How Do You Pronounce “Niger”?

President Bush is currently on the defensive for erroneously asserting in the State of the Union that Saddam Hussein tried to buy uranium from an unnamed “African country.” The president was referring to Niger; how is the country’s name pronounced?

Well, it’s not “NYE-jur.” Explainer used this pronunciation when he called Niger’s embassy this morning and was vigorously chided by the receptionist. Those in the know use the French-sounding “nee-ZHER,” and emphasize the second syllable so the word makes an approximate rhyme with “Pierre.”


Until 1960, Niger was a colony of France, and French is still Niger’s official language. Its neighbor Nigeria, with which it is occasionally confused, was under English control before it gained its independence, also in 1960; that’s why the pronunciations differ so sharply.

What do you call someone who hails from Niger? Old-schoolers (and, in what an editor there called “something of an oversight,” the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary) still use the archaic “Nigerois” (nee-zher-WAH); more common and up-to-date is “Nigerien” (nee-ZHER-yen). Still, both are acceptable, as long as you don’t call your friend in Niamey a Nigerian.

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Explainer thanks the Nigerien Embassy.