Cheops is the well-known name of the Egyptian Pharaoh whose tomb is the Great Pyramid at Gizeh. This is actually the Greek form of the name, and in modern times he has had his name ‘re-egyptianized’, if I may coin such a word, as Khufu. The pronunciation of the Greek version, in English as given by every one of the standard pronouncing dictionaries, is ‘key-ops’, as in “most important operations”.
Cheops is now the name of a satellite sent up today by the European Space Agency (ESA), from French Guiana, to study exoplanets. Every commentator I have heard mention the name so far has used the pronunciation ‘kay-ops’. Why? This is the French pronunciation. Does that mean that the ESA is now using French rather than English? Even so, why should English speakers use a French pronunciation instead of the one that has been familiar to English speakers for probably two hundred years? When I first heard it this morning, I thought the spelling must be something else, perhaps ‘kayops’, an acronym for some obscure project, and it was only when I saw the name written down that I realised what was meant (it does stand for some obscurely named project, obviously made up to fit the name “Cheops”).
I wonder if the BBC’s Pronunciation Unit has sanctioned the use of the French pronunciation, or whether BBC News has gone ahead with this ludicrous version without consulting them (which in my experience would be par for the course).


  1. That’s in term with the trend to use “European” vowels for anything suspected to be foreign, starting with using the New Pronunciation of Latin for words and expression long adopted in English.

  2. This morning I heard BBC news presenter Sally Bundock on The Briefing pronounce it as [‘tʃiːɒps].

  3. I doubt whether anybody, in Britain at least, is completely consistent in their pronunciation of Latin-origin words. Most people, I suspect, say ‘dayta’ for data, but ‘straata’ for strata, for example. (I’m using a modified English spelling rather than IPA because on at least two occasions, the coding for ‘strange’ symbols has gone haywire after a time, and I can’t spend all my time going back over all my posts re-coding, but if I don’t, they become incomprehensible.)

  4. My Egyptian college professor pronunced it “coyps.”

  5. Keri –
    When you say “Egyptian”, do you mean that your professor was Egyptian by nationality, or that the college was in Egypt? The phrase structure of your sentence is ambiguous I find this a very strange pronunciation, and wonder how your professor arrived at it.

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