How to Pronounce Kratom

So, how do you actually pronounce kratom?

Well, for lack of a better example, we have a bit of a” tomayto” vs. “tomahto” situation on our hands. It really depends on where and to whom you’re asking this question. The evolution of the word “kratom” is as fascinating and complex as the Mitragyna speciosa tree itself.

We delve into the various pronunciations of kratom below, but if you’ve frequented the Better Brewing Blog, you know we love to set the scene with some historic and botanical context. To get to the bottom of this mystery, let’s take a look at how kratom’s history has profoundly affected its pronunciation.

The Origins of Kratom

When attempting to track the etymology of the word “kratom,” we must begin our search in Southeast Asia.

The kratom tree is native to Southeast Asia, and has grown naturally in countries like Thailand and Malaysia for millennia. Traditionally, farmers and laborers in in the region made use of kratom by chewing the leaves of the plant in order to ease the toll of a long day of work in the tropical heat.

Mitragyna speciosa (kratom) is a tropical evergreen tree belonging to the Rubiaceae family, also commonly referred to as the “coffee family.” In terms of botanical nomenclature, the Mitragyna speciosa tree’s scientific namesake is a bit of a mystery as well.

It has been widely accepted kratom’s genus, Mitragyna, was coined by Dutch botanist Pieter Willem Korthals. He supposedly chose the prefix mitra- because the leaves and stigmata of the plant bore a close resemblance to the shape of a bishop’s mitre. However, there is speculation that the namesake may actually derive from Mithraic cults which were scattered throughout the Roman Empire during the 1st to 4th centuries CE.

As for the word kratom itself, there is a bit of controversy surrounding its origins as well.

Kratom Etymology

Kratom flower vs kadamba flower, Mitragyna speciosa and Neolamarckia cadamba botany

According to Isaac Henry Burkill, a 20th-century English botanist, kratom is likely derived from the Sanskrit word “kadam.”  Kadam, or kadamba, is the common name for Neolamarckia cadamba, a tree with a storied history in South and Southeast Asia, specifically in the Hindu culture centered around the Indian subcontinent.

The etymology of kadamba is rooted in Sanskrit, where it has been used in many contexts for thousands of years. The Kadamba dynasty ruled a vast section of what is today India from 345 CE to 540 CE. They dynasty derived its name from the kadamba tree their mythological warrior-patriarch was born under.

Additionally, an interesting circumstantial link between kadamba and the modern-day kratom tree lies in a particular sect of Buddhism known as Theravada. In Theravada Buddhism, the story goes that Bodhisattva Sumedha was enlightened beneath a kadamba’s foliage. Interestingly enough, Theravada Buddhism is practiced in countries like Thailand, Burma, and Laos, where kratom grows naturally.

Could “kadamba” have originally referred to the Mitragyna speciosa kratom tree rather than Neolamarckia cadamba? Could it be that the trees were confused over time due to their similarly shaped flowers? There have been many instances of cultures bestowing psychoactive plants with spiritual significance.

These are interesting questions, but the truth is we will never know. Much of history has been lost or manipulated through word of mouth and time itself.

Different Ways to Pronounce Kratom

Now that we’ve set the historical scene, let’s get into what you’re here for! In general, there are a 2 common ways to pronounce kratom in North America: kray-tum and kra-tom. It’s hard to determine which is the more popular pronunciation of the two.

1. Kray-tum

If you’re located in North America this first pronunciation of kratom is one that you’re probably already familiar with. This pronunciation of kratom has a long “ay” sound (ā as in lay), and rhymes with ultimatum. You’re likely to encounter this pronunciation of kratom in most of North America, particularly in the US.

While there aren’t many reliable statistics out there for the pronunciation of kratom (if any), kratom being pronounced with a long “a” seems to be growing in popularity. This may be, at least in part, due to the rising popularity of the American Kratom Association (AKA). The AKA is at the forefront of the so called “war on kratom.” They advocate for the kratom plant and kratom consumers on a global scale.

2. Kra-tom

Most languages utilize a short “a” (ă as in at) rather than a long one, so this pronunciation is probably the most universal way to say kratom from country to country. The “krat” in this pronunciation sounds just like “cat” when said aloud, and rhymes with atom. Darshan Singh, a leading kratom researcher from Malaysia, promotes for this pronunciation as the closest English equivalent to the original Thai pronunciation.

While the long “a” version is extremely popular here in the United States, you may run into a “kra-tom” proponent stateside as well. With your newfound info, you’ll know they need not be corrected!

Other Ways to Pronounce Kratom

While the aforementioned pronunciations of kratom are the two most common, they aren’t the only ways to pronounce the word. Several other countries and cultures have their own unique pronunciations.

Here are some of those less-common examples:

3. Key-tum / Keh-tum

Kratom is pronounced this way in Southeast Asian countries where kratom grows naturally, like Malaysia or Thailand. Malaysia remains one of the titans of the kratom production industry. The country’s “Green Malay” kratom strain remains a favorite for kratom consumers worldwide. In these regions, it’s common to drop kratom’s “r” altogether, and combine a long e (ē as in key) or “eh” sound with a standard “um” sound at the end.

You’re more likely to encounter these pronunciations in Malaysia than you are Thailand, as linguistic differences make these pronunciations difficult for some (see the next pronunciation for details).

4. Kruh-tome

In Thailand, kratom is roughly pronounced something like kruh-tome, where “kruh” is emphasized and “tome” rhymes with home. This is a loose translation, due to the fact that it is difficult to Romanize an accurate pronunciation.

The Thai alphabet and language uses some letters that are fundamentally different than that of the Roman alphabet, making it difficult to equate the two. For instance, in Thai, the “k” sound in kratom is not aspirated. To aspirate a consonant is to forcefully expel air while pronouncing it. The lack of aspiration of the “k” in Thai causes it to sound more like something between a “g” and a “k” in English.

Side Note: Keep in mind, these are not the only ways that kratom is pronounced. These examples are simply a short list of some of the most popular pronunciations from North America and Southeast Asia. With so many different languages, cultures, and dialects around the world, there are simply too many pronunciations to name for this brief post. Plus, as kratom grows in popularity, the current set of pronunciations will probably change and expand.

So Which Pronunciation Is Right?

So is there a true “right” way to say kratom? In our humble opinion, no.

While you should be courteous and attempt to respect the culture of whatever company you may find yourself in, there is no “right” way to say kratom. There are simply a variety of different ways!

In addition, some pronunciations of kratom simply do not translate well from language to language. As with our Thai example, some alphabets even make the prospect of explaining the respective pronunciation rather difficult.

Furthermore, many countries simply don’t use the word “kratom” to refer to Mitragyna speciosa in the first place. When in doubt, you can always go with the scientific M. speciosa to refer to kratom. If anything, it shows you’ve done your research on kratom, and might teach your companions something new!

Final Word: How to Pronounce Kratom

Now that we’re at the finale of the kratom pronunciation debate, let’s do a quick recap of some of the more substantial points we’ve covered:

  • The history of kratom spans several centuries, with possible references to the plant appearing in numerous religious stories and texts. While there is no concrete proof, some evidence points towards the word kratom being derived from the Sanskrit word “kadamba.” Despite this derivation, kadamba is actually the common name of an entirely different evergreen tree. Neolamarckia cadamba.
  • The “kray-tum” pronunciation of kratom is widely popular in the United States. The American Kratom Association uses this pronounciation.
  • There a several ways to pronounce kratom, each as valid as the next. Differences in pronunciation appear across cultures, countries, and languages, making a universal pronunciation next to impossible.
  • Many languages don’t even use the term “kratom” to refer to M. speciosa, so there isn’t much need for debate! Be respectful of other cultures’ and countries’ pronunciation, and you can always use M. speciosa when in doubt.

That’s it for How to Pronounce Kratom!

Now some other Top Tree news. With Christmas right around the corner, allow us to give you some gift ideas with our 2022 Holiday Kratom Gift Guide! Additionally, be on the lookout for some of our upcoming holiday deals when browsing Top Tree’s kratom tea shop.

Thanks for reading and as always, we appreciate your continued support of Top Tree and The Better Brewing Blog. Happy holidays from the Top Tree family and as always… Cheers to better brewing!

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