Friday, 31 July 2009


I misspelt ‘aggrandizement’ the other day. I realised when I read it in a book this morning. Words are like buses. Or busses.

It got me thinking, by association, about pronunciation. Growing up as an avid reader I had trouble with words that I’d read rather than heard. ‘Awry’ was one. I said it to rhyme with ‘story’. Another was ‘cotoneaster’, which I thought was ‘cotton easter’, not ‘c’tony-aster’.

The family often challenges my pronunciations, although I’m lucky that my inherited ones, albeit dated, are usually correct.

My mother talked about ‘gazey-boes’, where the rest of us say ‘gaz-ee-boes’. I always imagined that she must have read that before hearing it, but I’ve just looked it up in my 1932 Webster’s, and it’s an alternative pronunciation, so she was right all along - as she usually was, having never been to school. (It doesn’t appear at all in my older Webster’s, which is undated but in which the most modern thing illustrated under ‘aeronautics’ is Lana’s aeronautical machine - a sort of boat-shaped picnic basket with a mast and sail, suspended by four or five large copper party balloons.)

No one is sure of the etymology of ‘gazebo’. Wikipedia says “the origin of the word is unknown, and it has no cognates in other European languages”. Suggestions include the French ‘que c'est beau’, the Latin ‘gazebo’ (‘I shall gaze’ - although there was no such verb when I did Latin), and the Hispano-Arabic ‘qushaybah’ (allegedly a viewing platform, but the source seems to be a single poem and scholars of Arabic say it’s pronounced differently).

I’d like to put forward my own suggestion, which doesn’t appear in any source I have come across; ‘case beau’, from the French for ‘beautiful hut’. In which event my mother’s pronunciation would have been closer to the root.

In contrast, my mother-in-law occupies the linguistic no man’s land of Mrs Malaprop. Last week she remarked that her friend’s son was so clever that he’d been hedge-hunted.


  1. I drink with an oul fella who insists that his name is pronounced as 'Boe-bee'.

    Which is interesting in itself as his name is actually Tam.

  2. Your 'hedge' seems to be in good working writing order again. I'm glad. As an Afrikaans speaker I still tend to pronounce 'eeu' letters as 'oei'. Metal dys-lec-tia?

  3. I always thought cotoneaster was cotton easter too-until Mary corrected me! You must have heard Andy's Tony Smith story-"Is it correct to say 'he has' or 'he as'? asked Tony one day!

  4. I love your mother's pronunciation of gazebo and will say it her way henceforth.

  5. To each their own - my m-i-l and consequently Mr FF say subsidence with the sid bit pronounced as the man's name and it really niggles me. I've not actually corrected them but I have to fight back my impulse to do so each time.

    (of course it is not exactly a word from everyday conversation so it is not such a torment)

  6. Louise insists the cheese is called Gow-da, not Goo-da.

    When I was a kid, I remember a snobby comic dealer taking me to task for referring to one character as The Sub-mareener, rather than the Sub-marriner. I still have nightmares about this serious social faux pas.

  7. cotoneaster

    well, don't i feel the silly one, sugar! i had to look the damn work up, as i've never seen it before or heard it in conversation! *sigh* xoxox

  8. I have exactly the same problem and often make people snort with derision, or laughter. I was put right on cotoneaster by a kind friend some years ago but have not always been so lucky. The result being that if I'm unsure about the pronunciation of a word I tend to ask whoever I'm with before I make an attempt. All rather laborious. My husband, on the other hand, insists on pronouncing words wrongly no matter how often he's corrected, or how gently, he drives our son doolally: entertainment in itself!

  9. Mispronounciations can historically become the norm - as in butterflies from flutterbyes. Personally I prefer gazey-boes to gazebos any day of the week.

  10. Ah another mark of the autodidact, mispronouncing words learned in books. A fine post, Brother T.


    Comfort Spiral

  11. Jimmy - 'Boe-bee' reminds me of 'Ally Bally'. I like it, and may persuade my son to adopt that.

    Or I may just call him Tam.

    Virgin - Don't change dat aksent, meisie - ons dit liefwees vir! This household still puts bleck paper in its bobotie, has twak braais, and catches fairies to the islands. Sets us apart, poppie. (Come back soon).

    Sarah - Good story! And I'm so glad I'm not alone on the cotoneaster front!

    Lulu - Lulu! I've got to catch up with your life. I'm glad you like Gazeybo; shows class.

    Fancy - Oh dear. I say 'subsidence' like Mr FF. As in 'residence' (I bet he cites that too!). You're not American by any chance? Long as you don't say 'ree-search', we're still compatible.

  12. Oh not cottoneaster? I'll never say the word again. I used as a child to struggle with chaos and acme...but can't think how else they'd be pronounced now...

  13. Rol - Oh god - I say 'gowda' too. I'm beginning to regret this post. I did have a holiday in Amsterdam once; does that count? Sub-mareener I like though. They go around in 'floatillas' don't they?

    Savvy - Not silly at all. It's a big plus that you don't have conversations about it. You probably call it something else anyway over there. Crawberry, or somesuch.

    Eryl - It's good to bring a little joy into their drab lives! But I think your husband has the right idea. Show enough confidence and people begin to wonder if they're wrong.

    Steve - The Dutch called them 'boterschijte', which needs no translation. I guess that's why there is little mention of them in Dutch romantic poetry. Or possibly little Dutch romantic poetry. I agree about gazeybos. I think I'll join Lulu in adopting that.

    Cloudia - Woo, 'autodidact'! I had to look that up. What a great word! I wish I could use it about myself, because that should be a source of pride.

  14. Nota Bene - I'm feeling so much better about my cottoneaster blunders now. We are legion! Now you come to mention it, 'chaos' is a cracker; one of those words that get wronger as you look at them.

  15. It's clemmertis or clemaytice that puzzles me!
    I had a book as a child called 'William the Gobbletrotter' which I hugely looked forward to reading until McMum put me right and took all the mystery out of it by explaining what a globetrotter was.

  16. Well. I'm as American as someone who grew up in North London with English parents can be :). Maybe I'm the wrong one with 'subsidence'. Oh, I never thought of that

    (I also say Gow-da though)

  17. As a Scot, I am used to many mispronunciations of ordinary words and names. Why anyone thinks that Millguy is pronounced 'Milngavie', I'll never know.

  18. "Misled"

    Always pronounce that as my-zulled when I read it.

  19. I'm not even sure what a gazebo is, but shall endeavour to use the word anyway. "Cotoneaster" is a word just asking for trouble...

  20. I love the idea of being hedge hunted! I actually quite often use words wrongly, deliberately. Comes from old long running joke with my ex, and stems back to when my son was learning to speak. So we have, elellow aminals, for yellow animals, head badger for headache, apple bumbum for cucumber, and bakes for grapes!

  21. Haha, reminds me that my mum says "Asparagriss" instead of asparagus. Many years ago now I asked a stranger on the beach at Hawaii if it is pronounced "Ha-why-ee" or "Ha-vye-ee"...he said "Ha-why-he" and I said thanks and he said "You're velcome."

  22. Oh and if you get a chance today you should hop over to my friends blog, and see her 12 year old singing his wee heart out! It's great.

  23. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  24. Hello,

    I'm a reporter for a local newspaper in LB Havering.

    You wrote a light-hearted commentary in 2007 about the Havering Humanists (Now, the Humanists of Havering.)

    The group recently saw your blog entry, and it has put them on the defensive.

    The paper is treating it all very light-heartedly, but I had hoped you could get in touch (details below) to get a few comments from you.

    Hope to hear from you.

    Kind Regards,

    Jane Ball
    Romford Recorder

    0208 477 3878

  25. Hi Jane. I'd love to know who said what, where! Had to track down what I'd written, in case I'd said something litigious, but I don't think I was offensive...I certainly didn't mean to be.

    As a Scot, I know that ‘havering’ can be as much a sign of open-mindedness as of uncertainty, and so there should be no shame in being a havering humanist. But I have every respect for humanists of all denominations and convictions, from secular to religious - and Heaven knows (or doesn’t), they have their place in Havering as much as anywhere else. To be a Humanist of Havering is a mark of humanity and reason; alongside other believers in the dignity of individuals they are a manifestation of ethics in Essex, and I’d hate to think I’d upset them. To their credit, given that I wrote that piece in 2007, they apparently seldom Google themselves or read my blog, thereby proving themselves to be a thoroughly rational lot, and I wish them well.

  26. My grandmother had a problem with all the 'refuggies' during the war.

    I could never get 'Ho-nest' right and assumed it was a pirate word.

  27. Interesting I haven't been here for a couple of years Id forgotten how good it was here.

  28. Helen - 'Gobbletrotter' is much better (although when you come to think about 'globetrotter', it's an odd word. Comhures up images of someone balancing on a beachball).

    Fancy - Not wrong; just further advanced up the linguistic ladder.

    Madame DeF - I'll store 'Millguy' for future use. Bit like 'Trossley' for Trottiscliffe' round here.

    Jules - I had to think about that, but see exactly what you mean. It made me remember the shaming time, aged about 10, when I read a lesson in chapel and pronunced subtilty 'sub tilty'.

    Gadjo - One sounds like an icecream, the other like a cheerful undergarment.

    Justme - It's a strange, private world you occupy! I particularly like apple bumbum, and shall have it in my sandwiches from now on.

  29. Amanda - I enjoyed the Hawaii story - quick! As for your friend's son, he's definitely one to watch.

    Laura - 'Ho-nest' is a lovely one. So reassuring to find everyone had these errant words.

    Henry - How kind of you to say so - although I've been lazy about posting lately. Need to visit yours again and catch up.