From Japanese 暈け (boke, “blur”), the nominalized form of the verb 暈ける (bokeru, “to blur (intransitive)”).
The terminal -h (by comparison with the romanization boke) is a pronunciation guide, so that it is not pronounced as IPA: /boʊk/ as it would under standard English orthography. Contrast karate, karaoke, which have undergone sound change.
Used since at least 1996, with spelling bokeh popularized by editor Mike Johnston in the March/April 1997 issue of Photo Techniques magazine, which featured three commissioned articles on the topic, Johnston writing:
- “it is properly pronounced with bo as in bone and ke as in Kenneth, with equal stress on either syllable”.