Friday, January 02, 2015

Word of the Year round-up

Since I presented four Words of the Year in four posts, I thought it might be useful to have one post that lists all four. Then I thought: why not have a look at all of the US-to-UK and UK-to-US Words of the Year since I started doing them in the first year of the blog?  Yeah, why not?  So here's a (orig. AmE) round-up of the words to date, followed by some reflection/critique of my picks to date.

From US to UK I've declared these Words of the Year (click on them to be taken to the original post):
2006: muffin-top
2007: cookie
2008: meh
2009: staycation
2010: shellacking
2011: for the win - FTW
2012: wonk
2013: Black Friday 
2014 (adjective): awesome
2014 (noun): bake-off


From UK to US I've declared these Words of the Year:
2006: wanker 
2007: (baby) bump
2008:  to vet (e.g. a candidate)
2009: to go missing 
2010: ginger (redhead)
2011: kettling
2012: bollocks
2013: bum
2014 (adjective): dodgy
2014 (noun): gap year

My thoughts on these:
  • I think I've got better at it over the years. The first year is a bit of an embarrassment, because muffin top is probably originally Australian. It may have been reinforced in the UK by use from the US--at least that was my perception at the time--but I would not have picked it today.
  • We see more 'naughty' words in the UK-to-US direction. The only time I've been tempted to have a 'naughty' one in the US-to-UK direction was in 2012 when my British brother-in-law (and various students of mine) took on the AmE use of douche as an insult (short for douchebag). As discussed in those posts, when people take on words for taboo things from other languages or dialects, they often use them in ways and contexts that they wouldn't in their native dialect. This is especially the case of wanker (and derivatives) in AmE, where it just sounds like a funny thing to say and probably does not (for most US users) give rise to images of male masturbation. Americans often find British words for taboo things 'quaint'. At the same time some British folk find Americans prudish in their reactions to our shared taboo words. 'The c-word' has far more currency in the UK and the social barriers involved in the use of 'the f-word' differ considerably. That's a topic for another post. Possibly on this new blog.
  • A number of the US-to-UK words feel rather dated. This is in large part due to the necessity that the word be 'of the year' in some way. British English speakers use lots of Americanisms, but in order to be WotY, I look for active discussions of them or use of them in the news, etc. Meh.
But I don't feel too bad about some of these seeming like weak choices in retrospect. I'm very happy with some of them. And other Word of the Year declarers, including the one I get most excited about, the American Dialect Society, have had misfires too. In the end, it's a bit of fun. And in the words of T. S. Eliot:  "last year's words belong to last year's language/And next year's words await another voice."

I'm sure you'll let us know what you think!

124 comments:

Nick Rowe said...

Great to see all the WOTY from the past, especially as I've only recently discovered this smashing blog.

"Wonk" is completely new to me, never heard it before. "Meh" is still one of the greatest words to utter when underwhelmed.

I heard "wanker" used on a Family Guy episode when Stewie goes to London to see Jolly Farm and the British actress tells him to "Piss off you little wanker." Even though they are usually quite extreme in their humour, that was one of the most unexpectedly shocking lines I'd heard on TV.

"Cookie" has been around for ages - in the UK we got 'Maryland Cookies' in shops in the 70s (apparently a recipe was brought over in the 50s). My cat is called Cookie and he's 10.

And as others have noted, 1977 saw the release of "Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols" which was the subject of a court case. The prosecution accused the band, Virgin records and retailers of obscenity. The defence was able to show that an Old English version of the word was actually related to the priesthood so could not be obscene. Case dismissed. :-)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Never_Mind_the_Bollocks,_Here%27s_the_Sex_Pistols

David Crosbie said...

If 2014 bake off is a word, then surely so too is policy wonk, which I'm certain I was familiar with long before 2012. I don't think the wonk element on its own has ever made it here.

Personally, I still haven't come across (outside these web pages) muffin top, meh, shellacking or FTW. For some of these, I'm probably the wrong generation.

The words which seem to have settled here are mostly nouns denoting things that we have imported from you: cookie, Black Friday and bake off.

I sense that staycation (which my spellchecker insists is a mistake for satiation faded away after a brief flowering. This could yet be the fate of awesome for all its current popularity.

lynneguist said...

But don't forget that from the US perspective, you already had cookies. You called them 'biscuits'. So the introduction of 'cookie' is not only an import of a thing, it's a semantic change in the word. That's the kind of thing I love to watch. (But it is, of course, discussed more in the original post--which I've just discovered was not correctly linked to. Corrected now!)

David Crosbie said...

Things are sold as cookies which are different from the biscuits that we're used to. For me, the vast majority of types of biscuit are not cookies.

Yes, there are certain baked goods which I now recognise as cookies. In the past I never encountered one. But if I had, I would have called it a giant biscuit.

lynneguist said...

Most of the cookies I bake get referred to by BrE speakers as 'little cakes'.

David Crosbie said...

Because they don't come from a cookie shop.

It's the shop that's the recent import.

lynneguist said...

I've added on the 2007 Word of the Year post (click on 'cookie' above) a slide I use when illustrating meaning change in AmE imports to BrE.

Julia said...

I love seeing all of the WotYs listed together in one post like this, so thanks for pulling it together, Lynne.

The only one of the UK-to-US words that didn't immediately resonate for me was "kettling" although when I went and looked at your original post I remembered seeing it used quite a bit at that time. I'm not sure why its usage in the US has not held up; you can't say there have been fewer opportunities for media etc. to use it, and I'm struck now that I don't think I read or heard a single use of "kettling" in connection with the recent round of protests connected to police shootings in Ferguson, in Brooklyn, in Cleveland, and elsewhere.

And now I've depressed myself by realizing just how long that list could be, so I'll bow out. But not before wishing you and yours a happy and healthy 2015!

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

What our family always called "Aunt Diana's biscuits" (having been introduced to them by the eponymous aunt) were officially called "Maryland cookies", way back in the late 1950s/early 1960s. They were definitely biscuits, though - "cookies", as we know them today, are quite different, sold individually rather than in packets and about 3 times the size! And very nice they are, too....

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

Bother, forgot to check the "Email follow-up comments" box! Corrected in this post, which otherwise please ignore.

Anonymous said...

I (BrE in Oz) am with David Crosbie on the whole: outside this blog, I've never come across meh, shellacking, FTW, kettling or wonk (with or without policy). I've also never heard anyone talk about a staycation, even though it might crop up in printed articles occasionally. In contrast, awesome seems to be everywhere right now. The interesting thing will be tracking all these terms over the next few years.

I think you might be right about muffin-top being AusE as I first came across it in "Kath and Kim".

j0egreen said...

@lynne: "wanker (and derivatives) in AmE, where it just sounds like a funny thing to say and probably does not (for most US users) give rise to images of male masturbation"

I don't think it gives rise to such images in BrE either. We know that's what it means (although just *male* masturbation? I beg to differ) but the epithet is disassociated from the literal meaning, just as is the case for the c-word and the f-word.

David Crosbie said...

j0egreen

I think Lynne is essentially right.

Figuratively, the primary use of the word is as a hyper-laddish insult. The butt of the insult, unlike the boastful macho insulter, can't just 'have a woman' whenever he wants, and so resort to a second-rate substitute. By extension, he turns in second-rate substitutes for acceptable performance in other activities.

Of course, the secondary figurative use strays from this territory into more general (but still laddish) insult: approximately equal to 'ineffective'.

And do we ever apply the insult to women? I rather doubt it.

Nick Rowe said...

Somewhat surprised to see that some people have never come across "meh". It is (with the obvious exception of "cookie") the most-used word (in my environment) on that US-UK list. But then again I watch The Simpsons, am on Facebook and have teenage daughters.

The difference between cookies and biscuits are that the latter are always hard (from the French 'bis cuit' if I recall correctly, meaning 'cooked twice'). Almost all cookies are softer and less brittle. The original British Maryland Cookies aren't as soft as the huge saucer-sized things you can buy fresh but are still a different consistency from a Digestive, a Rich Tea or a Custard Cream.

David Crosbie said...

Here in Britain we're enduring what used to be peculiarly American — a huge long election campaign. Today the Conservative Party issued a document claiming to prove that Labour has made unaffordable spending commitments.

Unwisely, they called the document a dossier. Either that or they allowed it to be described as a dossier. So of course Labour can instantly dismiss it as a dodgy dossier.

Dick Hartzell said...

Robbie said...
I thought "meh" was a loan-word from Yiddish. (Can't find my copy of Leo Rosten's wonderful The Joys of Yiddish to check.)

Apparently the origins of "meh" are a little murky, but here's a piece on the word that mentions Rosten ... and W.H. Auden, believe it or not.

On the other hand, my first reaction to your comment was that you were actually thinking of Yiddish "feh" -- a much stronger word of dismissal.

And what's the deal with Maryland cookies? WTF? (Not to be confused with FTW.) How on earth could a state known mainly for soft-shelled crab (it borders the Atlantic, you see) and Francis Scott Key (they guy who wrote "The Star Spangled Banner") be renowned in the UK for ... cookies?

Meh. Or possibly feh.

David Crosbie said...

We used to associate Maryland pretty much exclusively with fried chicken, until Colonel Saunders came and taught us otherwise.

And some of us knew it supplied another name for the tune we call The Red Flag.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

Indeed, Fried Chicken Maryland was very delicious - my mother used to make it occasionally. I still have the recipe book she used back then (she has more up-to-date ones now!).

Quite why Maryland cookies, though, I've no idea, unless it is because it gave them impression of being foreign and exotic.... Wikipedia says the recipe was brought to the UK from the US in 1956.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

Oh, and PS - five years ago (all but) when we last had an election, I remember posting to Facebook that "The people have voted, and they have said 'Meh!'", meaning that it was fairly obvious that the Great British Public didn't really give a damn who was in office, not having voted overwhelmingly for one party over another.

Dick Hartzell said...

I finally Googled "Maryland cookies" and see the UK contingent has left out a rather important detail: Maryland is just a brand name!

I'd been left with the impression that someone (presumably from Maryland) had somehow publicized a recipe for cookies that had caught on in the UK during the 1950s ... and the rest was history.

But Maryland is simply a brand of Burton's Biscuit Co., which notes: "The Maryland secret recipe was introduced to the UK from the US and the first Maryland cookies were baked here in 1956." A secret recipe for chocolate chip cookies? Meh.

So the state of Maryland plays as much a part in the history of these cookies as Francis Scott Key. Which is to say zip. Nada. Zero. Bupkis. The big goose egg.

Live and learn.

lynneguist said...

The other thing to note is that if a British person says it, it's probably sounds like 'Mary Land', rather than like the name of the state: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32yKJ0IEpHY>hear here.

Dick Hartzell said...

How do they pronounce Baltimore?

I've always pronounced it BAL-tih-more, but I recall hearing somewhere that a certain class of Baltimoreans pronounce it BAL-mer.

At the nutty site PronounceNames.com, Lynne, the pronunciation of Baltimore is a little different, because it was submitted by someone from Colombia.

lynneguist said...

Baltimore's not the name of a cookie, so they don't have to pronounce it.

Paul Dormer said...

Of course, just to confuse matters there's an area of London called Maryland. It's a station on the line when I go out to visit friends that way.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

I think you'll find it's called Marylebone, pronounced "Marlybun".

Paul Dormer said...

Not sure if that was a joke. Marlebone is in west London, Maryland in east London.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maryland,_London

David Crosbie said...

Dick Hartzel

the UK contingent has left out a rather important detail: Maryland is just a brand name!

I doubt whether many in the UK see it as a brand. A name, yes, but it's the norm for biscuits to have names. Some may be registered trade marks, but I doubt whether many of us realise it.

Last week a TV quiz (I think it may have beed University Challenge) had the question:

What links a daughter of Tsar Alexander the Second, a Royal House of France and the liberator of Italy?

The answer is biscuits: Marie, Bourbon and Garibaldi.

What's different about these and other chocolate chip cookies is that they're thicker than the 'normal' biscuits. And in the last few years we've seen another outsize biscuit called 'cookie' — only this time larger in diameter.

Strangely, I think of chocolate chip cookies as biscuits, but the new things as something distinct. And the name matters. Chocolate biscuits are liable to tax. So the makers of Jaffa cakes went to great length to prove in a court of law that they're not biscuits, but sponges with chocolate attached.

What defines a biscuit for most of us is primarily its crispness (even if it has a soft filling) and secondarily its compact size. The name comes from French, where it denotes a slice of brioche that has received a second bake. (There may well be other meanings.) In Russian biskvit is the word for 'sponge cake'.

David Crosbie said...

Lynne

probably sounds like 'Mary Land', rather than like the name of the state

For most BrE speakers (of my generation at least), the name of the state is also pronounced that way.

lynneguist said...

Indeed they do. But I always take that as misapprehension of the name of the state. Just like when Americans mispronounce Leicester. If it's a difference that comes from having different accents, then I'd not call it a mispronunciation, but these are differences that come from not knowing what the place is called and relying on the spelling.

I've recently learnt that there's a Maryland area in London that's named after the state, but pronounced as the British pronounce the state rather than how Americans do. Unusual for British places to be named after American ones, rather than vice versa! But once it's your place, you can pronounce it any way you like. ;)

Dick Hartzell said...

Just like when Americans mispronounce Leicester.

I'm glad you brought that up, Lynne, because I've had two pronunciations for this name kicking around in my head for years. Let me explain.

I guess I've watched enough British TV over the years to be satisfied that Leicester is supposed to be pronounced Lester.

So what's the deal with the Jethro Tull song "Jeffrey Goes To Leicester Square" from the band's album "Stand Up" (which I used to enjoy quite a bit once upon a time) where Ian Anderson pronounces the name Leester instead of Lester?

lynneguist said...

From a review of the album:

"There is a much lighter tone for Jeffrey Goes To Leicester Square - bongos, gentle guitars and flute doodlings are the order of the day here. Short at just over 2 minutes long, this is probably most memorable for Anderson's pronunciation of 'Leicester' as 'Leester' rather than 'Lester'."

http://www.dprp.net/reviews/0238.htm

So, who knows?

Dick Hartzell said...

So, who knows?

Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

Christ. I'm reminded of an article I once read in the New York Times about Tom Stoppard, where it was revealed that Stoppard enjoyed toying with journalists by, for instance, pretending to fuss over the pronunciation of his name. When I read it I was suddenly thrown back to another article I'd read about Stoppard years before, in the hopelessly middlebrow Saturday Review, where the author of the article solemnly explained he'd learned that Stoppard's name was to be pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable -- StopPARD.

I, of course, actually bought into this bogus correction and undoubtedly passed it on to benighted friends whenever they carelessly mispronounced the playwright's name.

But maybe there's a better analogy here from another band --in fact, from the band known as The Band.

When he sang, The Band's drummer and sometime lead vocalist, Levon Helm, often pronounced the word "ever" as if it were "every".

And why did he do that?

Who knows?

Macha said...

This does bring back some memories. In the 1990s, as a native of Maryland studying in England I was occasionally challenged about my "lazy" pronunciation of my home, which "so clearly" should be "Mary-land."

I usually responded "I don't know! The same reason you don't say "Lee-ces-ter!" I wish I had known about Cholmondeley.

Dick Hartzell said...

Anonymous Macha said...
This does bring back some memories. In the 1990s, as a native of Maryland studying in England I was occasionally challenged about my "lazy" pronunciation of my home, which "so clearly" should be "Mary-land.



Amusingly, while Wikipedia dutifully provides entries for placenames with counterintuitive pronunciations, on the M-Z page for the U.S. Maryland isn't included -- though Missouri is. (Go figure. I was born in St. Louis and it never occurred to me that someone might not think to supply the "z" sound to replace those two "s"es.)

Luckily, thanks to these same Wikipedia pages I now know how to pronounce Cholmondeley.

Thanks, chumley.

David Crosbie said...

It was over forty years ago. I don't remember where it was (possibly Cairo) or who the distinguished linguist was who was lecturing, or what sort of student I was. But I remember my amazement when he (I do remember the gender) told us that he made no distinction in his pronunciation of merry, marry and Mary. A double amazement, because it seemed it seemed so unlikely — and yet I understood him perfectly throughout the lecture.

I've read about it since then, particularly in the last few days. It's no longer amazing, but I have absolutely no feel for it. I understand that an AmE speaker may have three or two or one pronunciation(s) for the three words. But I've no confidence that I could tell which of the three an AmE speaker was intended, unless I was familiar with their speech and accent —and perhaps not even then.

I suggest that BrE speakers rely on contexts to know whether an unknown AmE speaker is saying MERRYluhnd, MARRYluhnd or MARYluhnd And the context of it being a place name suggests MARY.

John Wells in the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary entry for Maryland states that General American pronunciations have either the DRESS or the TRAP vowel in the first syllable, and he states carefully that only the commA vowel is used in the third vowel. For RP he reports the SQUARE vowel, as expected, in the first syllable — but also the DRESS vowel. So a lot of RP speakers partly copy the GenAm. For the final syllable he lists only the TRAP vowel — the precise opposite of what happens to Birmingham in the two accents. For the middle syllable he gives either KIT or commA — for both RP and GenAm pronunciations.

Dick Hartzell said...

I suggest that BrE speakers rely on contexts to know whether an unknown AmE speaker is saying MERRYluhnd, MARRYluhnd or MARYluhnd And the context of it being a place name suggests MARY.

Unknown AmE speakers say none of these things. No American says MERRYluhnd, MARRYluhnd or MARYluhnd.

Did you bother listening to the pronunciation Lynne supplied, David?

The visual pronunciation supplied with the audio reads as follows: MEH-ruh-luhnd.

That's how an American anglophone pronounces it.

Please accept our impoverished preferences. You can always trot out MARY-land (and justifiably correct our dunderheaded mispronunciation) when you're referring to that neighborhood in East London.

Dick Hartzell said...

Or the cookies, I should have added.

David Crosbie said...

Dick Hartzell

Unknown AmE speakers say none of these things. No American says MERRYluhnd, MARRYluhnd or MARYluhnd.

You miss my point. You know what you say but we, many of us, don't know what we hear.

Did you bother listening to the pronunciation Lynne supplied, David?

I did. Then I looked up to see what John Wells had observed. (It's a dictionary based on observed data, not on precipition.) That pronunciation corresponds to one of the four possibilities he offers.

But that's of little use when I can't hear that your DRESS vowel + R corresponds to my DRESS vowel +R.

Christian Johnson said...

Now, now. Dick and David -- if you were from Maryland -- specifically Baltimore -- you'd know that none of those pronunciations even begins to approximate the full range of possibilities. I spent a fair chunk of my childhood in the Maryland suburbs of DC, which might as well be a different continent from Charm City but we did go to visit every now and then. More to the point, Hairspray -- the John Waters original with Divine, not the musical with the unfortunate John Travolta -- is one of my favorite movies. It's thick with Baltimore references, starting in the opening scene with Divine bellowing behind a load of wash at her unseen teenage daughter: "Could you TURN.THAT.RACKET.DOWN, I'm TRAHN ta ARN in here." (Minute 1:08 here.)

So, Baltimore, Maryland becomes Balamer, Murlin. Or possibly Bawlmer. More here and here.

My favorite story illustrating the dialect is undoubtedly apocryphal. It's usually set during the racial tensions of the 60s. Some incident occurs, national media show up at the Governor's Mansion, and an obviously perspiring governor is quoted saying, "Apologies for the delay, I was out back trying out my new paramour."

Hilarity ensues, because the national reporters didn't realize that the governor was trying out his shiny new lawn mower: a "power mower" in local terms, pronounced "paramour." Why the governor was doing his own yard work is left unexplained.

Oh, and to get this back on topic. Baltimore is also home to one of the most remarkably delicious cookies, called Berger Cookies after the manufacturer. They're quite homely looking, in both the US and UK senses of the word -- lumpy and obviously hand-formed. It's a plain, cake-like vanilla cookie on the bottom with a dense fudge on top, often about 1/2" thick. In fact, in British taxonomy it might actually be a cake: the cookie bit is slightly denser than a Jaffa cake, but of the same basic family. Anyway, heaven.

David Crosbie said...

Christian Johnson

if you were from Maryland -- specifically Baltimore -- you'd know that none of those pronunciations even begins to approximate the full range of possibilities

Because I'm so removed from the place I relied on a pronunciation dictionary. Now the John Wells dictionary is unusual in its even-handed treatment of British and American variants. But it would have to be a huge multi-volume, library-shelf-filling work to cover all the known pronunciation in all the regional accents of Britain and America.

Even Wells's dictionary is BrE oriented. The RP (now beginning to be renamed Standard Southern British English) is listed first before a ║ symbol. After that he lists the General American pronunciations which are different. From this convention I infer that at least some AmE speakers use some sort of I-sound rather than a grunt for the second syllable.

PS
Sorry to spoil the paramour story, but don't Americans always stress the final vowel in French words? Even we Brits stress the last syllable in this particular word.

Buzz said...

@David Crosbie: In American English, "paramour" has initial stress. This is probably related to unconsciously parsing the "para-" as a Latinate prefix, but it's hard to know whether that causes the pronunciation or is caused by it.

In any case, there are plenty of French words that do not have final stress in American English, although there seem to be fewer than in British English.

David Crosbie said...

Christian Johnson

So, Baltimore, Maryland becomes Balamer, Murlin. (my emphasis)

That's like George Bernard Shaw's insistence that Ireland should be spelled Awlint.

It rather reinforces the case against spelling reform — the cause he was devoted to.

[Actually, it must have been a joke against himself.]

David Crosbie said...

In American English, "paramour" has initial stress.

Thanks for that, Buzz. I looked it up and found that it's another example of DRESS vowel+R alternating with TRAP vowel+R.

Strangely, initial stress is the only pronunciation offered for British RP. But I suspect we do tend to shift the stress when it's the final word of a sentence — such as I was out back trying out my new paramour.

Dick Hartzell said...

You miss my point. You know what you say but we, many of us, don't know what we hear.

David: I apologize for misunderstand the gist of your comment. But are you saying that if I were to run into you on the street and ask for directions to a shop where I might find your marvellous "MERRY-land cookies" (and that would be how I'd pronounce it, by the way), you'd stare at me blankly -- not knowing what on earth I was asking for?

Dick Hartzell said...

misunderstand = misunderstanding

You'd think by now that Google would tweak the Blogger comments tool to allow commenters to edit their comments after posting. As much as Facebook annoys me, it's the one thing their snot-nosed twentysomething programmers got right.

David Crosbie said...

Dick

But are you saying that if I were to run into you on the street and ask for directions to a shop where I might find your marvellous "MERRY-land cookies" ... you'd stare at me blankly -- not knowing what on earth I was asking for?

No, because I've heard of Maryland Cookies. If I hadn't heard of them I'd stare at you — however you pronounced it.

Let's take another hypothetical conversation.

YOU We went to Maryland on the vacation.
ME Really? I haven't heard of that theme park.

Christian Johnson said...

Points all well taken, David Crosbie. I believe the print version of the Dictionary of American Regional English was completed only last year, after about 50 years of effort. And of course the language has changed markedly during that time, necessitating a new, digital effort.

I agree with you on spelling reform. It's analogous to (occasional) discussions in China on eliminating characters in favor of a phonetic system. The beauty of characters is that regardless of one's spoken language (unsurprisingly, Chinese has separate words for spoken and written language), one can basically read Standard Written Chinese. It doesn't matter whether the the characters for "north capital" are pronounced "bei2 jing1" as in standard Mandarin or "pak1 ging1" as in Hong Kong Cantonese, because you can recognize the characters regardless of how you pronounce them.

Indeed, despite living in HK for more than 6 years I speak only a little Canto and less Mandarin -- but I can read simple signs because I learned many of the characters in Japanese (in which case, a literal reading of the "northern capital" characters would most likely be 'hokkyo").

Dick Hartzell said...

YOU We went to Maryland on the vacation.
ME Really? I haven't heard of that theme park.


OK. I think we're reaching the end of a productive conversation here. Had I said "We went to Maryland on vacation" I'd have said MEH-ruh-luhnd. In which case I seriously doubt you'd have made a comparison in your head between MERRY-land (which I wouldn't have said in the first place) and a theme park like DIS-ney-land. So instead of saying "I haven't heard of that theme park" you'd likely say with justifiable perplexity "MEH-ruh-luhnd? Where's that?"

And that is an entirely different problem ... the kind of problem millions of tourists face all the time.

David Crosbie said...

Dick

I've been listening to YouTube clips of Maryland My Maryland.

Yes the latest performances sing MERRuhluhnd. One even sings MERRooluhnd! But the earlier recordings seem to have anything but. Some MERRYluhnds and some MERRYlands. Tennessee Ernie Ford and his backing chorus sound sound to my ears like MARYland. And his Baltimore sounds just like the way we say it.

Anonymous said...

j03green here (can't now post with my WordPress id, oddly).

Sorry to spoil the paramour story, but don't Americans always stress the final vowel in French words? Even we Brits stress the last syllable in this particular word.

We do *not*. Well I (BrE) don't. I'll have to ask around. By now I think we should all be trying hard to avoid over-generalising.

Meanwhile I find it ironic that the clip telling us how to pronounce Maryland mis-pronounces "pronunciation", very clearly saying "pronounciation", even allowing for the AmE vowels.

j0egreen said...

Test. If this works, then it's probably because I cleared out my cookies (appropriately enough).

Kate Bunting said...

An American friend born in Baltimore once told me that Maryland was commonly pronounced something like "Murlin".
On the subject of American placenames with counterintuitive pronunciation: in Bill Bryson's "The Mother Tongue" he gives a list of these which includes Gettysburg. The aforementioned friend could not think of any unexpected pronunciations of this place. Comments, anyone?

David Crosbie said...

j0egreen

By now I think we should all be trying hard to avoid over-generalising.

Generalisations are essential to explanations. The best ones come to you in a flash, and those are the sort you air on a forum like this. Sometimes you get one wrong. I got this one wrong and i apologise. But I'm not going to stop trying.

j0egreen said...

@David Crosbie: wrong in general you may have been, but your generalisation was presumably based on something, most likely that you say it that way, which is the interesting thing. I think we all have our pet mis-pronunciations, or should I say personal pronunciations. That's part of what makes language usage so rich and interesting.

Meanwhile I recall a mention somewhere (indeed here perhaps) of how some people's pronunciation of "hommage" adopts the English or the French style according to context. Clearly our relationship with French words is entertainingly complex.

David Crosbie said...

joe0green

your generalisation was presumably based on something, most likely that you say it that way, which is the interesting thing

No, it was based on a flash of insight which proved to be false.

The basis was that I really would place more stress on the final syllable when paramour is the final word in a clause.

My inner ear was listening to me saying that word in that sentence. I wasn't considering the abstract. Most of the time I stress the word the same as everybody else, but that's not how it felt at that particular instant.

I may have been unconsciously influenced by French stress, which is stronger at the end of a sense-unit. This is heard by many, especially in America, as the end of any word (or is it any noun?), but it's actually something more alien.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

Except that really, French stress isn't strongest at the end of the word - that's what we hear, but in fact, every syllable gets equal stress. We, who are used to stresses further forwards in words, hear it as stress at the end, but it really isn't.

Diane Benjamin said...

@ David Crosbie: Tennessee Ernie Ford wasn't from Maryland, so he would not have pronounced Balimore the way locals do. The Bawlamer pronunciation is limited to about a 50 mile radius of Baltimore. The rest of the country pronounces the city the way it's spelled.

Baltimore has a Thames Street, by the way, also pronounced the way it's spelled, including the th and the long a.

Diane Benjamin said...

@ Kate Bunting: I've heard Gettysburg pronounced both with a long e sound and a schwa sound for the letter "y." It always has an American tap sound instead of an actual t for the "tt" in the middle.

David Crosbie said...
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David Crosbie said...

Mrs Redboots

I wasn't writing about what I hear because my ear isn't good enough. Here is what I read:

QUOTE 1
The accentual system of French in unlike any other Romance language. The primary stressed, i.e. most prominent, syllable in most varieties of French is the final full (non-schwa) syllable of a prosodic phrase, and it is not involved in distinguishing the meaning of words.'
UNQUOTE
French: A Linguistic Introduction
Szuszanna Fagyal, Douglas Kibbee and Fred Jenkins

They give an interesting example of a pair of sentences that can be distinguished (assuming that they're spoken, not written) by stress:

Ceux qui savent leur souffleront.
Those who know (it) will whisper (it) to them
Ceux qui savent l'heure souffleront
Those who know the time will whisper.

QUOTE 2
In French words considered in isolation, the stress falls on the last syllable, or on the penultimate syllable when the last syllable is a mute e: veri, sentiment, indifféfence, montange, oils désespèrent. In groups of French words, the stress falls on the last articulated syllable of a group of words, not on the individual word: Prenez votre livre, Je pars demain, Il s'y render cat après-midi, Qu'est-ce que vous en pensez?
UNQUOTE
A Reference Grammar of French
RE Bachelor and M Chebili-Saadi

This second quote recognises something sort-of equivalent to English word-stress. The massive difference is that in English, syllable that don't have word stress (whether primary of secondary) are different in kind. Unstressed syllables are shorter in duration, and are very often built around a different set of vowel sounds: commA, lettER, happY.

So an important difference between the two languages is that a French word has no syllable that or shorter then its most prominent syllable. With the exception of 'mute e' aka 'schwa', both prominent and non prominent syllables are built around vowels from the same set.

It all boils down to perception. We Brits hear ballet and the like as words in phrases, and apply English word-stress. . Americans hear ballet as individual words with the French equivalent of English word-stress. What neither we nor the Americans manage to hear and reproduce (well, not usually) is French syllable-timing.

David Crosbie said...

Diane Benjamin

The rest of the country pronounces the city the way it's spelled.

But in any given accent there are at least two regular ways to pronounce the spelling ALT.

Diane Benjamin said...

@ David Crosbie: Good point! Okay, I have never heard any native AmE speaker pronounce the first syllable of Baltimore any way other than to rhyme with Walt, as in Walt Disney. Wouldn't the "l" after the "a" tend to make the ash "a" unlikely?

David Crosbie said...

But, there are two ways of pronouncing Walt, Diane.

PW said...

David Crosbie, I've spent several minutes trying to think of words with differing alt/walt pronunciations in AmE. I fully realize that is not definitive, but at this point I don't think my AmE has more than one possible pronunciation for that letter combination.

David Crosbie said...

PW

I've spent more minutes consultant John Wells who wrote not only th Longman pronunciation Dictionary but also a three-volume Accents of English.

Taking Walter as an example, he lists
BrE ˈwɔ:ltə, ˈwɒltə
AmE ˈwɒ:ltᵊr, wɑ:ltᵊr

OK, this makes little sense unless you can read IPA symbols, but it can be re-stated as British and American versions of the THOUGHT and LOT vowels.

I now see that an additional complication is that some, not all, American accents have merged the THOUGHT and LOT vowels.

There's another complication that we also anglicise the German name as BrE ˈvɑ:ltə AmE ˈvɑ:ltᵊr for a more authentic valtʌ.

Then there's the very different pronunciation of words like altitude.

Diane Benjamin said...

Ah, the old COT CAUGHT merger. My COTs and CAUGHTs haven't merged, so I should have thought of that.

Here's a story from having grown up right on the border between the merged and unmerged COT-CAUGHT. When I was a kid, if another child asked me what my middle name was, I had to exaggerate the CAUGHT vowel in Dawn to avoid being accused of having the boy's name, Don, even though our ordinary pronunciations of the names were identical. Very traumatic to a 9 year old.

And thanks for the altitude example of an ash a before an l.

PW said...

Yes, altitude has a very different pronunciation. Thanks for that example. As for the rest, "thought", "lot", "cot", "caught", "Don", and "Dawn" all have the same vowel sound in my AmE.

Dru said...

In BrEng "thought", "caught" and "Dawn" have one vowel, "Lot", "cot" and "Don" have another. Each group of three has the same vowel.

There's a legend that the children's books here about a toy child called Noddy could never catch on in the US because in the US, 'Noddy' and 'naughty' are pronounced the same. Parents would not want to read bedtime stories about a character who to US children sounds as though he is called 'Naughty'.

In BrEng the first vowel in each word is pronounced quite differently from the equivalent in the other word. The central consonants are too.

David Crosbie said...
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David Crosbie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Crosbie said...

There's another group of words that sound like LOT in most British accents, but sound like THOUGHT in American accents — and in some old-fashioned-sounding British accents. These are the CLOTH words, with the vowel sound follow by:

• an F-sound (off, cough
• an S-sound (moss, Austria
• a TH-sound (moth, bother
• an SH-sound (wash)
• an R-sound (Oregon, Warwick)

Of course, in many American accents CLOTH sounds like LOT as well as THOUGHT.

Anonymous said...

Dru wrote:
There's a legend that the children's books here about a toy child called Noddy could never catch on in the US because in the US, 'Noddy' and 'naughty' are pronounced the same.


That legend might be true for some U.S. accents, but the vowels are very different in mine. Also, my “naughty” is one of the words where my T sounds like a T and isn't tapped into that in between sound.

—AiNJ

Gina the Great said...
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Gina the Great said...

Alright, let me try this again.

[In BrEng "thought", "caught" and "Dawn" have one vowel, "Lot", "cot" and "Don" have another.]



Ditto for Mid-Atlantic (South Central PA-B'more area).

David Crosbie said...

Gina the Great

Ditto for Mid-Atlantic (South Central PA-B'more area).

So in that area is the first syllable of Baltimore like thought-caught-Dawn or like lot-cot-Don?

Kate Bunting said...

Diane Benjamin said: I've heard Gettysburg pronounced both with a long e sound and a schwa sound for the letter "y."
I still don't understand why Bill Bryson thought its pronunciation was counterintuitive. The only other name in his list that I can remember was Boise, Idaho (=Boysee - I would have pronounced it in the French manner) and various Cairos pronounced Care-o.

Dru said...

That's curious. As a BrEng speaker, it's never occurred to me that Gettysburg (as in the address) is pronounced any other way than Get-is-burg. Is that completely wrong?

If left to me, I would have guessed that a place spelt Boise would be pronounced the same way as boys. My daughter went to a place called Siloam Springs, which I'd have expected to be called Si-low'm Springs, with the second and third syllables partly fused. I gather though that it is two syllables Sigh-lome.

David Crosbie said...

Diane, Dru

The Longman Pronunciation Dictionary displays an interesting difference between GenAm pronunciations of Maryland and Gettysburg.

(General American is a 'lowest common denominator' accent defined by the absence of regional characteristics. I sometimes wonder whether anybody actually speaks it — unlike RP, which a the genuine accent of educated British speakers of a certain class and educational background, mostly (but by no means all) living in the South pf England.)

The vowel corresponding to letter-Y in the two words is transcribed

Maryland
ɪ (like KIT but unstressed)
or
ə the 'schwa' or grunt (like the final vowel of commA)

Gettysburg
symbol i for both RP and GenAm
This symbol is quite distinct from ɪ. It represents a sound like FLEECE but significantly shorter in duration. In his introduction to the dictionary, John Wells makes it clear that he uses i for 'neutralisation' of i: — ɪ. That generally means an unstressed vowel where the closeness to FLEECE or KIT varies from speaker to speaker regardless of accent. He terms is the happY vowel.

So Diane's 'long E' makes more sense to me if rephrased as 'shortened long E'.

j0egreen said...

@Dru:
That's curious. As a BrEng speaker, it's never occurred to me that Gettysburg (as in the address) is pronounced any other way than Get-is-burg. Is that completely wrong?

If left to me, I would have guessed that a place spelt Boise would be pronounced the same way as boys.


Whereas I, also BrE, have assumed exactly the other way round: that the "s" in Gettysburg is pronounced as a "z" and that the one in Boise would naturally be an "s". In fact I would say that I have heard Gettysburg pronounced with a "z", but maybe that's my ear compensating for American accents.

j0egreen said...

And I note that nobody else has even thought to mention the "s" in Gettysburg, discussing rather the vowels. So is it just me? Curious indeed.

David Crosbie said...

j0egreen

Now you mention it, I personally use a z sound in my British accent. And John Wells gives z in both RP and GenAm pronunciations.

That said, I can imagine myself using -sp- instead of -zb- in rapid speech. And I can imagine myself not noticing in somebody else's speech.

Dick Hartzell said...

And I note that nobody else has even thought to mention the "s" in Gettysburg, discussing rather the vowels. So is it just me? Curious indeed.

The two ways to pronounce Gettysburg in American English are GET-eez-burg or GET-is-burg.

If you pronounce the "y" as a long e the z sound follows. If you pronounce it as a short i the s sound follows.

David Crosbie said...

Dick Hartzell

The two ways to pronounce Gettysburg in American English are GET-eez-burg or GET-is-burg.

How about changing that to in Hartzell English?

Dick Hartzell said...

How about changing that to in Hartzell English?

Oh, you want it in Hartzell English? Why didn't you say so!

GET-eazy-boig

That's midwest via New Yawk.

Anonymous said...

I got confirmation of a U.S. accent/pronunciation today! Two, actually.

A salerman from somewhere in Maryland (I only know that he was not from the Eastern Shore) was yammering on about what sounded to my ear like "Get-uh-burg" or "Get-uh-burr" and "Ballmer"; It made me think of the discussions here.

We didn't buy anything from him.

—AiNJ

Diane Benjamin said...

@ David Crosbie: Yes, exactly. Gettysburg's "y" has the happY vowel or a schwa.

@ Dick Hartzell: Yes, exactly, the "s" is either an S sound after a schwa or a Z sound after the happY vowel.

@ David Crosbie: "That said, I can imagine myself using -sp- instead of -zb- in rapid speech. And I can imagine myself not noticing in somebody else's speech." Yes, exactly again.

@ David Crosbie: I had to think about the pronunciation carefully. Baltimore has the CAUGHT vowel.

But, many people (including myself, sometimes) don't pronounce "caught" with the CAUGHT vowel. Instead, it somehow seems higher and further back in the mouth, like the first vowel in the stereotypical New Jersey pronunciation of "coffee." I have never heard anyone from Maryland pronounce Baltimore with that vowel, just with the plain CAUGHT vowel, if that makes sense.

@ Kate Bunting: Most Americans pronounce "Boise" with a Z sound for the "s". People from Idaho pronounce "Boise" with an S sound for the "s". If you pronounces Boise with an S sound, many folks will think you're being affected.

Anonymous said...

Correction: The salesman seemed to be saying Get-uhs-burg when I heard him most clearly.

—AiNJ

j0egreen said...

@David Crosbie: That said, I can imagine myself using -sp- instead of -zb- in rapid speech. And I can imagine myself not noticing in somebody else's speech.

I think I deduce from this rather over-extended discussion that (some?) Americans put -sb- in Gettysburg and that has set me thinking how hard it is to pronounce adjacent consonants properly when only one of them is hard (if that's the term), and how few examples I can think of. In fact the only one that comes to mind immediately is Asperger which I mis-pronounce as Asberger, ironically given my train of thought. There must be more? And what about the inverse pairing of -zp-?

Mike @ A Bit About Britain said...

Looks like a fun and informative blog. Surprised I haven't found it before!

j0egreen said...

And then of course I soon think of another one: disdain. So perhaps they're aren't so rare after all.

This has come a long way from cookies, but while we're on the subject of confusing pronunciations, how about Trottiscliffe? Or Wrotham? (I have a treasured copy of the BBC guide to pronouncing UK place names. Endlessly entertaining.)

Gina the Great said...

@ David Crosbie:

[So in that area is the first syllable of Baltimore like thought-caught-Dawn or like lot-cot-Don?]

It's pronounced "bawl," although truthfully, Baltimore is the slur-out capital of the world, so a lot of times it comes out more like "Bomber."

Unless, of course, you are talking to someone from out of the area, in which case it's "Ball-tee-more."[So in that area is the first syllable of Baltimore like thought-caught-Dawn or like lot-cot-Don?]

It's pronounced "bawl," although truthfully, Baltimore is the slur-out capital of the world, so a lot of times it comes out more like "Bomber."

Unless, of course, you are talking to someone from out of the area, in which case it's "Ball-tee-more."

PW said...

Diane Benjamin, don't people who live in a place get to decide how that place is named? So if people who live in Boise say boy-see, isn't that the name of the place? Just as the names of Lafayette Georgia and Lafayette Louisiana are pronounced differently? (One is Luh-FAY-ette, the other Lah-fay-ETTE, but I don't remember which is which. Sorry.)

Kate Bunting said...

So maybe Bill Bryson was alluding to the "s" in Gettysburg? I'd always thought of it as meaning Getty's town (as in J. Paul) and pronounced it with a z, but I see from Wikipedia that the founder was actually a Mr. Gettys, which makes more sense of the s pronunciation.

vp said...

@PW:

Diane Benjamin, don't people who live in a place get to decide how that place is named? So if people who live in Boise say boy-see, isn't that the name of the place?

Not really. We all say, for example, "Rome", not "Roma". Now that is a different language, but the same principle applies across different varieties of English.

Christian Johnson said...

I agree with VP. If I'm asking for train tickets in Italy, I'll say Venezia, but when asking my partner for his credit card, I'll say "The tickets to Venice are 200 euros, hope that's OK."

And if I want to be properly understood in the UK, I'll say somethingb like "How much is a ticket to Birmingum?" ut if I'm speaking to a fellow American, I'll say BirmingHAM, followed by England to clarify that I don't mean Alabama.

Dick Hartzell said...

And if I want to be properly understood in the UK, I'll say somethingb like "How much is a ticket to Birmingum?" ut if I'm speaking to a fellow American, I'll say BirmingHAM, followed by England to clarify that I don't mean Alabama.

I take it this means that when referring to Berkeley, California, while in the UK it's necessary to pronounce it BARK-ley, since the city was named for the famed Anglo-Irish philosopher. (Meanwhile, everyone in the U.S. -- including in Berkeley itself -- pronounces it BURK-ley.)

j0egreen said...

I take it this means that when referring to Berkeley, California, while in the UK it's necessary to pronounce it BARK-ley

Maybe not necessary, but that would certainly be my (BrE) first instinct. To say BERK-lee would feel distinctly odd.

Dark Star in the Morning said...

Large cities got Anglicized because people went there (or at least their diplomats did) ... so Rome, Moscow, Vienna, Prague, etc., and Paris pronounce with a final S instead of as PaREE. Small towns didn't. And why Anglicize a town that's already in English?

So I tend to go with the "local residents get to decide on the pronunciation" contingent, especially when it's in an English-speaking nation already.

Dru said...

How then does one pronounce a place name that locals pronounce in more than one way? The River Nen/Nene (both spellings occur) rises in west Northamptonshire and flows east for about 100 miles into the Wash. In Northampton it is pronounced Nen, but somewhere around Peterborough, the pronunciation changes to Neen.

David Crosbie said...

I've little sympathy with pronouncements on
how to pronounce a place name
how a place name should be pronounced
the correct pronunciation of a place name

There are no rules, only practices and expedients.

Places have names usually, but not always, one name per place. That name is written down usually, but not always, with a consistent spelling. People use a name when speaking of that place.

If they have never heard the name spoken, they will almost certainly use a spelling pronunciation.

If they have read the name but never heard it spoken with reference to that place
• If they've heard the name used to refer to a different place (e.g. another Birmingham) or a person with the same name (e.g. Berkley), they will use the familiar pronunciation.
• Otherwise they'll use a spelling pronunciation.

NB These are initial decisions only. They may change their habit later.

If they have heard the name but never read it, or if they don't associate the name they hear with the name they've read
• They will aim at the same pronunciation, but not to the point of imitating the speaker's accent — except perhaps as a joke

NB Again, this is an initial decision. They may change after hearing speakers with a different pronunciation. Or they may modify their pronunciation after they see the name written down.

Why do speakers change their pronunciations? Well, a lot depends on who they listen to and who they speak to. For example, many years ago I would naturally say BAH-kly (There's no R-sound there in my accent) for the place in California. But I must have heard the American pronunciation hundreds of times since those days. Moreover the people who speak of the American university know the American pronunciation, while the people who don't know the American pronunciation tend not to ever speak of it. So now I say it your way.

Of course, there's also a pressure to sound like 'one of us'.
• If you use the 'wrong' pronunciation of Birmingham for the current side of the Atlantic, you won't be misunderstood, but you will advertise yourself as a foreigner. You may think this a good thing or not. It depends on the interpersonal dynamics. Dolly Parton one charmed a British press conference by showing that she knew how we pronounce the town of Rotherham.
• A few places have pronunciations favoured by locals but not by the rest of the country. Using that local pronunciation is a badge of narrow loyalty.
• Some people even have two pronunciations which they use in different speaking environments.

The BBC pronunciation document which j0egreen referred to in his 16 January posting was for some years published as a dictionary. In the introduction they explained the order in which the listed alternative pronunciations. Generally it was
FIRST the one preferred by the educated local population
LAST local dialectal
IN BETWEEN any variant they were 'made aware of'
The advice to BBC announcers was to use the FIRST, unless advised otherwise. A typical 'otherwise' is Newcastle (upon Tyne) where FIRST NYO-kah-suhl is not what the locals (educated or otherwise) prefer. Indeed NYOO-kass-uhl or nyoo-KASS-uhl are the local pronunciations, and are increasingly used by non-locals.

David Crosbie said...

Foreign place names can be much more complicated.

• Our name for the capital of the Czech republic comes from a German approximation to Czech Praha but written down with a French spelling Prague. For a long time we used the English spelling pronunciation — as we still do with The Hague. But then we got used to hearing the name rather than reading it. That said, I believe Irish Catholics still use that pronunciation for a particular Bohemian image of the Virgin Mary.

• Our name for the capital of Russia is the spelling pronunciation of a version in a language (probably German) where w represents a V-sound.

• Our name for the capital of Italy is a spelling pronunciation of the French written form.

j0egreen said...

In Northampton it is pronounced Nen, but somewhere around Peterborough, the pronunciation changes to Neen

Similarly with Shrewsbury I believe: the first vowel can be BOAT or BOOT, depending where you live.

j0egreen said...

@David Crosbie:
many years ago I would naturally say BAH-kly (There's no R-sound there in my accent)

And none in mine either, which is precisely why I sloppily forget to distinguish between attempts to illustrate pronunciation that do or don't include it. That of course then potentially confuses the hell out of rhotic speakers.

The BBC pronunciation document which j0egreen referred to in his 16 January posting was for some years published as a dictionary.

I called it a guide, which was perhaps misleading. I do have the actual dictionary. Priceless. I suppose it's all online now which isn't nearly as pleasurable, however convenient.

j0egreen said...

Oh and having plucked it from the shelf (in a trice) I am reminded that it covers personal names as well as place names.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...


Similarly with Shrewsbury I believe: the first vowel can be BOAT or BOOT, depending where you live.

The eponymous school definitely pronounces the first syllable with the BOAT vowel, but I believe most people use the BOOT vowel when referring to the town.

David Crosbie said...

j0egreen, Mrs Reboots

The BBC dictionary gives the GOAT-vowel pronunciation of Shrewsbury first, followed by the GOOSE-vowel pronunciation.

Normally, this would amount to a recommendation for broadcasters to use the former. However, they add that 'both are used in the town'.

Before this they note that the Earl of Shrewsbury and the public school are both pronounced with the GOAT-vowel.

So they seem to be saying GOAT is good but they won't really object to GOOSE.

j0e, the dictionary is out of print but not, alas, transferred to online-land. In its place, OUP have published a pronunciation dictionary which covers many non-UK names — at the expense of that huge wealth of small-town pronunciations.

I've used Amazon's LOOK INSIDE! facility and find it odd — with very strange transcription. The imitation-spelling entries for Maryland Baltimore and Gettysburg are disappointingly devoid of variants: mair-i-luhnd, bawl-ti-mor, get-iz-burg.

j0egreen said...

I believe most people use the BOOT vowel when referring to the town.

Whereas I believe exactly the opposite (going by recollection). I think we need some evidence. (The specific division that I was thinking of originally was that people from one half of the town pronounce it one way, and the others the other. Maybe that's apocryphal.)

On a related note, I find myself a little sceptical of David's claim that the local pronunciations of Newcastle are in increasing use elsewhere. I do know though that it doesn't take very long living away from a country to get completely out of touch with word trends. I have never heard anyone in Oz say "bellend" or "overshare", not even fellow ex-pats.

Kate Bunting said...

Southwell near Nottingham is another example. I (from neighbouring Derbyshire) was always taught to call it "Suth'll", but many natives use the spelling pronunciation.

David Crosbie said...

j0egreen

I think we need some evidence.

Well, both the BBC dictionary and John Wells list the GOAT-vowel pronunciation first. The BBC people clearly believe that evidence is on their side, albeit without a claim to methodical research. But John really did set out to find statistical evidence.

Personally I'm with Mrs Reboots; I've seldom heard the GOOSE-vowel pronunciation. And it's too much of a spelling pronunciation for my fancy.

j0egreen said...

Personally I'm with Mrs Reboots; I've seldom heard the GOOSE-vowel pronunciation.

Unless I have completely misread things, I think that means you're with me and not with Mrs Reboots (Reboots? Surely Redboots. An entertaining typo, whether deliberate or not).

Still my point was merely that both pronunciations have their steadfast adherents, whatever the proportions.

j0egreen said...

@Kate: the BBC dictionary accepts both. Hurrah for them, then. I would have said "Suth'll" too by analogy with Southwark's "Suth'k", but we all know how treacherous analogy can be.

FWIW Australian pronunciation drops some English oddities. For example "Belvoir" is pronounced French-phonetically, rather than "Beaver".

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

Actually, I hear the GOOSE-vowel pronunciation more than the GOAT vowel, especially from people like my in-laws, who live quite near there. It seems to be Southerners who use the GOAT-vowel....

Dru said...

I've long understood that it is more that ShrOAsbury is the U pronunciation, with the school being pronounced that way, and ShrOOsbury being what the locals call it.

I also come from Derbyshire but have relatives who in the past lived in Southwell, and I've never heard it pronounced any way other than Suth'll. If it's starting to be pronounced as it's spelt, that sounds like a modern development. Uttoxeter (ex Utchǝter now Youtoxeter) and Cirencester (ex Sissiter now Sirensester) did the same but about 100 years ago.

Likewise, I've never heard Belvoir pronounced any way other than Beaver like the animal that builds dams.

Newcastle and Carlisle are opposite and interesting. I've noticed that nationally, in Newcastle the stress usually goes on the first syllable and in Carlisle the stress goes on the second. But locally in Newcastle the stress goes on the second syllable and in Carlisle on the first.

It's slightly reassuring to read all these North Americans citing weird pronunciations of places in North America, since it means you can't complain any longer about Worcester, Leicester, Happisburgh etc. That last one, by the way, is pronounced Haysborough.

AnWulf said...

Looking at your list there are a few that I wonder about … dodgy and bum seem to hav been in AmE as long as they hav been in BrE so I don't see how you say they're imports to the US. I would say the same for "to go missing". That has been around for a long time. Indeed, I don't even find "go missing", "went missing", or "gone missing" in the plot of BrE ngrams but it is in AmE. If anything that is US to UK.

Ginger as a spice I see but I still don't see ginger to mean a redhead much in the US. Indeed, outside of British written books like "Harry Potter", I don't recall seeing it at all. That's not to say it hasn't happen'd … the US is a big place. But it's not widespred.

lynneguist said...

I suggest reading the original posts (click on the links on the words in this post). The fact that these were not American English until recently is very easily documented.

Kate Bunting said...

Dru - The first person I heard pronounce Southwell as spelt was a 60+ colleague who grew up there. The Wikipedia article confirms it (section "Southwell today")

j0egreen said...

The Wikipedia article confirms it

"In most parts of Nottinghamshire, 'Southwell' is pronounced SUH-thull, with a soft 'th' (as in 'the' or 'there')"

That's a little confusing. isn't that a hard "th"? And people wonder why Wikipedia's reliability is often doubted.

Diane Benjamin said...

My favorite oddball pronunciations in the US are Taliaferro County, Georgia, pronounced Tolliver, and Botetourt County, Virginia, pronounced Bott-uh-tott.

Dick Hartzell said...

That's a little confusing. isn't that a hard "th"? And people wonder why Wikipedia's reliability is often doubted.

Hey, click the [edit] link over the section in question and fix it!

I do it all the time -- though mostly I just repair clumsy English. It's rare that I find an outright error of fact.

Is Wikipedia a bit rough around the edges? Sure. But it's a measure of our 21st century glibness that we tend to take its monumental achievement for granted.

Dick Hartzell said...

Here you go, J0egreen. Have at it!

David Crosbie said...

j0egreen

isn't that a hard "th"?

The technical phonetic term is voiced. The less-than technical soft and hard seems to be fairly common when applied to sounds corresponding to letter C and letters TH.
HARD = /k/ (as in can), /θ/ (as in thin) i.e. voiceless
SOFT = /s/ (as in cent), /ð/ (as in this) i.e. voiced

This is bad news for anybody who has studied Russian. The terms hard and soft mean something totally different when applied to Russian consonants.

David Crosbie said...

About local variant pronunciations ...

Long before Facebook and the like, linguists were looking at social networks of people who spoke (and/or wrote) to each other in the non-virtual world. It wasn't that one speaker conversed with all the other speakers, but he or she did covers with speakers who also conversed with other speakers who ... and so on. The sum total of these speakers is a social network.

This idea gave another way of identifying speakers with similar pronunciation. A group of like-pronouncing speakers can be identified
• by geography
• by class (or aspiration)
• by generation
• by social network

The BBC dictionary indirectly reflects this complexity.

• The first listed pronunciation, the one specifically recommended to BBC announcers, is defined by geography and class: that preferred by the local educated population.

This sounds rather snobbish today. I think what it boils down to is confidence. People who feel confident that they have profited from their education are also confident in their pronunciation. They feel totally comfortable with their choice of pronunciation within their own social networks. But they also feel confident when speaking to people from other social networks.

• The least preferred (and not necessarily listed) variants are also defined by geography and class/social network: local dialectal pronunciations.

In Britain these are generallyof low prestige, very largely confined to working-class speakers. So speakers may feel confident, even proud, when using these pronunciations within their own social network. But outside those networks they are likely to be unconfident and to use a more prestigious pronunciation.

• The in-between choices are treated differently. Here, and only here, numbers matter. If more speakers use one pronunciation, its listed above one (or more) observed to be used by fewer speakers.

It seems that John Wells uses just the frequency principle for his order of listing (after allowing for UK or US geography). But the BBC favours what the most confident middle-class speakers use, even if more people in the same town use something else.

So it's possible (perhaps even true) that SUDHuhl and SHROHzbuhry belong to different social networks from SOUTHwell and SHROOzbuhry, even though the two exist side by side in the town they name.

David Crosbie said...

j0egreen

isn't that a hard "th"?

I assumed you were querying the terminology, but it's just occurred to me that it may have been the actual pronunciation.

The BBC dictionary lists only the pronunciation with a STRUT vowel followed by a voiced or soft consonant, sometimes known as eth (sounding like the middle of weather) for Viscount Southwell and for Southwell in Dorset. Let's call it a southern-like pronunciation.

For the Nottinghamshire town and its Bishop, and for the surname of less exhaulted Mr's and Mrs's Southwell they list additionally but secondly the spelling pronunciation with a MOUTH vowel followed by a voiceless or hard consonant sometimes known as thorn or theta after the Old Germanic and timeless Greek letters. Let's call it a south-like pronunciation.

Thus the BBC admits that the spelling pronunciation exists for the surname and the Notts town.

• Their policy on listing surname pronunciations is to place first
that for which we have the most evidence, and subsequent ones are in an approximate order of decreasing frequency.
So in their judgement a southern-like pronunciation is more common that a south-like pronunciation.

• Their policy on listing town pronunciations is similar but subtly different. As I posted before, they prioritise the pronunciation shared by the most confident, probably upper-middle class social networks among the townspeople of Southwark Notts — whether or not it is more frequent among Southwellians at large.

John Wells don't make the distinctions between aristocracy, other families and different towns called Southwell. He has only one entry with (i) the southern type followed by (ii) the type. In other words the former is the more frequent. Less nuanced, but probably more reliable. The BBC evidence seems to have a significant element of impression. John's evidence is objectively measured frequency.

j0egreen said...

isn't that a hard "th"?

I assumed you were querying the terminology


You're right, I was. It still seems back-to-front to me. A voiced sound sounds harder (to mix up the terms).