How do you pronounce “Cthulhu”? Even Lovecraft couldn’t decide, but here’s his Cthulhu drawing

How do you pronounce “Cthulhu”?

I was working on a post on that topic for this blog. But in my research, I found an article in Crypt of Cthulhu #9 (1982) which says it much better than I ever could.  You can read the article here, and you should — it’s great fun, and very interesting.

The bottom line is that opinions vary, and even Lovecraft himself seemed to change his mind.  More on that in the article, of course.

And how is Cthulhu really supposed to look?  Obviously there are differing representations; many of them are extremely good.  But as it happens, Lovecraft himself drew Cthulhu (below).  (Joe Broers has created a sculpture based on that drawing — buy it here, if you wish.)

My opinion?  That there is no right way to pronounce Cthulhu or draw him.  Lovecraft didn’t really intend to create a universe where anything was definitive.  So in my opinion, the “correct” way to draw or pronounce Cthulhu is… whatever works best for your story or your art!

Cthulhu as drawn by HPL – click to enlarge

17 responses to “How do you pronounce “Cthulhu”? Even Lovecraft couldn’t decide, but here’s his Cthulhu drawing

  1. “…the first syllable pronounced gutterally [sic] and very thickly.” I think he means it to sound like a velar fricative, [x], like in Russian or Yiddish, or like the Scottish pronunciation of ‘loch’, which he certainly would have heard among immigrants in New York, etc. Although I would prefer an even more guttural sound, like the uvular fricatives (both voiced and unvoiced) of Arabic. However, that being said, I think the key point was that the name is a human approximation for an utterly inhuman sound. So it doesn’t matter what you call it, just so long as you don’t call it for dinner, late or otherwise! Personally, I say [kəˈθuːlu]. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to… we’re all going down his gullet in the end, anyway…

  2. I’ve always pronounced it “Kuh-thoo-loo.” I’ve also heard it pronounced “Kuh-too-loo,” but that just didn’t sound right to me.

  3. From the first time I saw the name, at the age of about 14, I’ve always heard it in my head and tried to say it in two syllables, as Kthool-hoo, with the “kth” pronounced all at once.

  4. In the 60s, Forry Ackerman said Lovecraft pronounced the word Ca->oooo<-lu with the ooooo actually being a whistle (as in "Put your lips together and blow") and he demonstrated several times. It ain't easy, but I guess that was the point.

  5. I regard it as a representation of a sound that human throats are incapable of accurately producing, like a manifestation of an extra-dimensional being poking into our dimension. We only see the part that intersects our dimension, from a funny angle, etc. The sound of “cthulhu” is to me the verbal equivalent.

    • As I gather, that was the point. HPL himself stated that ANY pronunciation we might give it would be at best a vague approximation, as it was the production of vocal organs completely alien to human (and, I would imagine, even mammalian) physiognomy. The closest and most detailed seems to be that of which part is given above. This — along with the verisimilitude of having “different writers” (revision clients; friends and colleagues) is also why the pronunciations or even spellings in the stories vary so (“Tulu”, “Clooloo”, etc.): because different people from different regions will come up with variant spellings or pronunciations of names of shared gods in their mythologies, let alone the name of something so completely “other” to human beings….

  6. It’s Lovecraft’s on ambiguity on the matter that makes me pissed off with people who declare that it’s indisputably pronounced one way or another.

  7. we are all keeping in mind that this is a made-up name of a made-up creature from a fiction writer. right?

  8. I’d forgotten that HPL’s drawing shows the big C’s tentacles as looking rather like jointed lengths of hosepipe. That’s brought out beautifully in the sculpture. HPL never, I think, described the tentacles as having suckers, like a marine cephalopod’s, and there’s no reason to suppose that they did – though I think August Derleth described them like that, perhaps in line with his idea of Cthulhu as a sort of aquatic elemental, and others have followed suit.

  9. The “C” is guttural like a cough, blending subvocalized into the “thul” while still in your throat to form the first syllable, second syllable is pronounced as “who”.

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