I woke up in the middle of the night with the “word”


in my head.

I have sometimes got up in the middle of night to do linguistic research, but on this occasion I was determined to go do back to sleep as soon as possible. A few obvious preliminary questions: is this actually a word? if so, what does it mean and where did I encounter it? if not, why did my brain think of that combination of letters rather than any others?

If it is a word, it’s not a standard English word, because all the standard English words starting with pn– are technical and relate to air or breathing, and most of the standard English words ending with –au are French (with a few German and Welsh). 

In the morning, a quick search found “an Australian dance music trio originating from Sydney”. Alright, Sydney and music make sense, but dance music is a genre I don’t often listen to. 

How is it pronounced? No-one seems to know. If the p is meant to be silent, then it would sound like now. Wikipedia first gives /pɪnˈjaʊ/ (pin-yow) but later says: “One accepted pronunciation of Pnau is ‘pah-now’. The name is commonly accented to simulate the sound of a gunshot. Nick Littlemore explained the name was the result of an instance when he was  speaking in tongues … Another theory on the pronunciation, according to one interview with the pair, is ‘pah-nyeow’. The group has on other occasions explained that the name ‘rhymes with meow’.” About the only common factor there is /aʊ/.

What does it mean? Obviously, no-one knows.

Is it it or they? Wikipedia starts “Pnau are …”, but other sources are divided between is and are. But there are instances of have and reunite, so I’ll guess that it is they. (Note also “The group has” in the quotation from Wikipedia.)

What do they sound like? This (some potential for ear-worminess.) Wikipedia gives their genres as electronic and wonky pop, which I was otherwise unacquainted with.

Where did I encounter this word? The most likely possibilities are either that one of their videos appeared in the linked videos list on Youtube (which doesn’t really make sense because almost everything I listen to is “classical” (in the widest possible sense), with some classic jazz and classic rock or pop occasionally), or a story or video appeared at the bottom of one of those click-baity listicles I occasionally get sucked into reading. Either way, my encounter with it was fleeting.  

Why was it in my head in the middle of the night? Obviously, no-one knows.


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