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.
Say again please?
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!
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!