In English, "UFO" (Unidentified flying object) is generally pronounced with each letter being pronounced.

By contrast, I've read in my textbook that in Japanese, "UFO" is pronounced "ユーフォー".

Is there any particular reason for the difference in pronunciation, such as one of the letters being hard to pronounce as a letter? Or is it relatively common for things that are pronounced letter by letter in English to be pronounced as if it were a word in Japanese?

  • 3
    – user4032
    Sep 3, 2014 at 15:30
  • 1
    This is not only the case in Japanese. It happens to be pronounced simply as ufo in Dutch as well, not U.F.O.
    – magissa
    Sep 3, 2014 at 16:22
  • I wanted to add this: And NASA is pronounced Nasa, not N.A.S.A.
    – magissa
    Sep 3, 2014 at 16:38

1 Answer 1


It was probably borrowed from English pronunciation:

                          American English    British English
  Letter pronunciation    /ˌjuː ef ˈoʊ/       /ˌjuː ef ˈəʊ/
  Word pronunciation      /ˈjuːfoʊ/           /ˈjuːfəʊ/

On the top, we have the pronunciation in IPA of the three letters UFO, one after the other. Where does the bottom pronunciation come from? Well, according to Wikipedia, this was actually the way it was originally pronounced!

The acronym "UFO" was coined by Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, who headed Project Blue Book, then the USAF's official investigation of UFOs. He wrote, "Obviously the term 'flying saucer' is misleading when applied to objects of every conceivable shape and performance. For this reason the military prefers the more general, if less colorful, name: unidentified flying objects. UFO (pronounced Yoo-foe) for short." (emphasis added)

So presumably it was borrowed from English as-is.

You can see this pronunciation for yourself in the Oxford English Dictionary, or in many freely available online dictionaries, including the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary and Collins Dictionary.

  • Hate to challenge an expert, but are you sure? I do not remember ever hearing ユーフォー before Pink Lady's 'UFO' came out in 1977 and sold over 1.5 million copies. Before that we had been using the long word 空飛ぶ円盤.
    – user4032
    Sep 4, 2014 at 1:29
  • 4
    The earliest cite in 日本国語大辞典 for ユーフォー is around that time (two years earlier in 1975). I don't think that timeline contradicts anything since the shorter pronunciation was (and is) still used in English. It's certainly plausible that the song you mention popularized the borrowing, but again I don't see what that would contradict. Anyway, I don't claim to be an expert—I'm just trying to do my best with what resources I have available.
    – user1478
    Sep 4, 2014 at 3:31

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