Quaint Local Pronunciation

My boss at the Academy of Letters used to head the National Archives. Here’s a story he told over coffee the other day.

Some decades ago a delegation of Swedish archivists was driving across the American Midwest to visit a Mormon microfilming facility. Stopping in a small town for lunch, they noticed that it had an unusual name in a Native American language. At a fast food restaurant, the head of Stockholm’s town archives asked the cashier,

“Excuse me miss, we’re from Sweden and this place has such an unusual name. Could you please tell me how to pronounce it?”

The young lady stared at him for a moment, and then said loudly and slowly,



  1. #1 Thinnker
    January 14, 2013

    This is reminiscent of the old Swedish joke about King Gustav V (unfortunately untranslatable due to the pun):

    Kungen var på resa och åt middag på en restaurang. Han kallade till sig hovmästaren och frågade: “Detta var verkligen en utmärkt sylta — vad kallas den?”. Hovmästaren svarade: “Knaust i Sundsvall, ers majestät!”

  2. #2 Birger Johansson
    January 14, 2013

    And if you have read the first chapter of Pratchett’s “The Light Fantastic” you have heard abut about “Your Finger You Fool”.
    —- — — — — — — —
    Some pundits at Fox News recently confused the “distributive property” – a concept in algebra- with “distributingg property” and claimed the math books were intended to indoctrinate the children with socialism.
    A more malign variant happened in Turkey under the military regime when textbooks about sociology were confiscated and burned. The arseholes doing the censorship confused it with “socialism”.

  3. #3 Martin R
    January 14, 2013

    Or the two Americans who got fired for using the words “niggardly” and “pedagogy”…

  4. #4 Eric Lund
    January 15, 2013

    I’m reminded of a story I have heard that supposedly took place in England during World War II. The government had removed signs from railway stations that gave place names so that enemy spies would not know where they were. According to the legend, a pair of German spies was traveling somewhere in England and were at a railway station. One of them noticed a sign in the station, looked at his map, and after a couple of minutes told his companion, “I cannot find this place on the map.” The sign was located on a door and read, “Gentlemen.”

    Many cities and towns in the US are named after places in Europe, but the people who named the US places had only seen the names written out, not heard them pronounced. Thus, for example, the Berlin in New Hampshire is pronounced with the accent on the first syllable, and the neighboring town of Milan is pronounced MY-lan. Even when the namesake is an English city, the pronunciation may differ: if you are referring to the Birmingham in England, the H is silent, but you pronounce the H if you mean the Birmingham in Alabama.

  5. #5 Neil Howlett
    January 15, 2013

    When a British newspaper was campaigning in 2000 for “Megan’s Law” to be introduced in England there was an incident in which the word “paedo” was sprayed on the front door of a . . . paediatrician.

  6. #6 Martin R
    January 15, 2013

    I get slandered as an architect now and then. Once even as an agronomist.

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