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Pronunciation Book is a YouTube channel that offers instructional videos illustrating the correct pronunciation of American English words. In July 2013, the channel derailed from its regular programming with cryptic videos counting down to September 24th, 2013.
The Pronunciation Book YouTube channel launched on April 14th, 2010 with a video instructing viewers how to properly pronunce “ASUS,” (shown below, right) the name of a Taiwanese computer hardware company. Throughout the next three years, the channel released more than 800 videos featuring the correct pronunciations of many different words including proper nouns, brands and people’s names, as well as the alphabet and idiomatic phrases. (shown below, left). As of July 2013, the channel has accrued more than 36,000 subscribers and 27.6 million views, averaging approximately 23,000 views per day.
News Media Coverage
On September 29th, 2010, Pronunciation Book was featured on the blog for online clothing retailer ModCloth, who listed it as a helpful tool for language learners. On August 5th, 2011, a number of the channel’s videos were shared on Tumblr by bobbyfinger. This post lead to coverage on Laughing Squid and Slacktory several days later. The following week, Pronunciation Book was linked on MetaFilter, where it was marked as a favorite by 52 users. On August 16th, the channel was featured on The New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog.
Alternate Reality Game: 77 Days
On July 9th, 2013, Pronunciation Book departed from its regular programming with a video titled “How To Pronounce 77” (shown below). Instead of illustrating the correct pronunciation, the voiceover narrates that “something is going to happen in 77 days,” followed by 15 seconds of silence with soft clicks that could be interpreted as Morse code.
Soon after the countdown videos were released, members of 4chan’s /x/ (Paranormal) board began discussing this change in the channel’s programming through a Google document, sharing transcriptions of every countdown video as well as connecting these statements with those made in previous uploads. As other related threads began appearing on /b/ (Random), /tg/ (Traditional Games), and /v/ (Video Games), contributors also began to add in theories about the speaker and video blogger behind the channel, resulting in the creation of a second invitation-only document (shown below) and a wiki to gather these ideas. On July 12th, a thread about the series was posted on the Unfiction forums, citing sources from other videos found on 4chan threads.
On July 13th, a 4chan user posted the findings of the investigation to /r/Conspiracy, where it received 672 upvotes, 289 points overall and 332 comments within three weeks. The same day, people began transcribing every Pronunciation Book video on Pastebin and Google Drive to revisit any potential clues that viewers may have missed on prior occasions. Two days later, another discussion thread about the videos was started on the Facepunch forums, yielding 19 pages of responses. On July 19th, the Daily Dot reported on the videos, noting that viewers had been creating images from the clicks and silences at the end of the videos using audio spectrograph analysis (shown below). On July 24th, a single topic Tumblr counting down along with the videos was launched.
On July 23rd, The Daily Dot posted a theory that the countdown would reveal information about a reboot of the science fiction series Battlestar Galactica, citing a number of early Pronunciation Book videos as potential references to the show. This theory that the channel may be a long-term viral marketing campaign for Battlestar Galactica was featured on the Mary Sue and Big Shiny Robot the same day. The following day, Cnet Australia reported that editors of the Google document had traced the parked domain PronunciationBook.com to Thomas Bender of Synydyne, the company behind late 2000s alternate reality game This is My Milwaukee(shown below), citing a possible connection. On July 26th, Geekosystem offered their own explanation, suggesting that video game developer Bungie could be behind it, in support of their new game Destiny.
Bear Stearns Bravo
On September 24th, Pronunciation Book released a new video titled “How to Pronounce Horse_ebooks,” which contains a phonetic reading of the infamous Twitter spambot account @Horse_ebooks and a mysterious message narrated by a woman standing in front of a silver screen.
On the same day, New Yorker published an article revealing the identity of the video blogger as Thomas Bender, former vice president of product development at HowCast, and that he has been running the @Horse_ebooks Twitter account with BuzzFeed’s creative director Jacob Bakkila. The article also reported that Bakkila and Bender, who have previously collaborated on the 2008 alternative reality game (ARG) “This Is My Milwaukee,” will stage a conceptual art performance for one day only at the Fitzroy Gallery in Lower East Side, New York City to promote the launch of their new alternate reality game project called “Bear Stearns Bravo.”
On April 13th, 2011, the YouTube channel Pronunciation Manual launched, offering similar instructional videos. However, these videos intentionally mispronounce the words for comedic purposes. As of July 2013, the channel has inspired other copycat channels including PronunciationPartner and PronunciationPooper while amassing more than 213,000 subscribers and 68.4 million views, averaging 81,600 views per day.
Laughing Squid – Pronunciation Book, A YouTube Channel of Word Pronunciations
The Daily Dot – Is this YouTube series counting down to a new “Battlestar Galactica”? / 7/23/2013