Category Archives: Pronunciation

How to pronounce “Magdalene” in Britain, and why

Mary Magdalene, Caravaggio, 1594-1596 / Wikipedia Commons

*Update: please see comments below for further discussion on this subject …

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When I’m back in Blighty, I stay at my family home in Magdalene Road. Try asking a taxi driver to take you to “Maudlin” Road (as the name Magdalene is historically pronounced in the UK), and you’ll probably be met with a blank stare — even by those London cabbies who’ve aced The Knowledge. You are actually more likely to hear that increasingly dated pronunciation when you visit Cambridge, whose Magdalene College sounds more like Maud than Magda. However, the plot thickens, because its sister college in Oxford — which is spelled nearly the same way but without the final “e” — sounds like the surname of the Biblical Mary Magdalene after which it was named. Which pronunciation — if either — is correct: “maudlin”-sounding Cambridge “Magdalene” or the three-syllable Oxford “Magdalen”? Continue reading

The mid-Atlantic accent: blame it on Edith

I’ve always thought the word “mid-Atlantic” is such a strange misnomer: doesn’t it conjure up images of boats tossing on vast ocean waves with no land in sight? But that’s just me, it seems: most people think of Katherine Hepburn or Cary Grant — and that’s because the term is most commonly used to describe an accent. Continue reading

Is the Cornish pasty really a Devonian pie?

A Cornish pasty / Wikimedia Commons

“Controversially, I understand the Cornish pasty may have been invented in Devon.” This explosive statement was made yesterday by Celia Richardson, the director of communications for Historic England. Er – what?  Continue reading

Hygge

Closeup of family warming feet at fireplace, by kedusource / Flickr

Closeup of family warming feet at fireplace, by kedusource / Flickr

Have you enjoyed some hygge this holiday season?

“Hygge — pronounced to sound somewhere between “booger” and “hooker” — is an apparently untranslatable concept which embodies the Nordic art of cosiness.” So explained the Financial Times in a recent article about this trendy and enviable state of well-being that apparently eludes most of us non-Nordics. “This year hygge has become a global publishing pandemic. The Danish art of cosiness has been co-opted as the latest lifestyle trend to make us feel our disorganised, overworked, over-digital and under-curated lives are utterly inadequate. It is now, after bacon and wind turbines, Denmark’s biggest export.”

The word hygge hasn’t quite yet broken the Danish-English language barrier and taken its official place in any of our official dictionaries. Perhaps that’s because, as the Financial Times argues, it’s simply untranslatable — both culturally and linguistically. Last year Justin Parkinson in the BBC’s news magazine observed: “The Danish word, pronounced “hoo-ga”, is usually translated into English as “cosiness”. But it’s much more than that, say its aficionados – an entire attitude to life that helps Denmark to vie with Switzerland and Iceland to be the world’s happiest country.”

Although the Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t yet have an entry for hygge (but do keep an eye on those new official word lists coming up in the New Year), the online Oxford Living Dictionaries does offer a relatively succinct and evocative definition for the Danish word and concept, which has definitely made its way into our lexicon: “a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture).” But do note that there are two quite different pronunciations offered up here — scroll down to the bottom of OD’s hygge page to hear them articulated. So if you are able to achieve this particular state of twee chill that seems to elude most Americans and Brits, it seems you can choose to call it either “hooker” or “hewger” — whichever kind of hygge sounds like your kind of bliss.

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The Queen’s Speech

The Queen pictured at the microphone during her inaugural Christmas message in 1952; Daily Mail

The Queen pictured at the microphone during her inaugural Christmas message in 1952; Daily Mail

As many of us tune in on Christmas Day to hear The Queen delivering her Christmas message to her subjects around the world, some of us might be focusing less on the words she speaks and more on the way she says them. Every year my ears delight in the music of her voice itself: her plummy accent — the quintessential example of received pronunciation, or what we used to refer to as “BBC English” — harks back to an earlier age when Englishmen and women, especially those in the upper echelons of society, spoke very differently. (Scroll to the end of this post to watch the Queen’s first televised Christmas message, broadcast in 1957, and a speech given by her second oldest grandson earlier this year.) Continue reading

In the news … (Friday, Oct 21)

Portrait of Cod; Wikimedia Commons

Portrait of Cod; Wikimedia Commons

In grammatical and usage news this past month: a political email scandal involving risotto and apostrophes; some fishy regional accents, literally; how we’ll all be talking in 50 years’ time; Trump gets it wrong yet again; a British supermarket with a name that’s already been taken (by Iceland, for itself); a dictionary goes online; and those familiar experiences and concepts that desperately need a word or name to describe them  … Continue reading

In the news … (Friday, Sep 16)

Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/1498–1543) via Wikimedia Commons

Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/1498–1543) via Wikimedia Commons

In usage and grammar news this past month: how and why we curse (or swear, if you’re a profane Brit); a new app for grammar snobs; a celebrity scolds Siri for mispronouncing her name; names that parents regret giving their babies; the true nature of the word gypsy; and a grammar rule that we all use without knowing it. Continue reading

In the news … (June 10)

trump

TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky. In usage and grammar news this month: Trump is unaware of the hottest portmanteau of the year; a very sinister punctuation trend; Roald Dahl’s weird words get their own dictionary; a grammar mistake on a London Transport ad (can you spot it?); Texan Republicans either believe that most Texans are gay, or they just can’t string a sentence together; the name of a famous bridge has been spelled wrong for more than five decades; a comedian lands herself in trouble with a mispronunciation; and some awesome Bachelorette malapropisms. (And if you’re not sure what a portmanteau or malapropism is, check out Glosso’s earlier post here.) Continue reading