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Pronunciation & Meaning

The Pronunciation and Meaning of Shih Tzu

one year old Shih Tzu dog, female
Lexi, photo courtesy of Carla Orense

How to Pronounce Shih Tzu

The pronunciation of this dog breed is quite interesting. There are millions of people, both owners and even well-established breeders, who do not pronounce this correctly. 

Why? As with many other words in the English language, people often default to either the easiest way to pronounce a word or the way that they think it should be said, based on the spelling. 

A good example of a common word that is mispronounced quite often is the word 'Arctic', as in, “the Arctic Ocean that is located in the top northern hemisphere”. 
The majority of people will say: “Artic” (Ar-tic)…They completely leave of the first “c” in the word. 

The correct way to say this word is: Arctic (Arc-tic). But many people have defaulted to the easier way of pronouncing it. And this is what has happened to the word 'Shih Tzu'.

Another reason why so many people say this dog’s breed name incorrectly is because the wrong way of saying it has become so popular; it has almost become a slang word. When one person says it incorrectly, another person does not correct them since the mispronunciation has become so common. The person who does know that accurate phonation often thinks that they themselves are the ones who would be perceived as enunciating it incorrectly, so they don’t speak up. And the endless circle continues. 

The most common and incorrect pronunciation of Shih Tzu is: Shit Zoo. We know some breeders, show handlers and all sorts of people who really should know the linguistic mistake regarding this breed that so many others make, but they don’t.

So many people - both owners and breeders- will say the first syllable to be: “shit”… Some are a bit embarrassed when saying it, other say it clear and loud to “show” that they say will say it right, no matter what. Therefore, it is a bit amusing that they are not enunciating it accurately. 

There are other incorrect pronunciations of the word as well. We have heard:

Shi –Doo, Sheet Zoo, She – Do and just about any other mix of the vowel and consonants that one could imagine.

So, for the correct pronunciation of Shih Tzu let's look to the Oxford English Dictionary, which is the world's most comprehensive single-language print dictionary according to the Guinness Book of World Records. It is the premier dictionary of the English language.

According to this trustworthy, top-class, reputable resource, the correct pronunciation is: (shē' dzo͞o)
pronunciation of Shih Tzu word
The mark, the ¯, shown above the first “e” is called a diacritic mark. Specifically, it is a macron. Diacritic marks are used to show the sound value of the letter to which they are added.

The macron of: ¯ means that the letter is pronounced as a long vowel. The short vowel would be said as “eh”…And the long vowel that we are discussing here is enunciated as a long “E”, as in the word “bee”. Therefore, the first syllable is the word: She.

The dzo͞o may seem a bit trickier… however, it is a simple roll of the d into the z of “zoo” (dah-zoo).
There is heavy emphasis on the first syllable…The “She”...followed by the second syllable, the “dzoo”. When said as one single word, the 2 syllables flow together, thus making the pronunciation: Sheedzoo.
AKC pronunciation of Shih Tzu
The American Shih Tzu Club verifies this, as they have officially and publicly confirmed that the pronunciation of Shih Tzu is: “Sheed-zoo."

The AKC officially verifies this as well. Here you will see a screen shot of a section of the AKC New Puppy Registration Paper that owners receive once a Tzu pup has been registered with them that lets owners (and breeders) know how to pronounce this dog breed.
We do encourage owners to pronounce Shih Tzu correctly, as 'Sheed-zoo' and to educate other owners to do the same. We give honor and respect to the breed when we speak its name properly. 

Plural - The breed’s name of Shih Tzu is both singular and plural; just as in the example of the word “fish”. Therefore, if a person had 5 dogs, they would say, “I have five Shih Tzu”.  

You would not say 'Shih Tzus'. 

Nickname - The nickname for this breed is “Tzu”.

The Actual Meaning of Shih Tzu

Many people (and many sources) say that the exact translation is: 'Lion dog'. The actual translation is: Lion son.

This is one of the biggest misconceptions of any dog breed’s translation from any other language into English.

The first word, “Shih” translates into: lion. This is clear to many people. The official translation is lion = shī …. But over time, Americans have added the “h” to the word. Never-the-less, there is no debate that the first word means lion. 
Now, the 2nd word is where there is mis-translation. The majority of people believe that since 'Shih' means 'lion', that 'Tzu' must mean 'dog'. However 'tzu' does not mean “dog”… And therefore, 'Shih Tzu' does not mean 'Lion Dog'. In Mandarin/ Chinese, 'gǒu' means dog, not 'tzu'. And this breed is not called the Shih Gou.

Tzu (or Zi – a different way of writing the same word) can mean several different things. 

1. It can be a title. In Ancient Chinese traditions and customs, a highly valued and accomplished person would usually be given a title after his death. For instance, we know Confucius is also called Kong Zi (Tzu), which means Philosopher Kong. The word can be translated to “master”, “great teacher”, “teacher” and “philosopher” among other like terms when used in this way.

2. It can mean 'son' or 'child'.

For the purpose of this breeds name, consensus is that it takes on the 2nd meaning: 'son or child'. With the most common use of the word being son.  
Shih Tzu walking up steps
Joey Baggadougnuts 
Owner: David Small 
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