Category Archives: Pronunciation

You say erb, I say herb: American vs. British pronunciation of loan words

A croissant: KWAH-sonn or kruh-SAHNT?

You say ‘erb (using the silent French ‘h’), I say herb (the way it’s spelt). Here’s a good example of the difference between the American pronunciation (usually referred to as General American, or GA) and the Received Pronunciation (British English, RP) of foreign loan words — ie. words that have been adopted into standard English from other languages, many from centuries ago. Many will argue that RP has tended more to assimilate these words and pronounce them according to English spelling-pronunciation rules rather than to the way the original word sounds. So fillet (or filet), meaning a small boneless cut of meat (derived from the French word filet), is pronounced by the Brits as “FILL-uht”, in the way that its English spelling prescribes. Americans prefer to approximate the French accent with their more exotic rendering, “fi-LAY”. However, there are many exceptions to this rule, as illustrated in some of the examples below.

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Is THAT how you pronounce it?

Today I learned something new, about the way a name is “properly” pronounced. Even though this is a name I hear almost every day in my professional life (and I even used to pass the famous building that bears its name every day when I worked in an office), I never really thought about how it should be pronounced. Take it away, YouTube …

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Hat-tip to Max for bringing it to my attention.

In the news (Nov 26), including a list of best grammar blogs

Ellen Jovin / Facebook

In the news this past week: a grammar guru solves the world’s grammar problems on the streets of New York City; Jonathan Franzen gets Twitter’s knickers in a twist with his rules for aspiring writers; how Calvin Harris has managed to keep his accent; and Glosso is listed among 5 best blogs for language learning …  Continue reading

Killer Queen & Royal Jelly: What’s turpentine got to do with it?

 

Gelatin dessert / Wikimedia

With Bohemian Rhapsody becoming the second-highest grossing music biopic of all time, Freddie Mercury and Queen are back in the news and on the airwaves. There’s a word in the chorus of “Killer Queen” (“Mercury’s piano-led paean to a Moët-quaffing courtesan”*) that I’ve only just realized I’ve been hearing wrong all these years. And I had always assumed Freddie knew something I didn’t when he sang the French loan word. How could I have been so wrong? Continue reading

Aussie dimmos

 

Dripos, in Aussie speak

English is littered with diminutives — commonly abbreviated words — in standard usage. Phone, bike, fridge, gym, typo, photo: they’re all diminutives* in that sense. Sometimes we add a suffix after butchering a word to give it an even more informal feel: think comfy (comfortable), cardie (cardigan), telly (television), and even brolly (umbrella). OK, admittedly those are all British colloquialisms: we Brits [see?] are more prone than our neighbors across the pond to add weeny appendages back in once we’ve sliced off the fatty syllables. (And see Glosso’s earlier post: “I’ll take that with a side of small words.“) But wait: there’s a country that’s even more inclined to hypocorism (yes, that’s what it’s called) than English-speakers on either side of the Atlantic. G’day Aussies! Continue reading

You say aluminum, I say aluminium

Aluminum. Or aluminium. / Wikimedia Commons

There might be trade war brewing over steel and aluminum. But another trans-Atlantic war has already been raging for a couple of centuries over one of those heavy metals. Which came first: American aluminum or British aluminium? Continue reading

I say sked-yule, you say shed-yule; I say nego-she-ate, you say nego-see-ate …

“Stand well away from Platform 4. The approaching train is not SHEDuled to stop at this station.” So pronounces the Very British voice actor Celia Drummond, who happens to be the the voice of London’s Jubilee and Northern tube lines, as well as of some of the other British transport systems. But is this the “correct” pronunciation of the word schedule? Or do Americans come closer to the way the word was pronounced in its original language? Continue reading

The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast – 60 years old today

This post is republished on the 60th anniversary of The Queen’s first televised Christmas message, broadcast in 1957.

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As many of us tune in today to hear (or watch) 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