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Betelgeuse is a red giant (some say supergiant) star in the constellation Orion. You can easily spot it on a clear night: it's at a straight angle to Orion's Belt, and it's reddish (more so than Mars). It's pretty impressive. I recommend you find it and point it out to your friends. People really should look up at the sky now and then.

That said, I thought you were supposed to pronounce it as Beatle Jews.

Now it turns out there's this kitsch-y comedy from the Year of Our Lord's Grace 1988, titled "Beetlejuice," in which there's a character (a ghost, I think, I didn't see the whole movie) from Betelgeuse whose name is Beetle Juice. Either it's a tacky joke of some sort, or I'm missing something here. I'm not a movie buff.

What am I missing? What's the joke?

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    According to at least one dictionary, it is normal to pronounce Betelgeuse exactly the same as "beetle juice". – Dan Getz Dec 5 '15 at 2:19
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    In school, I was taught to pronounce it phonetically as "batelgize" (long "a"; long "i"). – Carol Sep 8 '17 at 2:36
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I think the joke is that Betelgeuse is an unfamiliar name, and therefore sounds made-up and nonsensical. It adds to the absurd humor of the film when a viewer discovers that Beetlejuice is a variation of a real word.

Incidentally, Betelgeuse is due to go supernova soon, at least in the cosmic sense of "soon." It could happen many thousands of years from now, or it could happen tomorrow. (Or to be more precise, the light from its explosion hundreds of years ago could reach us tomorrow.) When we do see it explode, it's predicted to be as bright as the full moon. As a fan of Beetlejuice, it amuses me to look at Betelgeuse and say its name three times, hoping it'll explode just then.

  • Thank you. It has been due to go supernova for a few thousand years now from our point of view, and for all we know may have already exploded. Looks a bit too ominous to my taste, I'll tell you that. I favor planets over stars. I once saw Mercury at dawn. This was on Montmartre in Paris; the damn thing made me so happy I spent the rest of the day drunk. I admire your enthusiasm. People could benefit a lot from looking up at the sky occasionally. – Ricky Dec 5 '15 at 4:09
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The type of joke is called cacography - the deliberate misspelling of a word.

In this case you end up with two "new" words that seemingly make sense.

Just say beatle jews and beetle juice aloud and not overly pronounced. They should sound largely the same.

Whether you find that funny or not is largely a matter of taste. (And as with so many jokes, it loses a lot of "funnyness" if explained.)

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It's more of a homonym, no? It's not a misspelling, since there really is a thing in the sky with that name/spelling. Beetle Juice is a funny movie which had attained a cult-ish status with Alec Baldwin, Micheal Keaton, Geena Davis, and the lovey Winona Ryder. The main character's name, the goulish one, played by Michael Keaton, is spelled the same way as your beloved red giant. I don't think he actually comes from the red giant, that would appear to be the common thread...

What is the joke you are referring to?

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    "What is the joke you are referring to?" That's what I've been wondering. – Ricky Dec 5 '15 at 0:48
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I recall when the movie came out that it was originally to be "Betelgeuse" but was changed. Today Wikipedia shows

The character of Betelgeuse — envisioned by McDowell as a winged demon who takes on the form of a short Middle Eastern man — is also intent on killing the Deetzes

Wikipedia also notes

Betelgeuse (/ˈbiːtəldʒuːz/, /ˈbɛtəldʒuːz/, /ˈbiːtəldʒɜrz/[1] or /ˈbiːtəldʒuːs/[2]), also known by its Bayer designation Alpha Orionis …

So "jews" is the first listed, and "juice" is the last. The last is also the funniest.

For a "real" pronunciation, you need to ask someone who speaks Arabic as it sounded in medeval times, and have a native english (only) speaker try and repeat it.

But the word comes to us via the French Bételguse so "jews" is right (sort of: no /d/ before the /ʒ/, and it's "beta" not "beet a". Repeating what Google says in French as an American speaking English, "betel-" rhymes with "petal". But it does lean towards an (english) "long e" and may be heard as such.

Try it yourself using Google Translate, asking for the French. That will vary far less than English interpretations, and will always sound knowledgeable and not silly. Especially true since astronomers are an international multi-language crowd.

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    The French pronunciation and the Arabic pronunciation are not the proper model for the English pronunciation, any more than for other words that have come from Arabic through French like zero, azimuth, cipher. – sumelic Dec 5 '15 at 16:28
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I learned the stars in Orion's belt from my Grandfather before the movie came out. When he taught the stars name to me he used Bet-el-gus with a hard "g" to pronounce it. Although, he did say others pronounced the name Beetle-Juice. I always thought there were two accepted pronunciations. This was before the movie Beetlejuice came out. I did think of my grandfather when the movie came out, making the connection of movie title to star name. I say the movie name is coincidence to the star. Also, it seems to pronunciation difference is just preference for people.

  • It's no coincidence: the character was named Betelgeuse after the star and was midle-eastern in the original script. – JDługosz Dec 5 '15 at 12:22

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