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SAW-na or SOW-na?

Gauthier insurance billboard
A billboard for an insurance company in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan REDDIT/IMGUR

Maybe you’ve heard the word sauna pronounced one or both of these ways. How do you say it? And which way is the correct way?

If you ask anyone from Finland or who has Finnish ancestry, you’ll probably find that the “correct” way to say the word is SOW-na. Where each syllable of the word is emphasized. At Almost Heaven, our parent company Harvia is based in Finland, so if you call our Michigan office, our customer service reps are more likely to pronounce sauna the Finnish way. But even here, it depends on who you talk to.

United States map highlighting Finnish ancestryTypically, if you live toward the middle of the country or farther south, have no Finnish ancestry, or are new to sauna culture, you might pronounce the word SAW-na. As the word was passed down and became more disconnected from its Finnish source, it was anglicized. Growing up in the midwest, SAW-na is the only way I ever heard the word until getting connected at Almost Heaven.
This isn’t the first time in the English language that we’ve disagreed on word pronunciation:
often (of-en), data (dāta), pillow (pellow), just to name a few. We all have a preference, and depending on how we initially learned the word or heard it growing up, we think we are correct.
In terms of the word sauna, Merriam-Webster, along with other dictionaries and pronunciation guides, recognize both pronunciations as correct. WXPR, a local public radio station that serves northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, recently posted a story called Why We Can’t Agree on the Pronunciation of the Word Sauna. Here is a snippet from the story:
“Mirva Johnson is a graduate student at UW-Madison doing research on the Finnish spoken in northern Wisconsin. She says she’s heard a lot of strong feelings about it, but that ultimately there isn’t really a “right” way to say sauna. Basically, one is the Finnish pronunciation and the other is how the word evolved in the English language.”
So there you have it. SOW-na or SAW-na, whichever you choose. As long as you’re enjoying the heat, health benefits, community, and sauna experience, it doesn’t really matter how you say it.  

**For more information, read or listen to WXPR’s-Why We Can’t Agree on a Pronunciation of the Word Sauna by  MACKENZIE MARTIN