There are many such words in a fiction literature, including Jabberwocky, Cthulhu, Kilrathi, and many others. Of course, the authors intended to make these words appear most uncommon to an English reader, and it must have been a deliberate attempt to make the pronunciation unclear.

Being an English learner, I, most likely, have read those books translated to my language, so it is very possible that my pronunciation is somewhat spoiled (even if my language uses Latin alphabet).

An obvious way is googling for each individual word to see how it is suggested to pronounce each one. However, this is not the case if you are involved in a spoken discussion. You simply have no possibility to search.

So, is there any simple, mnemonic rule how to pronounce an arbitrary artificially created word?

Update: I see close-votes on this question, so I have to explain myself.
Not knowing how to pronounce a word may lead you to an embarrassing situation.
Actually, a comic below illustrates very well what happens if you pronounce R'lyeh wrongly:

R'lyeh mispronounced
image from here

  • 3
    Sure: If it doesn't look like English, guess. ... Really, same answer (mutatis mutandis) as I gave here; a rule would take all the fun out of it. :-) Commented Feb 16, 2013 at 20:06
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    By the way, as a polyglot you would probably enjoy this. Commented Feb 16, 2013 at 20:38
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    Umm... Correct me if I'm wrong, but surely the whole point of that "joke" is that people don't know how to pronounce that made-up word? We're not laughing with the girls at some poor shmuck who doesn't know what they think they know - we're laughing at them for supposing they know the right pronunciation of the word in the first place! Commented Feb 16, 2013 at 21:31
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    @FumbleFingers You're exactly right, of course, that there are no rules to pronounce fictitious words. I wonder, though, if the fact that the answer to the question "Are there rules" is "No" makes the question Not Constructive? If others come along with this same question, and see this question along with the answer "No, there really aren't any rules for pronouncing fictitious words" ...etc, well, they got their question answered, right? Even though the answer is no. (Honestly wondering your opinion-I'm not sure how to handle such questions on ELL. Perhaps a topic for meta.)
    – WendiKidd
    Commented Feb 16, 2013 at 21:46
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    It's not a mnemonic, but the sometimes the easiest thing to do is wait for the movie ;^)
    – J.R.
    Commented Feb 16, 2013 at 23:00

1 Answer 1


Unfortunately, the answer is no. There are no such rules.

However, there are tendencies. Words tend to be pronounced like other words they look similar to. For example, if I wrote the following words, I would expect them all to rhyme with piffle:

  • Liffle
  • Griffle
  • Shiffle
  • Miffle
  • Tiffle

However, if I wrote the following words, it'd be ambiguous because there are similar-looking English words with differing pronunciations (bough, though, through, rough, you):

  • Fough
  • Yough
  • Sough
  • Mough
  • Wough

The pronunciation isn't well-specified in the first set of words or the second, but with the first, I can tell how they're probably pronounced. With the second set, I can imagine any number of pronunciations.

Your example, "Cthulhu Fhtagn", fits into a third category. It doesn't resemble any English words! The only reason I know how to pronounce "Cthulhu" is that I've heard it pronounced. "Fhtagn", on the other hand, I've never heard, so I have no idea. When you can't guess a pronunciation, you have to ask the creator of the word how they intended to pronounce it, or (if the word has become widespread) ask someone who's heard it how they pronounce it.

For another example, look at Tolkien's made-up words and names. How would you pronounce Cirdan? If you didn't know what Tolkien intended, there'd be a number of plausible pronunciations.

But take heart. If you pronounce a made-up word incorrectly, you're in good company.

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    Tolkien, however, tells you how to pronounce the words of his languages. Commented Feb 16, 2013 at 23:17
  • Yeah, that would be the real answer: to know where the author drew his inspiration from. Tolkien was a linguist and was very precise about his languages. I seem to recall editions of the LOTR coming with pronunciation and definition guides (and if this was a real answer, I would look them up). Similarly, some authors are clearly going with a Celtic theme and for pronunciation you would want to look there. It's not clear where Lovecraft got his inspiration, though I wouldn't be surprised if someone has the precise answer to that and therefore the pronunciation key.
    – JamieB
    Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 20:13

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