Microsoft’s forthcoming digital music player, dubbed Zune, may make some Hebrew speakers gasp. The name for the device—which will take on the Apple iPod when released later this year—sounds like a vulgarity, specifically the “f” word, in Hebrew.
The tech industry continually creates goofy product names, exemplified by Yahoo and Google. But companies routinely hire branding consultancies to extensively research product names, including translations in other languages, says Steve Manning, managing director for Igor International in San Francisco, a branding agency. Nobody wants to make the mistake that Chevy did with its Nova automobile (No va, of course, made Spanish speakers think “no go.”)
Hebrew linguists are divided over Zune. Tsila Ratner, the head of Hebrew courses in the Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at University College London, says Zune is an unsuitable name for a product. However, Haggit Inbar-Littas, a 30-year veteran Hebrew teacher with the London Jewish Cultural Center, says while the name is “ridiculous” and close to the bad word, it’s unlikely to be mistaken.
Microsoft breaks the controversy down to pronunciation. “While we do acknowledge the similarity in pronunciation to Hebrew zi-yun, that is not the intended meaning of the name Zune,” according to a Microsoft statement. Bloggers have picked up on the difference—one humorously writing that if you say Zune to rhyme with iTunes, out pops the profanity.