Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Sunday, May 29, 2011


From Bill Bryson's fascinating book The Mother Tongue

     "Many British apellations are of truly heroic proportions, like that of the World War I admiral named Sir Reginald Aylmer Ranfulry Plunkett-Ernel-Erle-Drax."  [Any relation to the fantasy writer Edward John moeton Drax Plunkett, Lord Dunsany, I wonder?  I digress.  Back to Mr. Bryson.]  "The best ones go in for a kind of gloriously silly redundancy toward the end, as with Sir Humphrey Dodington Benedict Sherston Sherston-Baker and the truly unbeatable Leone Sextus Denys Oswolf Fraduati Tollemache-de Orellana-Plantagenet-Tollemache-Tollemache, a British army major who died in World War I.  The leading explorer in Britain today is Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes.  Somewhere in Britain to this day there is an old family rejoicing in the name MacGillesheatheanaich.  In the realms of nomenclature clearly we are dealing here with giants.

     "Often, presumably for reasons of private amusement, the British pronounce their names in ways that bear almost no resemblance to their spelling.  Leveson-Gower is 'looson gore,' Marjoribanks is 'marchbanks,' Hiscox is 'hizzko,' Howick is 'hoyk,' Ruthven is 'rivven,' Zuill is 'yull,' Menzies is 'mingiss.'"

     The British, of course, do have sole ownership of this type of thing.  My wife's family name is Keane, pronouced "Cain;" the Australian branch of her family pronounce it "Kine," strangers tend to take the easy wat oout, pronouncing it "Keen."  In my hometown, living next door to each other were close members (either siblings or first cousins -- I'm not sure which) of a family named Girauldi; one household pronounced the name with a hard "G," while next door it was pronounced with a soft "G."  In every state in the country you can find towns and cities that are not pronounced the way they are spelled -- I live about a hundred miles from "Balmerr, Murrlin," for example.

     To me, all this means that the members of the pesky human race remain independent and ornery, ever putting their own individual stamp on things.  There's a kind of beauty in that, and something to be thankful for. 

No comments:

Post a Comment