Five-ring Circus

Pyongchang vs. PyeongChang vs. Pyeongchang

The spelling of this year’s Olympic host city, explained.

PYEONGCHANG-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 07:  Sam Edney of Canada in action during Luge Training ahead of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Olympic Sliding Centre on February 7, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea.  (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
Sam Edney of Canada in action during luge training ahead of the Pyeongchang (or PyeongChang) 2018 Winter Olympic Games. Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Until it launched its bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympics more than a decade ago, the small ski resort that will host the games for the next two weeks was barely known outside South Korea. That wouldn’t normally be a huge problem—Lillehammer and Nagano were hardly world famous before they got the Olympics either. The problem here, though, was that for foreigners, its name—traditionally spelled in English as Pyongchang—looks an awful lot like Pyongyang, the capital of nuclear-armed pariah state North Korea.


So, the Olympic bid committee came up with an idea to distinguish the South Korean town: add an e and a capital C to make it PyeongChang.

The city got its Olympics but the confusion persisted. In 2014, a representative for indigenous herders in Kenya who was headed to a biodiversity conference in South Korea accidentally flew to Pyongyang. Thankfully, he was able to get out of North Korea after a few hours.


Adding to the confusion, the AP’s style guide, along with most U.S. media outlets, is ignoring the organizer’s preference and keeping the c lowercase, making it Pyeongchang.

While Slate will be among those sticking with Pyeongchang for its Olympics coverage, you’re in the clear to go with either Pyongchang or PyeongChang. Definitely don’t call it Pyongyang, though.

Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the Pyeongchang Olympics.

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