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September 14, 2007

How to pronounce "lich"


A vexed question for adolescent gamers of the 1980s, how to pronounce the word lich, i.e. "a type of undead creature, usually an evil magician or powerful undead king, who has used evil rituals to bind their intellect to their animated corpse, thereby achieving a perverse form of immortality". It rhymes with witch, apparently. Kelandon explains the etymology.

Yes, the etymology is the difference. "Loch" is a borrowing from a Celtic language in which the fricative (like the German CH) existed. "Lich" is from an Old English word "lic" — originally pronounced like "lick" — that was eventually palatalized to "lich."

For those of you who read IPA, the OED gives the pronunciation as "lɪtʃ."

Various nerd parsing ensues. A clue should have been the plural as "liches", hard to pronounce any other way.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at September 14, 2007 07:07 AM


Maybe my brain was under-powered in my AD&D-fuelled youth, but I never even entertained the idea it could be pronounced another way until I went to your links.

Posted by: Chris Taylor [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 14, 2007 04:36 PM

Whereas I have been mispronouncing it since I was twelve. Though I think I have "beholder", "bugbear" and "gelatinous cube" down.

Posted by: Ghost of a flea [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 14, 2007 04:38 PM

There's a whole lotta names in Forgotten Realms that are hard (for me) to pronounce as well. Whoever crafted that world never met an indecipherable pile of consonants they didn't like.

Posted by: Chris Taylor [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 14, 2007 04:55 PM

My cohort never struggled with lich, but early on we did go through a long phase of saying 'rouge' when we meant 'rogue.'

Posted by: Dan [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 15, 2007 02:28 AM

My pronunciation (and definition) bugbear was "geas." I first encountered it in the novels of Andre Norton, and back in those pre-internet days (when I was in high school in the 70s -- do you know we had to get up from the couch and turn a dial with our hands to change the tv channel? It's true!) I couldn't find the word in any reference book in the library. It drove me nuts until now.

Posted by: Andrea Harris [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 15, 2007 09:58 AM

An excellent example, I still do not know how to pronounce that one. On a related note is "goetia", though that only turns up in more specialized RPGs.

Posted by: Ghost of a flea [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 15, 2007 11:24 AM

Geas indeed! Still don't indeed! According to Wikipedia I have to digest an entire essay on the "Phonetic Alphabet" just to learn it. Pretentious.

Posted by: Solomon [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 15, 2007 12:22 PM

What you mean you didn't know that? I always pronounced it that way. Might have something to do that I used to use the term lich instead of bitch. (I am loath to insult one entire sex of dogs because of a vile human woman.)

Posted by: Andrew Ian Dodge [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 17, 2007 10:34 AM