The reason why Bokeh is spelled with an "h" at the end

While reading a story about the myopic Hubble Telescope fiasco, the word "bokeh" struck me as a funny thing with it's unorthodox Romanized Japanese spelling, prompting me to ask out loud to an empty room:"Why is a Japanese word used to describe some out of focus portions of photography?"

After some digging, I was shocked to find the genesis story of the word "Bokeh" began in a May/June 1997 Photo Techniques magazine article, way less than 1 grandpa ago.

Introduction, 2017: Thank us or blame us, the notorious b-word first came to the West in a feature in the May/June 1997 issue of Photo Techniques magazine, following a discussion on out-of-focus lens character on the old Compuserve Photoforum. Oren Grad and I pointed out that the Japanese had a term for it: boke aji, literally, the "flavor of the blur." That seemed to grab the attention of the magazine's editor, a fellow called Mike Johnston. He announced that he wanted to do a piece on it. Great, I said, I look forward to reading it. Actually, he replied, I was hoping you'd write it. Oh…well, OK. I'd been in Japan since my student days and had learned most of my photography there, so the subject was certainly a familiar one.

If it had been up to me I might have mentioned the Japanese term once but then called it something in English. (The best translation, in my opinion, came years later from Adobe: "lens blur.") Mike's editorial instincts, however, proved right. For simplicity I dropped the aji, as the Japanese themselves often do, and Mike added a final "h" to make it clear that the word had two syllables. And so a new English word was born, and it was the word that created the buzz.

The concept itself was anything but new, even in the West. Professionals, whether in commercial photography, fashion, or cinema, had paid attention to the defocused parts of their images pretty much since the beginning. But plenty of amateur photographers apparently still felt uncomfortable on the subject of blur rather than sharpness, a concern you can see reflected in the cautious way I wrote my article.

20 Years Ago Next Month: What Is 'Bokeh'? by John Kennerdell | The Online Photographer

I love these kind of stories where we've known all along about something, but without an actual word the best we could do was talk about aspects of it rather than the whole concept. Reading John Kennerdell's original article, it's fascinating to see an expert explaining for the first time to many, a concept that is so critical to modern day photography. The tentitive way that John Kennerdell describes the importance of bokeh reminds me of this scene from The Island, where the word "dood" gets thrown around like a most satisfying libation happily shared amongst friends.

Bokeh turns out to be both a concept and word that is simultaneously old and new, but equally more enjoyable with the addition of this new backstory.