Miss Pronounced

Miss Featherstonehaugh is pronounced “Miss Fanshaw”. It seems crazy.

It was once patiently explained to me that there is a disconnect between verbal, printed and written English when it comes to names, and an extreme bureaucratic and legal example was a chequebook.

It was possible, my teacher explained, for each cheque to have the account name ROBERT BURNS printed on it, but for the signature to be a cursive form of BARAK OBAMA, and for it to be verbalised or pronounced MARGARET THATCHER.

IMG_20150503_165205929_FotorThe teacher added that the signature could be an X, a scribble, or a drawing of a fish. The fish would represent the account name ROBERT BURNS, and both be pronounced MARGARET THATCHER. How bizarre!

Places near Glasgow must give non-natives a lot of trouble – “Milngavie” is pronounced “Mul-guy” – and “Culross” is pronounced “Koorus”.

Mhari Dalziel worked at Menzies in Milngavie with Siobhan Cockburn.

The Kerrs were a family I went to school with. Everyone back then pronounced “Kerr” as “Car”, and the film star of the time was Deborah Kerr (pronounced Car). My teacher was Miss Perkins, and this was pronounced “Parkin” by everyone, and I don’t know why. People seemed to just know how things ought to be said. But now it’s changing.

People are pronouncing “Perkins” as “Perkins”, and “Kerr” as “Kerr”, and I heard a news reader recently say “Feather-stone-haw”. I hear it all changing daily – “Men-zeez”, “Consort-ee’um”, “Con-tro-versy” and so forth.

Once no-one was put out by the sight on the telly of Norman St.John-Stevas, nor by the fact that it was pronounced as “Norman sinjun stee’vaz”.

At Oxford, it strikes one as rather odd that people speak of “Modlin college” and then it turns out to be written “Magdalen College”, while at Cambridge there’s Caius college pronounced “Keys”.

I have no idea if all this happens in other languages, or if it is an uniquely English thing. There I did it again. I used a peculiarity – you see I was taught that one MUST not have stuttering vowels, so I couldn’t write “a uniquely”, I was forced by education to put down the “n” to make “an unique”. I still do this with “co-ordinated” and “co-operative”, despite my computer going crazy with “the squiggly lines of error”.

“An Hotel” rather than “a hotel” is better writing , and leaves the reader with the choice of a stuttering vowel or a silent “haitch.”

I have noticed a parallel movement in naming children recently – some parents try the phonetic, such as Ruri, and others try the cryptic, such as Ruaridh. I sometimes feel sorry for the little tykes who have to live their lives spelling their names over the phone.

Then again Avien is not “Avian”, but “ah-vee-‘en”. But how would you know that?


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