How to Pronounce “Bordeaux” and Words Ending With “-eau”

PORTMANTEAU has been a word I’ve been sharing with my students with the news of Brexit commanding media attention over the recent weeks. Here’s what the word means:

portmanteau (n)

1. a large trunk or suitcase, typically made of stiff leather and opening into two equal parts.

2. (also portmanteau word) a word blending the sounds and combining the meanings of two others, for example motel (from ‘motor’ and ‘hotel’) or brunch (from ‘breakfast’ and ‘lunch’): podcast is a portmanteau, a made-up word coined from a combination of the words iPod and broadcast | a portmanteau word combining smoke and fog. [coined in this sense by Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking Glass (1871).]

That’s what Brexit is: a combination of Britain and exit.

So how do you pronounce portmanteau and all “eau”-ending words? The “eau” sound is “oh.”


Go “oh” with plateau, beau, tableau as well.

What if you added “x” to these words? You’d be making them plural: plateaux, beaux, tableaux. In French, the “x” is silent, but in English pronunciation, the appended end sound is a “z”:

. plateaux |ˈplatəʊz|
. beaux |bəʊz|
. tableaux |ˈtabləʊz|

Be careful with the famous wine-making region, though. Bordeaux is so prone to mispronunciations that could make you quite the buffoon if you’re floating around at wine tastings. My wine writer friend, Gerrie Lim, recently shared that the funniest rendition of the word he’s ever heard is “body-ox.”

Look good, be cool. Get it right, say bor-doh.

I invite you to write to me at if you have any word ideas you’d like to share.


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