I am highly indebted to Ben Franklin and Noah Webster for simplifying the spelling of some words in American English, but that doesn’t mean that I expect our British friends to change the way they spell them just to please us. However, I will admit that there have been times when I was a bit irritated by some of the differences in our spelling or pronunciation.
Lolly, I, and our two kids, spent four happy years in England, years we genuinely loved, but when it came to a few British spellings or pronunciations life became just a bit confusing. That, plus the fact that I often lean back after a long day and read what is called a “cozy murder mystery,” causes me to have an occasional run-in with British spellings or pronunciations.
A cozy murder mystery is one that skips the tough guy stuff and the blood and guts, and focuses instead on people, plot, setting, and — most of all — on “Who Dunnit?” So what have cozy mysteries got to do with spellings and pronunciations that vary between the U.S. and England?
Well, the British are the acknowledged masters of the cozy mystery, as you’ll see when I name just a few authors, so a lot of the books I read are written in British English. Starting with Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, British cozy mysteries of today run all the way to up to J. J. Marric’s “Gideon” books and others. Along the way we find my favorite author, Agatha Christie, who has had more books printed than anything/one else, except for the Bible and Shakespeare.
However, for us Yanks, British English contains some rather quirky things that can spoil your day, both when you’re trying to quietly end it with your nose in a murder mystery, or — worse — when you’re trying to get from point A to point B in the UK.
Back in November I mentioned a not-too-clever airman in my outfit in England who told us about a hilarious incident at a ticket booth in a London railway station. His orders said to report to “RAF Upper Heyford near Bicester,” so he asked for a ticket to Bicester, naturally pronouncing its name as BY – CESTER.
“You mean Bistah,” the smiling female clerk replied helpfully.
“Right!” he answered, “BY – CESTER.”
“You mean Bistah,” she told him again, thinking he had missed the point that she was trying to help a newcomer deal with British pronunciations.
Evidently, she had to repeat her helpfully intended correction a couple more times before he finally caught on. As he put it, “So I figure dis broad ain’t never gonna gimme no ticket until I say it her way; so I says, “Yeah, Bista, an she finally gimme a ticket!”
No, he was not the brightest bulb on the tree of life.
Done chuckling? OK, let’s press on, as the British say, and consider the fun I might have had trying to find a town whose name was given to me as “Woolsry,” but was actually spelled: Woolfardisworthy. I came close to getting into that mess, but luckily did not have to make the trip.
Of course, we do the same thing over here at times. I’ve never made the mistake of calling Gloucester, Massachusetts, GLOW – CESTER, for example; but that’s probably because I lived in Connecticut where I heard people call it GLUSTER before I ever saw it in writing .
Notice that “ou” in Glouster? Even in American English that small pair of letters can be pronounced many ways. For example:
Sour. Detour. Court. Though. Through. Tough.
More about that next week.