Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Mad dogs and Englishmen

I have recently re-read a book by possibly the most anglophile American. Although I did from time to time find myself becoming a tad irritated, it did remind me why I am very happy to have been born a native of these islands.  Mr Bryson - for he was the author - waxed lyrical about the whimsical nature of England and Englishmen.  It took an Englishman - Noel Coward - to put us on a par with mad dogs.

That, to Mr B, is one of our endearing traits, the ability always to see ourselves as not as good as other races (or nationalities).  We frequently sell ourselves short.  Mind you, many of us like to see that as eccentricity rather than madness, and eccentricity is something we admire.  It is something we do rather well.  Take place names, for example.  Many of them are pronounced completely differently to the way they are spelled.  Gloucester, Worcester and Leicester are pronounced Gloster, Wooster and Lester.  Belvoir is Beaver and - wait for it! - Woolfardisworthy (an eccentricity if ever I saw one!) is Woolsery.  And in Norfolk there are two neighbouring villages called Tivetshall.  So as to distinguish one from t'other, the names of their parish churches' patron saints are added to give Tivetshall St Mary and Tivetshall St Margaret.  Some names almost invite sniggers, names such as Nether Wallop and Parsons End.  And to think that we consider Kalamazoo odd!

But it's not only place names that are endearingly eccentric.  We have an innate need to apologise. We apologise to people who bump into us because they are not looking where they are going. We apologise when asking for something.  "I'm sorry, could you move your bag off the seat so I can sit down?"  "I'm sorry, can you tell me what time you serve breakfast?" It could be described as a sorry state of affairs.

Our people invent things and we let other nations reap the benefits. Football was 'invented' in this country - and now almost every other country plays it better than we do.  We have won the World Cup once - 50 years ago!  We invented cricket and our national team is frequently beaten by others. Mind you, cricket qualifies as an eccentricity itself!

I mentioned that the names of places are sometimes (often?) not pronounced as written but this quirkiness goes further. We spell the noun for the place where plays are staged the French way - theatre - albeit without the little hat over the 'a' but we say it almost in the American way - theater - although the emphasis is on the first syllable rather than the second. Then there is the habit we have, probably irritating to some, of adding a silent 'w' to words starting with the sound 'r' and sometimes 'h' - write, wring, who. But the 'wh' at the start of whistle, when and where is pronounced as a 'w'!  And perhaps it would be better not to get entangled with the 'ough' ending of words!

Personally, I am quite happy to live in a land of oddities.

1 comment:

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip, said...

Thinking of the sounds of "ough" is something one could spend an entire morning just finding new ways to spell old words.
I will leave that to the imagination... where it belongs.