As I said last week, I am highly indebted to Ben Franklin and Noah Webster for simplifying the spelling of many words in American English, but that doesn’t mean that I expect our British friends to change the way they spell them or say them just to please us. However, I will admit that there have been times when I have been just a tad irritated by some of the differences in our spelling or pronunciation.
Lolly and I spent four happy years in England, so we had a lot of chances to run into confusing spellings or pronunciations. That, plus the fact that I often like to lean back after a long day and read what’s called a “cozy murder mystery,” causes me run into some genuinely odd British spellings or pronunciations.
A cozy murder mystery, by the way, is one that skips the tough guy stuff and the blood and guts, and focuses on people, plot, setting, and most of all on, “Who Dunnit?” A lot of good ones were written by British authors, which gives me a chance of running into some words that jar me because I can’t imagine how the devil they are pronounced. My favorite mystery author is Agatha Christie, so you can see why I often run into odd spellings.
As I imagine you already know, the spelling and pronunciation problems in British English derives from two things: One is the British penchant for taking a place name that’s a block long and trying to spit it out in one or two syllables.
Look at the mess I almost ran into. One of Lolly’s relatives was considering a move to a place she called Wolsry, which she said was a beautiful spot near the southwestern coast not too far from Plymouth. It was a three hour drive from our base near Bicester (pronounced like blister), she told us, but Lolly and I had a long weekend and we thought it might be fun to drive over there and see a bit of Devonshire.
However, the place may have been pronounced Wolsry, but was actually spelled Woolfardisworthy. Can you imagine the trouble we might have had trying to find that place if we had started out without knowing that?
Plus which, there are two of them, located just 45 miles apart; but luckily we didn’t have to make the drive.
However, it isn’t only the pronunciation of places that can make life confusing over there; it is also some of the words or spellings you run into while reading. Mind you, we all know that our British relations decided to keep the extra “u” in words which Webster removed them from, but even so it is annoying to read odour, vigour, colour, or one of the many other “ou” words, instead of the far simpler “or” spelling.
Why? Even in American English “ou” can be pronounced many ways. Just look at these:
Sour. Detour. Court. Though. Thorough. Tough.
However, that’s nothing compared to the pronunciation of “ou” words. Take the sentence that jarred the heck out of me last week as I was reading a British murder mystery. “The wind soughed through the trees.”
That stopped me dead in my tracks. I had no idea how to pronounce, “soughed.” Have you?
“Take your choice,” I thought. “Like though, maybe? Or through? Finally, I gave up and looked it up. You won’t believe how it’s pronounced: Like loud. Just try saying it. Wind soughs?
That is the most unintuitive pronunciation I have ever seen.
Why not use something simple, logical, and pronounceable?
Like “the wind whistled through the trees” maybe?
I rest my case.