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Microsoft Drops the Hebrew F-Bomb

20th October 2006

It appears that Microsoft has committed a marketing faux pas with the name of their iPod competitor Zune — at least for Hebrew speakers. An ITWorld news article, “Microsoft Zune: Doesn’t sound sweet to everyone,” reports that the word “Zune” sounds like the modern Hebrew word for “f*ck.”

The word in question is זִיֵּן, ziyyen, which originally meant something like “to arm,” while the related noun is זַיִן, zayin, “weapon.” In Hebrew slang this word became used to refer to intercourse, i.e., “to slip someone your weapon,” with “weapon” being slang for penis. The nominal related to the verb which in vulgar Hebrew is equivalent to the F-word is זִיּוּן, ziyyun.
Here is an excerpt from the article:

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.

I’m not so sure that the words really sound much alike, though I am not a native Hebrew speaker. I would be curious what my readers who do speak modern Hebrew think.

(HT Matthew Barker)


One Response to “Microsoft Drops the Hebrew F-Bomb”

  1. Kevin P. Edgecomb Says:

    ziyyun is the nominal form. The -iyy- is almost completely elided, so it sounds more like zyun.

    Now I’m going to wash my fingers.