August 9th, 2012
02:00 PM ET
By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
(CNN) - As terror struck the heart of the Sikh community with Sunday's mass shooting at a Wisconsin gurdwara, a Sikh house of worship, the tiny American Sikh population was thrust into the spotlight.
Many Americans were hearing about the faith for the first time.
Among all the questions surrounding the 500-year-old faith, one stood out.
Do you pronounce it like "sick" or like "seek?"
On Sunday, as the events were unfolding during live coverage of the event, CNN's anchors and reporters were asking the same question. So which one was correct?
A word about the word's history helps shed light on the question and the answer. The term "Sikh," like the faith itself, originated in India.
The word "evolved from the Sanskrit term shishya, a disciple or devoted follower," Patwant Singh writes in his landmark book "The Sikhs."
That's why followers of the faith often refer to themselves as devotees, as Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did after the Wisconsin shooting. Singh called for an investigation into "who was behind this dastardly attack on these devotees."
Sikhism emerged in Punjab, a region between India and Pakistan. To this day, Punjabi remains the common language of the faith.
"If you read the Punjabi, in which the word is written, the characters used use that short 'i' sound," says Navdeep Singh, a policy adviser for the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
So that would be sick, as in rhymes with click.
Singh said that the "seek" pronunciation in the United States "comes from the Anglicization of the word."
"Unless of course they were brought up in a British English," he continued. He said those who grew up speaking Punjabi and British English - who are relatively commonplace, since Indian is a former British colony - will use the "sick" pronunciation when speaking Punjab and "seek" in English.
"If someone says 'seek,' no one is going to get upset with you," Singh said. "If you say 'seek' that's OK, but the proper term is 'sick.'"
Bottom line: If you're living in the United States, you should pronounce Sikh as "sick," adding a hard "H" at the end of the word.
If you live in the United Kingdom or a place where British English is spoken, either the "seek" or "sick" pronunciation s OK.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.