Category Archives: Pronunciation

How to pronounce “Magdalene” in Britain, and why

Mary Magdalene, Caravaggio, 1594-1596 / Wikipedia Commons

*This post has been updated and revised to reflect the many comments suggesting my original post was misinformed.

***

When I’m back in Blighty, I stay at my family home in Magdalen Road in South West London. Try asking a taxi driver to take you to “Maudlin” Road (as the name Magdalen(e) 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. The same is true for its sister college in Oxford — which is spelled nearly the same way but without the final “e”. Which pronunciation — if either — is correct: the “maudlin”-sounding Cambridge and Oxford colleges, or the more modern three-syllable “MAG-duh-lin” that you’ll hear nowadays in most other parts of England? 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.

~~~

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

In the news … (April 29)

TGIF … In language and usage news this month (and it’s been a good one), we have a Presidential hopeful having some trouble abroad —  in pronouncing the name of that place he’s never been to;  some landmark capitalization rules (or make that “DEcap” rules) at the AP; how personality is behind grammar nazis; does the name “Jim Wilson” mean anything to you (especially if you’re in the aviation world)?; find out which words were born in the same year as yours truly; the difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism; some words made famous on an iconic TV show; and some dope on pugs … Continue reading