British English, what a confusing beast – between vague meanings and various accents it can be a complex language to understand. When it comes to the pronunciation of certain words however, it seems that they’ve entirely lost their heads. When arriving in London for the first time, numerous travellers will recall being laughed at for their pronunciation of ‘Southwark’ (suth/ik), and it has been reported that backpackers will choose to stay lost and cold rather than ask for directions to ‘Worcestershire’ (woos/ter). But fear not friends – Londoners themselves struggle with these words too, and THEY were born here. With so many different accents and some snobbery involved, it’s no wonder that there is some confusion.
From people and places to baked goods, here are 10 things that even Londoners struggle to pronounce.
- Marylebone (mar/li/bone – mar/li/bun)
Is it ‘mary/lee/bone’, ‘marril/bon’, ‘mary/luh/bone’? Londoners can’t seem to agree. Named after the Church of St Mary’s by the Bourne, this Central London district is home to some of the best shops and eateries in London – even if no one can pronounce its name.
- Rotherhithe (roth/er/hive)
Derived from the Anglo Saxon words meaning ‘landing place for cattle’, this is one name that has more than a few Londoners mixing their ‘th’ and ‘v’. The Mayflower first set sail to Southampton from this London port in July of 1620.
- Theydon Bois (thay/don/boyce – thay/don/boyz)
Think that this little London parish should be pronounced with a French twist – thay/don/bwah? Think again. Notable for its complete lack of street lamps, it has a night and a name that confuses both Londoners and foreigners alike.
- St John (sin/jin)
When used as a first name or surname, St John (as in St John- Stevas) becomes ‘sin/jin’ or ‘sin/jun’. We don’t know why, and it’s not something native speakers inherently understand. Personal preferences and tradition have something to do with it, but most react with a, “That’s just silly”.
- Greenwich (gren/itch)
Even though the area has given its name to both a meridian and an international standard of time, Londoners still argue over its pronunciation. Although everyone agrees the on a silent ‘w’, whether it’s ‘grin/itch’, ‘gren/edge’ or ‘grin/idge’ has yet to be decided.
- Cockburn (co/burn)
On first glance this makes us blush – yet this common British place name is pronounced with a silent ‘ck’. However, the same rule cannot be applied to ‘Cockfosters’ – hence the confusion, and the embarrassment on many London faces.
- Featherstonewaugh (fan/shaw)
The British have five ways of pronouncing this family surname – ‘feather-stun-haw’, ‘feston-haw’, ‘feerston-shaw’, ‘feeson-hay’ or ‘fan-shaw’. Aside from that excessive selection, there is also no way to determine which you should use and when – even Londoners only have a twenty percent chance of getting it right.
- Plaistow (play/stor – plar/stoh)
The correct pronunciation depends on the correct Plaistow – and this confuses everyone. When referring to Plaistow in the Borough of Bromley we say ‘play/stor’, however when talking about the larger and more popular Plaistow in the Borough of Newham it becomes ‘plar/stoh’. Go figure.
- Marjoribanks (mar/ch/banks)
Another family name that defies logic in its pronunciation, the Scottish ‘Marjoribanks’ transforms to a clear ‘mar/ch/banks’ or ‘mar/sh/banks’ when read aloud. This must have been another name that gave London teachers headaches at role call.
- Scone (sk/on)
The everlasting debate – does it rhyme with tone or gone? Not only limited to American vs. British English speakers, there are arguments across London town for both pronunciations of the high tea treat. Though whichever way you say it, they’re always served the same.
Now we know – whether you were born a native Londoner or come from a far flung land, there’s always going to be something a little confusing about British English.
Written by Caitlin (A.K.A. The Indie Butterfly).