In defence of "Wii"

I'm really enjoying the worldwide outrage over Nintendo announcing that the official name of their new console, hitherto known only as the Nintendo Revolution, was to be "Wii". It reminds me of the way everyone reacted to Galileo the DS. I predict some grudging retractions and impatient demands that Nintendo hurry up and ship more Wii to the North American continent. (Or will the plural be "Wiis"?)

Yeah, yeah, I'll admit it, the puns with "wee" are easy, but I can't see that hurting it at all. Is "fear that a six-year-old might snicker at me" really that major a factor in people's purchasing decisions? Plus, there's the flipside: "whee!" Combined with "WOOO", I think it brings a healthy exuberance to consumer electronics.

Anyway, one "industry analyst who spoke in the condition of anonymity" in that story comes off sounding particularly silly:

"It's a sound that doesn't exist in Japanese, so Japanese people will struggle to pronounce it."

You know what other sound "doesn't exist in Japanese", by this person's implied standards*? The "D" in "DS". Didn't seem to matter much. Nor, I imagine, did the "D" issue have much effect on CD or DVD sales. There are plenty of people who can already or will quickly learn to pronounce "Wii", and in any case, it doesn't matter if Japanese speakers don't say "Wii" exactly the same way as English speakers, as long as each group can understand itself.

Consider the worst-case scenario: an old Japanese guy walks onto the gaming floor of an electronics shop immediately pre-granddaughter's birthday and says "Yeah, I want to buy a, uh... wai...? uii...?" Now, is the salesperson really going to have trouble figuring out if he means "Wii" or "PlayStation"?

(Incidentally, wi used to be a perfectly normal Japanese mora, and there are even kana for it: ゐ, ヰ. I know this isn't relevant to modern Japanese, but imagine if those characters became widely used in communities like 2ch when writing about the device. Nintendo would effectively own 2% of the non-kanji Japanese alphabet.)

Our intrepid analyst continues:

"Nintendo let the code name gain a little too much currency: people were used to it, and it was widely accepted as the console's name."
"Now they have a stupid-sounding manufactured name ... [a]nd they're going to try to use it to replace an evocative, well-accepted name that people have been using for well over a year. Bad, stupid move."

So, wait, they should have kept "Revolution"? But that <v> is a sound that "doesn't exist in Japanese"! So are the schwas, and that <r> and <l> are dicey at best.

It seems to me that this analyst just doesn't think "Wii" is as cool as "Revolution". That's a perfectly valid opinion. I disagree, and I think that Nintendo's "reach out to literally everybody. No, everybody" market strategy means that "cool" doesn't matter very much in any case, but I guess we'll have to wait a year or two to see who's right.

In the meantime, though, I won't suffer the abuse of linguistics to support his/her arguments.

* "Not used in standard Japanese circa 1945."

Popularity factor: 13


This article, by contrast, argues that they had to call it "Wii" because the Japanese can't pronounce "Revolution". (If one is going to make this kind of argument at all, I think "Revolution" has the stronger case - whether the Japanese pronunciation matches the English doesn't matter, but "Revolution" at least has the excuse of being an actual foreign word.)

Really, I think the biggest problem with Wii is the double-i, which is totally outside the conventions of English spelling. (I mean, I kind of like it personally, but that doesn't mean it's a good marketing decision.)


I think they're both stupid names, for completely different reasons having nothing to do with the phonotactics of Japanese. But then I'm so far from the intended market for the thing I'm on the other side of the galaxy, and there's a black hole in between into which entire star systems are being sucked.


Woah, that's freaky. Same title and mostly the same arguments.

Yeah, I agree, if you were going to make that argument at all, "Revolution" should be your target, but doing so would still betray a rather poor appreciation of just how easily Japanese assimilates foreign words, even ones that require a bit of phonemic mangling to fit.

The double-i is supposed to be two people, apparently, and they're using it in some of the promotional stuff already. I think actually putting it outside the conventions of English spelling isn't a bad idea-- they WANT it to stand out, after all. And starting with a double-i means that you can play with it and add even more for other reasons (just like the bottom of the Google search page).

LH: No, you're still part of the target market. The entire world is their target market! ... Just out of curiosity, if they let you name the system with aesthetics as the sole consideration, what would you call it?


The spelling certainly stands out, but I think it scores it extra "stupid made-up name" points with a lot of people. Plus, and perhaps more importantly, it's not obvious how you're expected to pronounce it. My feeling would be that generally, names that have to be followed with «Pronounced "..."» are a bad idea.

(Again, personally, taken on its own merits, I kind of like it. But I wasn't going to buy one anyway, and I don't think my taste is representative of the market. Going entirely by my own preference, I'd probably have called it the Nintendo Ŋəʔ, or something similarly unpronounceable.)


Tim: Then we'd have to write "The Console Formerly Known as Revolution," or TCFKAR for short.

Not having certain sounds in their language has never stopped Japanese from dragging words over kicking and screaming from other languages, now has it?

Mark S:

Clearly the marketing dept. found a name that tests well domestically and didn't think it was necessary to test overseas. Happens all the time. The most famous of these is the Fairlady/240Z legend.


Maybe I should have restricted it to characters in Ascii.. (and yeah, the general dislike of flagrantly artificial words is an issue)

Mark: I wonder, though. I mean, the people who have even heard of the "Nintendo Revolution" at this point are not the people Nintendo really wants to reach. As far as I can tell they're trying to go back to the days of the Famicom, before gaming got so ghettoized and nerdified. Maybe it tested really well among English speakers who don't follow gaming or tech news. Who knows?

My bet is that Nintendo didn't test it at all, though, and are just gambling everything on the idea that they can MAKE people like it, worldwide, if the actual product is cool enough.

Thanks for the 240Z/Fairlady tip, I hadn't heard that before.

another Mark S.:

The double-i is supposed to be two people, apparently, and they're using it in some of the promotional stuff already.

This seems to be OK in this case. But sometimes using letters to represent people can go very, very wrong. (Since we're in the age of Photoshop, I should perhaps add that this really is an official logo for a Taiwan government agency; this is not a fake.)

But to address the main topic. I came across the following explanation: Wii seems to be a primordial fusion -- East and West, America and Japan, English and Japanese, the discrete and the ideologic. "Wii sounds like 'we,' which emphasizes this console is for everyone;" first, we get the discrete English base. "Wii has a distinctive 'ii' spelling that symbolizes both the unique controllers and the image of people gathering to play." Aha! There it is! There is the Japanese ideology. Wii is not just a word, it is now Kanji, and that is the true brilliance of this "name." An English word being use like Japanese Kanji breaks down the barriers between languages, just as the system intends to break down the rigid thoughts of what we consider games. To put it more elegantly, Wii is a Kanji wearing an English costume.

And if you think that's got me riled, imagine my reaction to the previous paragraph, which begins, " Japanese is a very complex language. It uses a set of ideographs...." And it just gets worse, though I am curious about the story mentioned.


That logo... oh, dear me.

I haven't heard of that story either, but rest assured I'll dig it up.

Anyway, Mark, I don't know what's gotten you so riled up... it's clearly an ideograph combining the ideas of CLUB (w), HAND (i) and HAND (i), as any Roman alphabet user will instantly recognize -- nay, INTUIT! -- meaning that the console is so great that you'll want to clap your HANDS together (even if society and spelling rules don't allow it!) and CLUB anyone who disparages it.


Not sure why, but the logo made me think of Lambada, Dance of the Damned...???

(Yes, it's an odd mental world, but someone has to live here.)

I was very glad to learn that in English we use a syllabary, after all these years of believing it to be an alphabet.

The gods themselves....


amida:hen we'd have to write "The Console Formerly Known as Revolution," or TCFKAR for short.I'm surprised no-one's calling it that already (turns up a good number of Google hits, but I don't see any obviously making that joke in the first few pages).

matt:Maybe I should have restricted it to characters in Ascii..Well fine. (I don't really like the capital ŋ anyway, in either form). But if you must compromise my vision in the name of populism, at least give me Latin-1. Call it the Nintendo «Ngö'». Anyone can manage that. (Could be Tibetan, if it was spelt ངོད་.)

If I can't have a name that violates the phonology of nearly every major language, I think I'd go for the opposite extreme and call it the NES-5.


The Nintendo Wii: No F in Wifi.

And therefore...

No effin' Wifi.

...Even though there is.


It gets worse!Moneycontrol India > News > E3 is a gamer's ecstasy pill

'Their new console called the Wii is spelt W-i-i and it means "for everyone" in Japanese.'

Comment season is closed.