — it looks more like the one for river to me.

As for the letters in between, they're tied to the is. The pair pihi has connotations of an innocent or perfect child (sadly, too informal for my Anglo-Chinese dictionary). The hipi pair sounds a bit like the English word "happy" to Chinese ears.

OK, so that's all very interesting, but #1 on the FAQ is not "what does the name mean?" but "how do you pronounce it?".

Zafka's reply was, "Oh, some people say hypie-high, some people say hippy-high, some say high-pie-high... Say it how you like.".

Sure enough, over the course of the conference both he and Hui Xu pronounced it all three ways with merry abandon, as did everyone else. High-pee-high was another popular version.

I thought it a bit strange that they'd go into so much depth about the symbology of the word, but not care how it's pronounced. I suppose if you're aiming for world domination, the key point is that it's pronounceable in other languages at all, not the exact way the locals choose to pronounce it.

I'm going to go with "hippy-high", because hippies get high. Hey, if we British are going to be influenced by Chinese cultural values, we may as well add a dash of American cultural values to the mix to confuse things a bit.

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Copyright © 2007 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).