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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

16 July 2007

Toe-May-Toe/Toe-Mah-Toe



Without daring to broach the wilds of Welsh or Gaelic (my poor sister having explained till she’s blue in the face that “bh” is a “v” sound in Gaelic), I thought I’d spend a little time talking about some of the oddities the English have come up. Clearly it’s hard to argue that someone doesn’t know how to pronounce their own name . . . but sometimes it’s very hard not to do so (we are talking about a country where “breeches” is pronounced “britches” and “waistcoat” is “weskit”).

And of course I’m always drawn to these names for characters, simply because they’re so outrageous. LOL! To date, I’ve managed to restrain myself, but one of these days I’m going to break down and begin peopling my world with characters whose names can only be pronounced correctly with the aid of a diagram!

These are some of my favorite pronunciation aberrations (all double checked in the BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names) :

Cholmondeley = chumli
Featherstonehaugh = fanshaw
Foulkes = fauks
St Clare = sinklair
St John = sinjin
St Leger = sellinjer (though not all the time)
St Maur = seemor
Beauchamp = beecham
Beauclerk = boklair
Berkeley/Berkely= barkli
Brough = bruff

Do you have any to add to my list?

24 Comments:

Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Belvoir Castle - Beaver
Bolingbroke - Bolingbrook
Warwick - Warrick
Dalziel - Dee-el
Menzies - Menges

(The last two are Scottish last names which are never pronounced the way we think they should be!)

8:00 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Hervey (the family name of my hero in Almost a Gentleman) --> Harvey; Herbert --> Harbert.

A little joke I often play is to give my English characters names that aren't pronounced as you think they'd be, while my French characters are always as simply phonetic as I can manage.

12:04 PM  
Blogger RevMelinda said...

Kalen,
I'm a southern girl (from Virginia). I remember as a child looking at a gravestone marked "Taliaferro" and being told it was pronounced "Tolliver."

PS I am enjoying "Lord Sin" so much. You write GORGEOUSLY.

12:15 PM  
Blogger Susan Wilbanks said...

Belvoir Castle - Beaver

I stumbled across this one the year I lived in Bristol. There was a Belvoir Street near where I was staying. One day I mentioned something interesting that I'd seen there to my hostess, who was baffled and said, "Where?" I repeated myself, enunciating carefully, but of course pronouncing it "BEL-vwahr." She asked me to spell it, and enlightenment dawned. "Oh! Beaver Street."

Anyway, this entry reminded me that I'd recently been idly curious about how to pronounce "Colquhoun" after coming across it in my research reading. I'd guessed that over here it'd been Americanized to Calhoun and the pronunciation was probably something close. If Google is to be trusted, I was right--it's pronounced Co'hoon and is the source of Calhoun.

1:13 PM  
Blogger RevMelinda said...

Help, I can't stop myself!

Magdalen (College, Oxford) - "Maudlin"

Caius (College, Cambridge) - "Keys"

1:41 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Thanks, RevMelinda. :::blush::: I'm always happy to hear that people are enjoying my book.

I'm so glad to know about Hervey/Harvey, Pam. I love the book Amphibious Thing which is about Lord Hervey, vice chamberlain to George II, and the lover of Stephen “Ste” Fox (uncle of the more famous Charles James Fox). One of my friends brought it back from England several years ago and I just devoured it.

1:47 PM  
Blogger Camilla Bartley said...

Worcestershire=Woostershire

I found a book online published in the 1890s that made fun of the fact that Americans butchered languages(frequently English and French) in an effort to seem refined and cultured--and it still continues to this day!

2:27 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

I don't think most of us butcher languages to sound more sophisticated. How on earth are people supposed to know how some of these names are pronounced if you've never heard them? It's not like they're even vaguely phonetic. LOL!

And look at what the news people do to names. San Jose becomes San Joe-sie. Nagano (the city where the Olympics were held a few years back) becomes Na-gan-o or Nag-a-no (instead of the correct Na-ga-no). I swear I had to watch the whole season with the sound off.

3:36 PM  
Blogger Susan Wilbanks said...

With you on Nagano, Kalen. On a related note, there's at least one PA announcer with an AL team who still pronounces Ichiro as ee-CHEER-oh, with strong emphasis on the middle syllable. Granted, for an American that's the natural spot to place the emphasis, but the man's been in the league for SEVEN YEARS. Plenty of time to train yourself to say his name right. I've mispronounced many a name in my time, I admit that, but at least I'm teachable.

4:03 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Related, sort of:

I've always thought that francophobia among the romance readership derives in part from a terror of the unpronounceable. Which is pretty funny, in light of all that weird British pronunciations we've been discussing.

5:32 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I have to admit that I get a kick out tourists who come to New York and pronounce Houston street like the city. Seriously I have no idea why we pronounce it differently but we do. And in New Orleans Chartres Street, is Charters, not pronounced the French way at all.

5:37 AM  
Anonymous amber said...

Hi Kalen. I'm trying to get ahold of you for a project I'm working on. Can you drop me an email?

amber at mediamuscle dot com

Thanks

8:28 AM  
Blogger Susan Wilbanks said...

I have to admit that I get a kick out tourists who come to New York and pronounce Houston street like the city.

My alma mater has a Houston Hall, pronounced like the city, but my freshman roommate, who was from Staten Island, pronounced it like the NYC street for the first few weeks.

I think most areas have place names to trip up visitors and newbies. In the Seattle area we have Sequim ("squim") and Puyallup ("pyoo-AL-up"). And, not a place name, but our extremely phallic-looking local clam, the the geoduck, is pronounced "gooey-duck."

9:17 AM  
Blogger Camilla Bartley said...

I don't think most of us butcher languages to sound more sophisticated.

I meant that the pronounciations of our American ancestors passed down to us.

Emily Post's 1922 Etiquette book has a section devoted to pronouncing English words and names.

4:38 PM  
Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

I have a question that's bothered me for years!

Why do we give English names to every city and country? Sure, some it is colonization, etc. But it just boggles the mind. Why don't we call Germany Deutchland? Why not call Sweden "Sveden"? (If that's actually not just the chef's pronunciation from The Muppets.) Why not call Paris "Paree?" It's just so strange that when some people name their country "Cooba", the response of another language is to say, "Whoa there. That's a little too crazy. How about Cyooba?" *g*

Does this go on in other languages too? I have to assume so.

7:17 PM  
Blogger Keira Soleore said...

Alnwick castle = ahn-nick

Regarding the pronunciation of Nagano: English in an inflected lanaguage, where as many Asian languages aren't--every syllable of a word has the same emphasis. That in part results in these weird emphasis placement. Then there is the Anglo pronunciation of "a," like Iraq (I-rack). So Nagano become NA (as in nag) gah noh or nuh-GA-noh.

7:25 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Hey, Elizabeth, I named a character in my first book "the Earl of Warwick" and boy did that confuse my CPs, copy editor, and past contest judges, who kept crossing the dang word out and writing things like "It's WARRICK, look it up!"

I stuck to my history hoyden guns and insisted on Warwick. Glad I did for once.

8:48 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Hey, Elizabeth, I named a character in my first book "the Earl of Warwick" and boy did that confuse my CPs, copy editor, and past contest judges, who kept crossing the dang word out and writing things like "It's WARRICK, look it up!"

I stuck to my history hoyden guns and insisted on Warwick. Glad I did for once.

8:48 PM  
Blogger RevMelinda said...

This is completely off topic but has anyone noticed the Vowel Shift going on right now? (Or--has it always been this way and I'm just now becoming aware. . .)

e.g., MEAL is pronounced "mill"
(REAL is "rill", FEEL is "fill")

and

MAIL is pronounced "mell"
(TRAIL is "trell", FAIL is "fell")

Is there a name for this? Why is it happening?

Speaking of the Olympics, I winced every time I saw a commercial for the "US Mell" or a "Happy Mill". Sigh.

11:12 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Also, The Earl Spencer's estate is Althorp, prounced Althrup. In England Mall it is pronounced Mell, Pall Mall is Pell Mell, not like the cigarette at all.

5:54 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Regarding the pronunciation of Nagano: English in an inflected language, where as many Asian languages aren't

Perhaps I'm sensitive to the proper way to pronounce Japanese words because I grew up in a state with lots of Japanese Americans, have dated several JA men, and took Japanese in college? Mangling the name of a place just drives me nuts, esp from a supposed professional. It’s one thing to do it out of ignorance, but when it’s your JOB, that’s something else.

Does this go on in other languages too? I have to assume so.

Yep. Just look at what the US gets called in other languages. The French don’t try to say (in English) “The United States”. They say des Etats-Unis.

8:17 AM  
Anonymous Ingrid said...

I'm in! Nine times out of ten I can't open these blogger comments.

Some observations on why Deutschland is called Germany in English:

1. It has only been a country since the late 19th century, when all the smaller countries that made up Germany were united under the king of Prussia (or Preussen (written with a ringel-S, but I don't feel like hunting the net for one) which is pronounced something like Proisen).

2. Deutsch, or in my language Duits or Diets, originally meant the vernacular, or the language of the common people as opposed to Latin, which is the language of the learned people, i.e. the priests.

3. The language of my country is closely related to German (as is English, they are all three west-Germanic languages). We call our country Nederland, most foreigners call it Holland. That is the name of the county bordering the sea, where most of the ships left from that went all over the world in the 17th century and 18th century looking for trade. The seafarers would call themselves Hollanders and their language Duits. That is why our language is still called Dutch in English, though we ourselves have ceded the name to our much larger neighbour, and call our language Nederlands now, though we went with Nederduits for a while a couple of centuries ago. But in English the name Dutch has remained tied to the much closer and more visible people.

4. Germania is the name that the Romans (Tacitus for instance) gave to that vast area where the Germanic tribes lived they had such a lot of trouble subduing. And of course this name in the learned language stuck. Though not everywhere. In French Germany is called Allemagne, and in Italian the language is called Tedesco, which is a reasonable approximation of Deutsch.

5. The sounds of one language are of course not always pronounceable to speakers of another. We all get programmed with the sounds of our mother tongue at an early age, and lose the ability to pronounce a lot of the others.

What's wrong with les Etats-Unis? It's just a literal translation. In Dutch it's de Verenigde Staten, in case you were wondering. You would probably have trouble pronouncing it even after you heard it, but again it's just a literal translation.

7:33 AM  
Anonymous francois said...

Some of your pronunciation guides are pretty funny - I reckon they only work when said with an American accent!

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...
"In England Mall it is pronounced Mell, Pall Mall is Pell Mell, not like the cigarette at all."

Actually Mall is pronounced Mall (like pal or indeed Pall. Definitely not like the US shopping "maul"), unless you are a stereotypically upper-class person in a 1940s film. I should know, I live in a road of the same name!

7:23 AM  
Blogger penryn said...

You're pretty funny, too, francois. How do you pronounce all, ball, call, fall, gall, hall, tall and wall? Do they rhyme with Pall Mall?

7:40 PM  

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