A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding
From: Frank Reed
Date: 2016 Jul 31, 13:00 -0700
Yikes. I'm repeating myself. I just came across something I wrote in a NavList message back in 2009:
because of the movie "Beetlejuice" and also the radio/tv/film versions of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", the pronunciation of Betelgeuse was relatively stable, sounding like "beetle juice", for a couple of decades. But some people consider that pronunciation embarassing so they insist on finding a more scholarly pronunciation. Others hope for a more international pronunciation. And still others try to get something that's closer to the original Arabic. None of these make much sense. I always advise people to pronounce star names in the fashion least likely to confuse their target audience. There is no "right" pronunciation. If you want more on star name etymologies, I recommend "A Dictionary of Modern Star Names" by Paul Kunitzsch and Tim Smart (2nd rev. ed., Sky Publishing, 2006). Kunitzsch seems to have made the only modern attempt to develop proper etymologies for the classical star names. Many people still treat an old book by R.H. Allen (originally published in 1899, and available online via Google Books, and re-published several times after) as the primary resource for star names and his version of the Betelgeuse etymology is frequently quoted, for example in the Wikipedia page, which is a bit of a mess. By that probably mistaken etymology, the name originally meant "The Giant's Armpit" but by the etymology offered by Kunitsch et al., it's "The Hand of the Central One". Of the modern star names derived from Arabic, most are simply descriptive phrases of the star's location within the constellation more or less directly translated from Ptolemy's catalogue, where the descriptive locations were given in Greek. For example, the delightful star name Zubenelgenubi for alpha Librae means nothing more than the "the Southern Claw" (the stars of Libra were previously seen as the claws of the scorpion). Because of this most Arabic star names are easy to "reverse engineer" and understand. Some Arabic star names, however, are derived from indigenous bedouin traditions and these are much harder to work out. That group includes Betelgeuse and Aldebaran and others.
Awfully close to what I wrote yesterday, but with some different emphasis and a few more details.