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Sprint Hates Spellcheck

Yesterday, Sprint held a conference in Tysons Corner to announce some new product initiatives. They included an upgraded version of its Direct Connect walkie-talkie service and a new voice/data package called Pivot that it well sell with cable-TV operators. But the big news was the name of its new WiMax wireless-data service: Xohm.

This spellcheck-defying moniker is pronounced "zoam"--though when I first heard it uttered by a Sprint executive at a Q&A session, I thought he said "zone." I didn't immediately connect that to the all-caps term in a press release that I had inwardly voiced as "ex-ahm."

Even in an industry littered with bizarre, computer-generated brand names, Xohm stands apart for its combination of minimal apparent relevance to the product in question and difficulty of pronunciation. It's even weirder coming from a telecom conglomerate whose name actually would have appeared in an English-language dictionary a century ago.

Some friends batted around possible explanations for the name last night; one asked if was the only domain name Sprint could buy at the time, while my wife reached back to her electrical-engineering major to wonder if Sprint was making an allusion to ohms. I have yet to get a clear explanation from Sprint itself--but you're welcome to put forward your own theories in the comments.

The service itself, incidentally, is due for a quiet launch at the end of the year in the D.C. area and some other markets, with its publicized debut in April. It should offer cable and DSL-grade downloads and uploads--2 to 4 megabits per second down, 1 to 1.5 Mbps up. Sprint hasn't announced pricing, but does plan to market it as a fixed broadband connection in homes as well as for mobile use. Kim Hart's interview with Sprint chief technical officer Barry West today has more on Sprint's WiMax plans.

Elsewhere at the conference, Sprint also revealed Palm's next smartphone--a model that looks like a shrunken Treo, about two-thirds the thickness of the current model and maybe 15 percent less wide. And it showed off a Windows Mobile phone called the HTC Touch that evokes a certain other handheld device that you may have heard of, except that its software incorporates so many tiny icons and scroll bars that you need to pluck out the Touch's stylus to get many tasks done. See GearLog writer Sascha Segan's report for an initial assessment of each device, as well as descriptions of a few other gizmos Sprint demonstrated yesterday.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  August 17, 2007; 9:38 AM ET
Categories:  Telecom  
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Agree with your wife.

Anyone who has any experience/knowledge of electrical engineering (or physics) will call it x-ohm. Geeze, we learn this stuff in high school science.

Posted by: Gee | August 17, 2007 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Interestingly enough..I immediately, in my head, said "Zome". I am ANYTHING but a techy.

I am in "telecom" and only read this article because I saw "Sprint" in the headline.

Posted by: Not a techy by any means | August 17, 2007 1:01 PM | Report abuse

I'm afraid I'm in the X-Ohm camp - too many engineering courses.

Posted by: x-ohm | August 17, 2007 1:27 PM | Report abuse

I expect there will be some resistance from Sprint executives to the X-ohm pronunciation.

[Sorry, couldn't resist that--oops did it again!]

Posted by: Frank S. | August 17, 2007 1:42 PM | Report abuse

That pun was so awful that it's shut down this entire comments thread :)

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | August 17, 2007 3:45 PM | Report abuse

In China (where the gear is probably made), isn't the "X" pronounced "sh"? If so, couldn't the word be pronounced "shohm"?

Posted by: BG | August 17, 2007 3:58 PM | Report abuse

I verbalized it as "ex-Ohm" most other engineers. I'd also take Mr Pegoraro to task on getting the language correct. Units of measure, when named after a person, are capitalized. Georg Ohm was an early researcher in resistance properties of conductors (1830's?). A quick check of Wikipedia gets his biography, though the entries for Ohm, Ampere, and Volt do not have those units capitalized as they should be.

Posted by: Charlie | August 18, 2007 12:39 AM | Report abuse

Yes, as a former EE student, I go with x-ohm.
And as for someone making puns and almost shutting down the forum; shocking.

Posted by: Ted | August 18, 2007 9:01 AM | Report abuse

Charlie, in Rob's defense: If, in fact,"Units of measure, when named after a person are capitalized." it must be one of the most violated rules of usage ever--even the OED doesn't do it (check the entries for ohm, hertz, tesla, etc.).

Could you cite a reference for that?

Posted by: Frank S. | August 18, 2007 11:32 AM | Report abuse

The Système International d'unités (SI) recommendation is to use upper case for unit symbols if they are named after individuals (N, J, A, K, etc) but lower case if the unit is spelt out (newtons, joules, amperes, kelvin). This is why resistance is represented by Ω (capital omega), but is written as ohms.

Posted by: Rito | August 18, 2007 10:11 PM | Report abuse

I knew that the --symbols-- should be in caps, but Charlie said "...though the entries for Ohm, Ampere, and Volt do not have those units capitalized as they should be." He wasn't referring to the symbols.

Posted by: Frank S. | August 19, 2007 9:54 AM | Report abuse

You are absolutely correct, Frank. Charlie, you may refer to section 5.2 of the SI brochure (, which specifies that names of all units are treated as ordinary nouns and start with a lower-case letter even when the symbol for the unit begins with a capital letter. Section 5.1 states that the first letter of a symbol is capitalized only if it is derived from a proper name (for instance Hz for hertz), or to avoid confusion (for instance, litre is allowed to be represented by L since the lower-case el looks the numeral one).

Posted by: Rito | August 19, 2007 10:40 AM | Report abuse

No matter how you slice it, Xohm is the stupidest product or service name to hit the market in a very long time. No frame of reference, no poetic or even visual appeal. Can't possibly survive.

Posted by: Allen | August 20, 2007 8:37 AM | Report abuse

Plus 100 years....
Most probably thought it was X...earox when it came out in '06.
What gives? No imagination/creativity for most of you. No risk/no reward.

Posted by: Bob C | August 20, 2007 9:41 AM | Report abuse

Well I thought "zome" as companies like to make their fake-words pronouncable.

My preferred derivation is xohm = x-ohm = "no resistance" = "resistance is futile" = "you will be assimilated into our new WiMax network!" So it is really just a psycological marketing ploy destined to work only on me. :)

Posted by: Katt | August 20, 2007 4:07 PM | Report abuse

I immediately thought it pronounced as "zoam" and wondered if it referenced "ohm" also. Guess that reflects I haven't had enough engineering courses. I'll save that for when I retire. :)

Posted by: Strider | August 20, 2007 9:41 PM | Report abuse

I looked at it, and maybe because I'm not an engineer (though I am a geek), I assumed that they were shooting for a riff on zoom, somehow. I'm not sure why that came to mind, but it did, and I imagine that's what they were shooting for (ie, Xohm=zoom=fast=Sprint WiFi=fast?).

Maybe I'm reaching.....but it's what I got.

Posted by: Bob T | August 21, 2007 9:02 AM | Report abuse

I chuckled when I went to technology trivia section to see the question of the day. Apparently the Washington Post hates spellcheck as well. "cotent"

Posted by: Tom H. | August 21, 2007 9:53 AM | Report abuse

"... that it well sell with cable-TV operators." (from the first paragraph of article above)

- looks like someone relies on the spellcheck a little too much :)

That said, I agree with what you're trying to get across. The even sadder part is that someone probably paid an ad agency a lot of money to come up with a moniker that has no apparent ties to what it represents.

Posted by: Mike C. | August 21, 2007 6:54 PM | Report abuse

Even more bizarre is that Sprint probably paid a branding company real money to create this absurd name.
Probably the same clowns that Sony hired to create Wega, pronounced Vega.

Posted by: Unindicted Co-conspirator | August 22, 2007 12:33 AM | Report abuse

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