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Sum moor torque on heterographs

[31 Jan 2012] When deciding whether a pair of similar-sounding words really deserves to appear in the great roll-call of heterographs – a loopy if occasional concern of ours at Plain Language Towers –  a knotty problem is what to do about differences in pronunciation (or ‘pronounciation’ as a BBC Radio Manchester announcer called it the other day).

In the Queen’s Christmas broadcast, for example, ‘often’ came through from Her Maj as ‘orphan’, just as extreme RP (received pronunciation) still produces ‘hice’ for ‘house’, ‘grice’ for ‘grouse’ and ‘gel’ for ‘girl’.

In the Daily Telegraph, Judith Woods tells a good story (to be read in a ‘Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ accent) of the delicious confusion that can arise:

‘A genteel Edinburgh lady enters a baker’s shop and says: “Is that a sponge cake or a meringue?” Shop assistant: “No, hen, you’re absolutely right, it IS a sponge cake.’

In Northern Ireland (or ‘Norn Iron’ as the locals call it), ‘now’ is often pronounced ‘nigh’. No wonder it took so long to sort out a peace deal: ‘What do you mean, the time for concessions is nigh? We want them nigh!’

Meanwhile, the final episode of an otherwise fine reading of Louisa Young’s ‘My Dear I Wanted To Tell You’ on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Book at Bedtime’ was marred by the unusual word ‘demur’ (to show reluctance) being spoken as ‘demure’ (reserved, modest), and thus rhyming with – and smelling of – manure.  [MC]

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