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The collected opinions of an august and aristocratic personage who, despite her body having succumbed to the ravages of time, yet retains the keen intellect, mordant wit and utter want of tact for which she was so universally lauded in her younger days. Being of a generation unequal to the mysterious demands of the computing device, Lady Bracknell relies on the good offices of her Editor for assistance with the technological aspects of her journal.

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Location: Bracknell Towers

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Lady Bracknell fulminates about errors in speech

Lady Bracknell has been dipping once again into Mr Pocock's excellent little book on manners, and her attention has been caught by his chapter entitled, "Manners in Speech", and, in particular, that section which deals with errors in speech.

Here is what the good gentleman has to say on the subject:

"One constantly hears little grammatical errors in speech, and mistakes in pronunciation. Here are a few of the words most commonly mispronounced:

- Don't say 'the fith of February' when you mean 'the fifth of February'.

- Perhaps should be pronounced per-haps, not p'raps.

- Mischievous should be pronounced mischevous, not mischeevious.

- Vase should be pronounce varz, not vawz."

This is a subject close to Lady Bracknell's heart. She accepts that local differences in accent do sometimes affect pronunciation. Where this is genuinely the case, persons who have not been brought up to use the rules of RP may risk sounding foolish should they deviate from their native speech patterns. Lady Bracknell is also aware that there are some unfortunate persons whose capacity to speak clearly is in some way impaired. These last are, of course, excused.

She would, however, urge those of her readers who fall into neither of the categories which she has outlined above to nurture an affection towards their mother tongue, and to show it the respect it deserves by devoting some care to reproducing it accurately in speech. To assist her readers in avoiding common pitfalls, Lady Bracknell has prepared an addendum to Mr Pocock's own list of mispronunciations:

- There is an 'x' in 'sixth', and it is not silent. Sixth should be pronounced 'sicksth', not 'sickth'.

- Likewise, the 'x' in 'expect' should not be replaced in pronunciation with an 's'. Thus, 'eckspect', not 'espect'.

- The first two letters in 'suppose' do not magically transpose themselves when spoken so as to be pronounced 'usppose'.

- There are four syllables in 'February', and they are all pronounced.

- The same is true of 'secretary', which should be pronounced 'seck-re-ta-ry', not 'seckertree'.

- The first 's' in 'anaesthetise' and 'anaesthetic' is not silent, regardless of how frequently it is ignored by actors in televisual medical dramas.

- Persons who cannot pronouce all the syllables in 'veterinarian' are advised to use the abbreviation, 'vet'.

- There are two syllables in 'police', both of which are pronounced.

(Lady Bracknell recalls with some trepidation an instance from her childhood when her own mother made this very clear to her. Mispronunciation was not tolerated in that household.)

In recent decades, the habit of taking holidays abroad has educated the British palate into a fondness for a wider variety of foodstuffs than was the case in Lady Bracknell's youth. As a result, purveyors of comestibles now stock a veritable cornucopia of exotic items. This can present problems of pronunciation to those who have no experience of foreign tongues. Here are some errors which Lady Bracknell has overheard whilst shopping for groceries on the maid's day off:

- Espresso is an Italian word which does not contain the letter 'x'. Please refrain from inserting one just because you are unused to words which begin 'es'.

- Ciabatta is also an Italian word, and should be prounced 'chabatta', not 'si-ya-batta'.

- Tortilla is a Spanish word, and should be pronounced 'tort-eey-a', not 'tort-ill-a'.

- Gruyere is a French word, and should be pronounced 'gree-yair', not 'groo-ee-yair'.

Those of her readers who share Lady Bracknell's intolerance for sloppy pronunciation are invited to supplement the list she has provided with their own personal examples via the "comments" facility.


Blogger Charlesdawson said...

Dear Lady Bracknell

This is a subject dear to my own heart. How often have I wished, on listening to the pundits and reporters on the televisual device, that those who are unable to pronounce "vuLnerable" should insist on using it, as "vunnerable", instead of some harmless Anglo-Saxon periphrasis eg "at risk."

Nonetheless, may I hint at a word of caution in the good lady's comminations against the mispronunciation of foreign borrowings?

This has been a recognised feature of the English language since the earliest times: A. Borrow a word to fit a new concept B. Fit it into your own phonetic scheme.

Indeed, this facility is is conceivably the root cause of the immense richness and success of English as a global language; it has far overtaken, indeed defeated on its home ground, such less flexible tongues as French, because the damn Froggies actively resist, officially that is, the absorption of other tongues. No "you say tomato, I say tomayto about them!"

12:08 pm  
Blogger Becca said...

I had for some time been aware that Mancunians, particularly I suspect those of lower social placing, pronounce the word 'little' as 'lickle'. I was delighted, however, to discover upon a recent visit from one of the sterling ladies of the local Social Services department, that some at least can also be heard to use the word 'hospickle'.

12:35 pm  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...

Mr Dawson,

Lady Bracknell is indebted to you for reminding her of the most deplorable crime of its kind - that of failing to pronounce the 'l' in 'vulnerable'. When writing, she was aware that she had omitted something of great import, but could not for the life of her bring it to mind. (She is a lady advanced in years, and cannot always cudgel her brains as efficiently as she could when young.)

Lady Bracknell takes Mr Dawson's point about the integration of foreign words into the English tongue.

Nevertheless, she still suspects that, whilst such words - through constant use - gradually attain a more anglicised pronunciation over time, they are are usually pronounced reasonably faithfully when first imported. She does not believe that the tortilla chip has spent long enough amongst us for this anglicising process to have taken place, and still prefers to attribute its current mispronunciation to ignorance. Indeed, if Americans can pronounce 'tortilla' correctly, it does not seem too much to ask that the Brits should be able to match their skill.

2:04 pm  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...

Lady Bracknell thanks Becca for her regional contribution.

She is familiar with the phenomenon the young lady describes, and has never been able to reach an entirely satisfactory conclusion in her own mind about whether it should be attributed to local dialect or to slovenly pronunciation.

2:06 pm  
Blogger The Goldfish said...

"A fine-toothed comb" is a comb with fine teeth and not to be confused with the entirely surreal object "a fine tooth comb" - I have even seen this written down. In books. That got published.

The letter "H" is pronounced "Atche" not "Hatche". This one drives me nuts, I don't know why it annoys me quite so much but it does.

"Scone" is a Scots food and thus should be pronounced, as they do, "Skon" not the "Skown."

My maternal grandmother is broad Suffolk and has the fascinating habit of adding Hs onto proper nouns beginning with a vowel, assuming that everyone knocks them off. So she refers to the towns of "Haldershot", "Hedinburgh" or the TV presenter "Michael Haspel" which makes me giggle.

2:09 pm  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...

The Goldfish's mention of the device for combing fine teeth reminds Lady Bracknell of similar linguistic atrocities made when pluralising complex nouns.


'mother-in-laws' for 'mothers-in-law'

'court martials' for 'courts martial'

'tablespoonfuls' for 'tablespoonsful'


'memorandums of understandings' for 'memoranda of understanding'.

(This last appeared on the Intranet site of a major government employer within the last week. A site which is also noted for its assertion that staff may find different office temperatures comfortable depending on their physiognomies. A statement which has occasioned much mirth amongst those staff who are in possession of a wider vocabulary than whoever wrote this 'guidance'.)

All of the above set Lady Bracknell's fine teeth on edge. As did the insistence of the mother of an erstwhile suitor of her ladyship on pronouncing 'margarine' with an unwonted hard 'g'.

2:30 pm  
Blogger Charlesdawson said...

Lady Bracknell's comment on the nisuse of "memorandums" brings to mind a whole heap of other solecisms which have appeared following the lamentable decline in the teaching of Latin and Greek in our schools.

I refer to those persons who cannot distinguish between one datum/bacterium/stratum/medium etc and two data/bacteria/strata/media.

Or one phenomenon and two phenomena.

And if one thing gets me irritated, it's the referring to THE hoi polloi. hoi means "the".

And if we get onto the subject of ghastly grammar, pick the nuggets out of this, produced by the CSA:

"Less than one in three absent parents pays any regular maintenance to support their children."

3:25 pm  
Blogger Katie said...

I must apologise most humbling to your ladyship Lady B and your Editor for correcting me in the earlier comments. I am sorry for offending you your Ladyship and hope that our opinions of things can carry on as normal because as the editor pointed out we share the same feelings about things.

I hope you weren't too upset by the things that were about my dad, as I know now that your opinioins were just observations!
Hope Bracknell Towers is fine and that it remains a thing of beauty like my favourite grand house Longleat House. Pardon me your Ladyship and have a nice cup of brew on me in bracknell Towers.

4:42 pm  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...

Lady Bracknell assures Katie that all is forgiven and thinks that she might, indeed, order the butler to bring tea.

4:46 pm  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...

Mr Dawson,

The increased use of the non gender-specific plural possessive pronoun 'their' as a nonsensical sop to political correctness is indeed a barbarous assault on the integrity of our language.

How can one be expected to parse a sentence correctly when one cannot be sure whether an apparently plural pronoun refers to a plural noun?

If it is considered offensive to feminists to use the pronoun 'his' in relation to a singular noun which might imply a person of either gender, what is wrong with saying 'his or her'?

It becomes increasingly clear to Lady Bracknell that she and Mr Dawson have much in common.

5:06 pm  
Blogger Charlesdawson said...

I told your ladyship we were soulmates a long time ago. Do I detect a softening in your august demeanor, only now that I am about to embark on a sojourn across the sea?

I shall endeavour to dispatch a virtual pc to you and to the Goldfish as soon as I can locate a Library with free computing devices.

8:00 pm  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...

Mr Dawson manages to give the impression that he is embarking on a lengthy and perilous sea voyage in a ship which might at any moment founder upon the crashing waves and sharp rocks of the Tierra del Fuego.

Whereas her ladyship knows full well that he is bound merely for the Isle of Wight, and thus refuses to spend the ensuing week in silent prayer for his safe passage. She does, however, send him her best wishes for a relaxing holiday.

9:12 pm  
Blogger marmiteboy said...

Gawd blimey, Missus. Leeve it aht why don'cha.

Nuffink rong wiv speeking differen'. Nor writin' it neever.

Vat's the trubble wiv yew toffs too much bleedin' time on yer han's. Yew need to do an 'onsest dayz werk dahn the market darlin'. We don't ave nun ov that posh talk dahn there. We ain't got time too fack abaht wiv all the foreign talkin'. An' anuvver fing, 'ow long as Mikey Haspel bin using a short vershion ov his name. Ee's Mikey Haspel in my owse an' always will bee.

8:17 am  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...

Mr Marmite,

Lady Bracknell is at a loss to comprehend why you have departed from your usual patterns of speech in this impenetrable way.

She has read your comment several times in the hopes of extracting even a modicum of sense from it. In desperation, she has even asked whether any of her domestic staff could translate it for her. To date, none has been able to do so.

Lady Bracknell must therefore thank you kindly for showing an interest in her humble blog, but confess that she has not understood a word of what you said.

10:11 pm  

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