Last night saw the debut of the first full trailer for Venom, showing off the most twisted, horrid creation yet to enter the comic-book movie universe: Jenny Slate’s pronunciation of “symbiote.”
The moment occurs midway through the new footage, one-upping even Tom Hardy’s mumbly Benicio del Toro accent as Eddie Brock. Slate pops up as a scientist who works for the Life Foundation, where, as she tells Brock, “We found something. We call them symbiotes.” She says this last word as “sim-BYE-oats,” putting a strange, Harry Belafonte-esque spin on the middle syllable. Come, Mr. Tallyman; tally her sim-BUY-oats.
It’s amusing but also jarring—even more so when she does it again, just a moment later. “Carlton Drake believes that the union between human and sim-BYE-oat is the key to our evolution.” Presumably she means our evolution into super-advanced creatures that no longer have need of ears.
Unsur-PREES-ingly, the trailer has already caused a dramatic uptick in interest for the word “symbiote.” You can see it reflected here in Google Trends, the spike at around midnight mirroring that of everyone’s blood pressure.
Merriam-Webster has also noted a 35,700 percent increase in “symbiote” searches since the trailer’s debut, stemming from the lively debate it’s spawned.
If you want the official word of expert phoneticians, Merriam-Webster offers this, rather unsatisfying judgment: “sim-BYE-oht” is an accepted pronunciation that “appears to be on equal footing” with the other most common pronunciation, “sim-BEE-oht.” Either way you want to say it, it’s alllll good, dudes, says the Cool Dictionary.
But if we may counter with a non-expert opinion, “sim-BYE-oht” sounds fucking weird and we hate it. Granted, the word isn’t one you encounter all that often outside of the Marvel comics world, where it was introduced some 30 years ago by way of describing the alien creature who attempts to bond with Spider-Man before finding a less judgmental host in Brock. Yet the term’s origins date back to at least 1909, when it was coined as a variant of “symbiont,” to designate “an organism living in symbiosis.” Its usage seems to have been popularized by bacteriologist Julius Richard Petri (of Petri dish fame). Unfortunately, Petri is German, so likely of little help there. He’s also dead.
Admittedly, the dictionary does say that both “symbiosis” and “symbiont” can be pronounced with that same, long “I” sound in the middle. You can also choose to live in a house of lies. You can pronounce it “hoose of lees” for all we care. Either way, yours is a shit shack for the grammatically ignorant, and we will warn our children to keep a wide berth.
Anyway, confronted with Merriam-Webster’s disappointingly laissez faire approach to pronunciation—which it even tried laughing off, saying, “You’re free to pretend it’s just an Earth-616 thing”—many have turned to more reliable references, such as YouTube. This video for “How To Pronounce Symbiote” has seen its own upsurge in Venom-related views in the past 12 hours, flooded by commenters ranting things like, “Look it up Sony. It’s not so hard, it took me like 30 seconds to Google this on my phone and you can’t get it right for a movie worth millions.”
The video, by the way, has a computerized lady’s voice pronouncing it as “SIM-bee-oht,” in the process sounding like a far more convincing human than Jenny Slate. There’s still plenty of time to swap in the computer lady, Christopher Plummer-style, before Venom opens in October.