Monday morning fun from an e-mail:
I had to read it a couple of times before I picked up every single pronunciation-freak in the following. —
Times Literary Supplement, 16th November 2012, last item on the back page: —
Spare a thought for the foreigner grappling with English spelling and pronunciation. The tough demanded the dough. She coughed up, as she ought to have done. “I was quite right”, she would later write to the wheelwright. “It was a rite of passage, but he looked thoroughly rough.” Her daughter’s laughter sounded fraught. The dame, always called madame, had good blood. [Note by N.M.G.: The writer ought to have found a way of adding “brood”, “food” or “mood” here, for yet another pronunciation of “oo”.] As she liked to read, books were read. She was born in Leicester and attended Magdalen, but preferred life in Kirkcudbright or Milngavie. Her niece was brought to Borough Market by Mr Brougham.
That’s the easy bit. When class enters, things get worse. The haberdasher from Hereford who says “hurricanes hardly ever happen here” inhabits a different England from the ‘aberdasher from ‘Ampshire who says, “They don’t ‘ardly never ‘appen ‘ere neither”. It’s no use issuing an hortatory, “In English the aspirate ‘h’ is pronounced”, because within an hour, honestly, your honour will be hors de combat. If you refer to an historic hotel, why not an hotel with an history? If you discuss the ants in your pants with your aunts at a dance, using the same aall through, you are probably Scottish or Irish, in which case you are spared the class—not closs—anxiety.
Some of these matters are discussed in Choose the Right Word, an “easy-to-use” guide to “better English” (How To Books, £9.99). We have improved our English by learning not to address strangers as “mate”—”many find it objectionable”—not to say “the hoi polloi” (the “hoi” is the the), that flotsam floats, while jetsam is on shore. We know the difference between discreet and discrete, but have never learned (learnt?) when to say burned and when burnt, hanged or hung. We will continue to say air hostess—Choose the Right Word suggests the ugly “steward”—except when we mean hair ‘ostess.
Thanks, dear reader, should you ever find me, for being my gadfly.