Lost in a Labyrinth of Consonants

It’s fun showing of your pics when you return from foreign parts. The only problem is pronouncing the name of the places you captured in those fabulous shots! There’s no problem if you’re showing them to cousin Frank, who lives in Newcastle and hasn’t been further afield than Noosa; he wouldn’t snigger even if you pronounced Yosemite the way it is written. But watch out if your family and friends are  the jet-setting type!

Mind you, some place names would defeat us all. Last month a friend driving through Europe phoned me from Poland. ‘Where exactly are you?‘ I asked, but he said he didn’t know. ‘Well I do know really’, he confessed. ‘I just don’t know how  to say it!

He showed me the town on the map when he got back, and I understood his dilemma. It was a place called Przytoczna. Yes, that’s five cruel consonants before the merciful appearance of a vowel.

To Anglo-Saxon eyes, the place names of Central Europe can resemble a random line-up of high scoring Scrabble tiles. In fact, Hungary’s Hajduboszormeny placed oner a triple word  score would blow any opponent off the board.


English place names have a comfortingly higher ratio of vowels to consonants, but don’t think you can relax when you visit the Old Dart. Although the letters are arranged in more recognizable sequences, you cannot utter the name of an English town or village with confidence. I suspect the pronunciation of  some Cornish villages  was  reinvented by local wits;  a  deliberate campaign of tourist torture amid much giggling into their pint pots.

For example, producing ‘Mowsle’ out of a place spelled Mousehole could hardly be unintentional, could it? And you couldn’t get ‘Poffill’ from Poughill without really trying.  And why would the Bershire village of Bisham be produced Bissum?

Thank God for simple place names such as Wells, or Bath or Land’s End. There is not much originality about Land’s End, but at least it tells you exactly where you are! More importantly, it warns the adventurous tourist not to go any further. This is particularly important if one’s ability to swim has been affected by a stomach full of Cornish pasties and cream teas.


Variations of local accents are charming, but can  lead to trouble and strife. While searching for a B&B in Maidstone (Kent)  my partner Rob finally gave in to my pleas  and enquired  at a service station. ‘OK, the bloke told me to follow the signs to Lewes .’  This advice  worried me, because Lewes was miles away.

Are you sure Rob? That’s in East Sussex.’

‘YES I’M SURE!…we just have to follow the signs to the place, not actually go there!

‘ But that’s like  someone in  Sydney asking where Mosman is and telling them to follow the signs to Brisbane!

There was a tense silence and I could tell his confidence was shaken. I don’t know who was more relieved when we turned a corner and entered the suburb of Loose!

Where is ths !*&#!* place?

 Nobody likes a  pronunciation smarty pants!

My  Australian friend  Margaret,  who lives in London, has an irritating ability to pronounce every weird  place name  in the country. Well that’s fine, but  I   wish she wouldn’t leap upon my mangled  efforts to say Oundle or Yealmpton with such glee.  Now the name Uttoxeter  is pronounced Yeewtoxeter (I think). I visited Margaret  after making  a pilgrimage to the town, birthplace of lexographer Samuel Johnson.  My plan was to work the name into a little sentence about Samuel, which  I  practised  on the way to her house. Unfortunately we started chatting about other things,  and when she suddenly said; ‘So where did go on Bank Holiday?’ my mind went blank.  I mumbled, ‘Oh…ummm, Yew…Yewt, Yewtell me where you went first!

Have you had any difficulties with place names during your travels?  Do keave a comment in the box below. Don’t forget to scroll down and complete the anti spam sum before pressing ‘SUBMIT’  Otherwise your comment will disappear into the ether!

  1. This made me smile! Re place names, did you ever get to Bronte country? They lived at Haworth, as everyone knows – but it’s near the town of Keighley.
    Okay, I’ll tell you – it’s pronounced Keeth-ley…

    • Pauline

      Oh dear, yes…we have been there and I would definitely have pronounced it as Key-ley!

  2. Well… how do you say Islington, Isleworth and Isles (as in British)? This intrigued me when I lived in London a few years back. It’s not at all how you would imagine. Islington is pronounced IS-ling-ton. Isleworth – another London suburb – is EYE-sel-worth. And of course as we all know, the British Isles sound like aisles…
    Oh, and another little beauty from Yorkshire Dales, a little village known as Appletreewick is locally known as Ap-trick!

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