A male BRCA mutation carrier "emulates" Angelina Jolie by having preventative surgery to remove his prostate? Not so fast there, pardner...

Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.

OK, I know I use that line entirely too much, but I also don't really care. When something fits, wear it. And if it doesn't fit, you must acquit. Sorry, I'll stop. I'm in a weird mood as I write this. But it's really hard not to get into a weird mood after reading the lastest bit by that crank to rule all cranks, that quack who tries to rule all quacks, Mike Adams, founder of NaturalNews.com. Last week, he laid down the vile stupid fast and furious to attack Angelina Jolie's decision to undergo bilateral prophylactic mastectomy. It was hard not to note his fixation with referring to the surgery as "mutilation" and to rant about how surgeons don't remove other organs to prevent cancer in patients with gene mutations that predispose them to very high risk of specific cancers. It turns out, as I pointed out, that we do. It was also hard not to note his fixation with testicles and prostate and why men supposedly don't undergo surgery to remove their reproductive parts in order to prevent cancer. He might have had a tiny spore of a point, buried in a black hole of pure pseudoscientific crazy, if there were in fact a gene mutation that conferred an 87% chance of testicular cancer or prostate cancer.

Then I woke up yesterday morning, and you, my readers, were bombarding me with yet one more article by Mike Adams, entitled Angelina Jolie copied by men! Surgeons now cutting out healthy prostate glands of men who carry BRCA gene. In it he references a story about a 53-year-old British man who underwent a prostatectomy after testing positive for a BRCA mutation. The news titles were almost as bad as Adams' title: UK Man has Prostate Removed after Tests Reveal 'Jolie' Gene Flaw (International Business Times) and British father, 53, becomes first man in the world to have his prostate removed to beat cancer flaw which struck Angelina Jolie (Daily Mail). Indeed, the Daily Mail even began its article by writing, "A British father has made medical history by having his healthy prostate removed after discovering that he carries a defective gene that boosts his risk of cancer, it was reported last night." As you will see, this sentence is every bit as much a misrepresentatino as Adams' rant and the statement in the IBT article that proclaimed, "After receiving the news the man asked doctors to remove his prostate, which tests had shown to be healthy."

Characterizing the decision as "Medical self-mutilation... a new fashion statement for the chronically stupid" and speculating that surgeons (yeah, that's me) are pushing people into having surgery (we're usually not), Adams couldn't help but let his imagination run away with him:

Hey, I want to see Brad Pitt's prostate gland stuffed into a glass tube and hanging around Angelina Jolie's neck like she used to reportedly do with Billy Bob Thorton's blood. That wouldn't be weird, would it?

I think we should start a "Skin Removal Foundation" to have all the skin surgically removed from people who might someday have skin cancer... which includes everyone.

Or better yet, the "Young Women Breast Cancer Prevention Society" which chops off their breasts at age nine, before puberty really kicks in. Just tell your little girls how much you love them before the anesthesia kicks in. That's what good mommies do, isn't it?

And for the young boys, why stop at slicing off their foreskin at birth? Penis mutilation is just a warm-up for today's insane medical monsters. Why not remove their colons at birth so that they never run the risk of dying from colon cancer? Why not cut off their testicles and make sure they never face the future possible risk of testicular cancer, too?

I know, it's insane. Disgusting. Outrageous. And yet it's happening right now thanks to women like Angelina Jolie who are publicizing and pushing this idea that women should have healthy breasts cut out of their bodies even though there is no rational medical justification for doing so.

He finishes up with "satire" (which is about as unsubtle and heavy-handed as you would expect from Adams) in which he advertises "1-800-CHOP-OFF," drive-through double mastectomies, and the Organ Whacker Saw for "do-it-yourself medical mutilation." Yeah, that's just Mikey being Mikey. He's terminally vile.

But what about the story itself? I didn't even bother with the Daily Fail or the other article. I happened to see a description of this case on Medscape. it was obvious I should go with that over other accounts. The first thing that I noticed about the man who underwent preventative prostatectomy is that he was part of a research study:

The man who underwent surgery was participating in a clinical trial, conducted by the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), that involved more than 20,000 men. Previous results from this trial have shown that a man with a BRCA2 mutation has an 8.6-fold increased risk of developing prostate cancer, and with a BRCA1 mutation has a 3.4-fold increased risk. Just weeks ago, the ICR researchers reported that prostate cancer in men with the BRCA2 mutation is more aggressive and more likely to be fatal (J Clin Oncol. 2013;31:1748-1757).

"Knowing you are a carrier is like having the sword of Damocles hanging over you," Dr. Kirby said in an interview with the Sunday Times. "You are living in a state of constant fear. I am sure more male BRCA carriers will follow suit."

The man who underwent the surgery is described as a 53-years-old businessman from London who is married with children and has several family members who have had breast or prostate cancer. When he found out he was carrying the BRCA2 mutation, he asked to have his prostate removed.

Initially, the ICR researchers were reluctant, the newspaper reports, because there was no indication of a problem, either from prostate-specific antigen tests or from a magnetic resonance imaging scan. However, a biopsy showed microscopic malignant changes.

Here's the thing that's not being emphasized, however. This was not preventative surgery. It's being represented that way in the press or, if it's mentioned, the fact that there was already cancer there is mentioned but not put in proper context So I will say it again: This is being represented as a case of a man "emulating" Angelina Jolie, but that's not what it is. This man did not, as the Daily Mail and IBT reported, have a "perfectly healthy prostate." He had early stage prostate cancer. We don't know the details, but his surgeon said that he normally wouldn't have operated, which implies that the cancer cells seen on the biopsy were considered to be of the kind and level that urologists would consider it safe to watch and only intervene if the cancer showed signs of progressing. But this man's case was different. He had a BRCA2 mutation, and the clinical trial that he was on had shown that BRCA2 mutations are associated with much nastier, more lethal prostate cancers than your run-of-the-mill sporadic prostate cancers. That put his surgeon in a bind over what to do.

Indeed, let's take a look at the study cited above, which was published just last month. It's entitled Germline BRCA Mutations Are Associated With Higher Risk of Nodal Involvement, Distant Metastasis, and Poor Survival Outcomes in Prostate Cancer, and the title pretty much says it all. BRCA-associated prostate cancers are nastier cancers. But how much nastier?

The study examined tumor features and outcomes of 2,019 patients with prostate cancer, 18 of whom had BRCA1 mutations and 61 of whom had BRCA2 mutations. Investigators looked at prognostic factors correlating with overall survival (OS), cause-specific OS (CSS), CSS in localized PCa (CSS_M0), metastasis-free survival (MFS), and CSS from metastasis (CSS_M1). What they found is that BRCA1/2 mutation carriers were more likely than noncarriers to have poorly differentiated cancer when diagnosed (35% versus 15%), locally advanced ancer (37% versus 28%) or cancer that had already metastasized (18% versus 9%). In patients whose cancers had spread past the capsule of the prostate at diagnosis, more carriers had metastatic disease within five years (23% versus 7%). While it is true that this study was a retrospective study, with all the shortcomings of retrospective studies, its results were sufficiently clear that it's hard not to take them as a strong indication that BRCA2 associated prostate cancer tends to be a lot more aggressive and lethal, with the five year OS being 86% for noncarriers and 58% for BRCA2 mutation carriers. That's a big difference.

Of course, given my discussions of lead time bias and length bias, in which it is not always clear that earlier treatment actually results in better treatment outcomes, you might reasonably ask if more aggressive surgery earlier in men with BRCA2 mutations who have prostate cancer will really improve their odds of surviving the disease (or, more specifically, significantly decrease their odds of dying from it). After all, this man had no indication of prostate cancer by standard measures, including serum PSA levels and a magnetic resonance imaging scan. It was only an prostate biopsy (a procedure for which he had no standard clinical indication to undergo and apparently only underwent because he was on the study and was a BRCA2 carrier). If you look at it another way, he underwent far more intensive screening than the average 53 year old, and it early stage cancer, leading to the question: What to do?

It's an open question. However, it's also a question that can't be answered until a prospective clinical trial is done, a clinical trial that might never be done because of the difficulty between randomizing men with BRCA2 mutations with early stage prostate cancer that normally would be observed, with intervention reserved for men who show evidence of progression on followup ultrasound and biopsy to either immediate surgery or standard "watchful waiting." At least, such a trial will be very difficult to do because BRCA2 mutations are relatively uncommon causes of prostate cancer, making it difficult to accrue enough subjects, particularly when the two groups are immediate surgery versus delayed surgery. Most men with BRCA2 mutations would very likely want early surgery and would be unlikely to be comfortable being observed knowing that BRCA2 mutations are associated with significantly worse outcomes in prostate cancer. According to Ros Eeles, MBBS, PhD, professor of oncogenetics at the ICR and honorary consultant in clinical oncology at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust in Surrey:

"It must make sense to start offering affected men immediate surgery or radiotherapy, even for early-stage cases that would otherwise be classified as low risk. We won't be able to tell for certain that earlier treatment can benefit men with inherited cancer genes until we've tested it in a clinical trial, but the hope is that our study will ultimately save lives by directing treatment at those who most need it," she said in an ICR statement.

Exactly. This man and his surgeon made a difficult decision based on data with a great deal of uncertainty over what the right thing to do was. In the context of a BRCA2 mutation that is associated with a nastier and potentially more lethal variety of breast cancer, it is not unreasonable for a man with early stage prostate cancer to opt for immediate surgery. For all we know, if this were the US, surgeons might very well have recommended immediate surgery anyway even if the man didn't have a BRCA2 mutation. In the US we tend to treat prostate cancer more aggressively, and only relatively recently have urologists and radiation oncologists become more comfortable with "watchful waiting" for low risk early stage prostate cancer. This man's decision had nothing to do with Angelina Jolie. It had nothing to do with prevention. It was a therapeutic surgery. One might argue if it was necessary or not. It's hard to know without knowing the full pathology found on prostate biopsy. But it was not "preventative" surgery. Given that BRCA2 mutations do increase the risk of prostate cancer by around 8-fold, it might actually make sense to consider prophylactic prostatectomy in men with BRCA2 mutations, but that's a question for future research, and this case is not a case of doing that.

I expect idiotic nonsense from people like Mike Adams. It's just a shame that this man's story is being misrepresented by mainstream news organizations as somehow being an indication that men are rushing to emulate Angelina Jolie.


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For those who are familiar with the Daily Mail, this kind of stuff comes as no surprise. It is a notorious rag.

In its reporting of medical issues in particular, any relationship between the truth and published articles is purely coincidental.

By DrBollocks (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink

*sigh* The Daily Fail strikes again... Between it and PuffHo, I feel myself losing a little more faith in humanity every day!

Ah yes, the troll on your
"friend's" blog started in on this yesterday, didn't it.

Hilariously enough the Daily Frail's own "BLAH BLAH HEALTHY PROSTATE OMG!!!" article features a quote from the surgeon* saying that cancerous cells were evident!

Apparently the Fail are so busy RL trolling** that they don't even read the bloody quotes they put in their own sodding articles, which is just... I mean... how do they even do that? Is it all just beamed into them, like on Satellite 5? Oh wait, that's it, the Mighty Jagrafess is in charge!

As the fabulously named DrBollocks says, getting health news from that rag is like asking the BNP*** for race relations advice. Said rag has, over the years, divided every item/compound/food/whatever into "Stuff that gives you cancer" and "Stuff that prevents cancer". Some things are on both lists. That's how consistent their "health news" team is.

*I already opened the article yesterday, pleaaase don't make me do it again! If it wasn't the surgeon, then mea culpa

**Lovely American RIers - your countrymen seem to hold the Daily Wail in very high esteem, this puzzles me, as the content is clearly an incoherent jumble of manufactured outrage and absolute wrongness.

Is it because of some belief that British papers are all serious and authoritative? Is it that commanding, forthright Teutonic font? I don't get it. I'm often presented with a DM article as "proof", with an air of "See, it's in the news"

I feel dirty now, I've discussed them too much, so onto:

***The British National Party. A political party founded along the same lines as the Fail, namely the view that Britain is for white people only.

Much like the Frail they have, at times, railed against the existence of Jewish people, Muslims, anyone not of pure Aryan stock. Just like the rag they insist constantly that they are "Not. Racist."

Anyway, a few years ago the BNP arranged their annual Christmas party. They booked a venue, arranged catering, and hired a DJ. Upon arriving at the party, in their shiniest formal Jackboots, it was clear someone had made a grave error. The DJ they'd booked was black. An event which irony was made for.

However, they'd left their pitchforks and knuckledusters at home, so what did the entire assembled fascist throng do to the disc-spinner? Nowt. They blushed, cleared their throats self-consciously, and danced the night away with more than the usual vigour, for fear of looking stupid, and being deemed racist.

How comedically British. I salute that DJ, he deserves an MBE.

Elburto -- your story reminds me of the time a sweet but not very bright buddy of mine married the daughter of a local KKK bigwig. This was in North Carolina and the reception was at the bride's parents' home in what is known over here as a gated community. 1stLt Buddy invited all of the Marines in his battery. Every. last. one.

Which, if you are familiar with the racial makeup of the US Armed Forces, is kind of karmic.

Well, I suppose the same people that quote DM, would also quote Bild with the same fervour... if only they spoke German.

For an unusually young man with an aggressive variant prostate cancer, I do not think that radiation is a good choice as a first treatment. With a long life expectancy, such a patient would be at increased risk of needing a salvage prostatectomy following a local recurrence, a brutal procedure with an extremely high risk of total impotence and incontenence. Another issue, possibly a side issue, is that patients with these mutations have a DNA repair defect, and if I was the patient (I had to make this decision at age 49), I would wonder if I would have a higher than usual risk of a secondary malignancy following the radiation.

I think that this fellow made the correct choice.

By Michael Finfer, MD (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink

elburto @3 -- Most of my blogular activity is devoted to combating climate change disinformation on the Huffington Post comment sections; I can't tell you how many times David Rose' UK Daily Mail articles lying about climate change are treated like holy writ by the denialists. Americans tend to think of British folks as smart and oh-so-refined, even though both of our countries have alarmingly large populations of, well, morons.

And Shay@4 -- that must have been priceless. Especially since these guys were all Our Soldiers Protecting Our Freedom Because Freedom Isn't Free. And especially because, as highly trained fighters, they were probably pretty much immune to intimidation.

By palindrom (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink


I suspect Buddy's first sergeant -- a gentleman of mature years and dark complexion -- enjoyed the heck out of it. I wish I'd gotten to go; it's the kind of place that has little metal jockeys out on the front lawn.

Who *is* that mysterious health ranger?

you might ask, so here is more on Mike-

( from foodinvestigations.com About the Health Ranger)

he is the "son of a Pfizer contractor and a clinical trial tester for some of America's biggest pharmaceutical companies".
Young Mike accepted SBM and took various rx drugs without question but then as a "high powered software executive" who ate poorly and didn't exercise, he was diagnosed with "type 2 diabetes" at age 30 and also suffered from " high stress and cholestrol, depression and chronic back pain". So "he dove into research " and "cured himself of diabetes" thorough diet and exercise.

At the now defunct site HealthRanger.com ( the new HR site has his videos of life on his farm), he included more details about his 50 lb weight loss, such as very posed photos showing his new buffness as well as detailed blood chemistries, body fat indices, ad nauseum. AND health recommendations ( "avoid doctors except for NDs" - who aren't doctors).

That site also spoke about his software ( Arial?), other companies and his "charity"-( to reward children and schools who teach healthy lifestyles). Seems he created a way to deliver advertising via e-mail, wouldn't you know.

A few things I've also been able to glean:
ihis business was located in Florida, then Arizona, then ECUADOR ( he tried to start a colonia there, advertising property) then Arizona and now Texas ( near to AJW-btw-). He is in his early forties, is married and has a child. ( Another woo @ PRN hinted that a health guru in Ecuador had to leave because of kidnapping threats). He supposedly speaks Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. He is semi-fluent in English.

He self-identifies as a "nutritionist" but I have never read any educational background on him. He lives on a ranch outside Austin, Texas, raising chickens and organic vegetables, doing outdoor work and advocating gun rights.

In the past few years, he has become more political as a libertarian and health freedom fighter. Often his rants instruct readers to prepare for the end of civilisation as we know it. Obviously he sells products ( storeable foods, filtration systems, heirloom seeds) that will assist you in building a new life after the tribulations. He has also spoken about economic Armageddon in terms even Porter Stanberry would love. He occasionally sits in for Alex Jones.

And yes, Orac, I think his attempts at satire are sick-making.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink

Is it possible that Mikey is obsessed with..uh.. body parts?

This has come up more than once... ( vaccine music video)
I highly recommend he read about tribal ritual involving circumcision, subincision and other penile-centred rites ( Campbell's "Primitive Mythology" comes to mind).
It might cure his anxieties ...

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink

@Shay - that is enough to make me squeal with sheer, unmitigated joy!

Bless those poor, racist little relics. I wish I could have seen their faces. They must have thought it was the end times.

palindrom - you deserve a bloody knighthood for taking that lot on. Wazzocks. I'd love the American believers in the "everything sounds better in a British accent" crew to come over here. There are still people in this area, mostly elderly ones, who do not have the ability to code-switch.

They have very little Standard English fluency, and speak in their local dialect almost exclusively. I can. guarantee that heads would explode.

To wit:

"A's gannen f'ra fag in the gully. D'yeh want uz to nip it for yeh? Ah'll mak a cuppa an' some scran after, so dinnet fash if yer clammen".

Then there are the type of people you mentioned, who care about very little outside of their own bubble,* and almost take pride in writing off current events as "boring" or "pointless".

I'm sure we could go to any town in the UK, round up some of those people, and do an exchange programme where American towns send their wastrels over here. I bet nobody could tell the difference.

*Like elburtobro, sadly. He could be our first exchange participant. If anyone knows a 34 year old manchild, who's a petty criminal/factory worker with substance abuse and impulse control issues, we can swap! Bro is what RIers over the Pond probably refer to as a 'redneck'. Pick an 'ism and he's guilty of it. He's delightful. He's the kind of person who says "Global warming? Yeah RIGHT!" when it's cold outside.

I have a friend from Yorkshire. When communicating over the phone, I often have to ask him to repeat himself a few times. But we have our own incomprehensible dialects. I learned that when working customer service for a financial institution that specialized in high interest loans for manufactured housing and eventually went belly up due to fiscal tomfoolery at the upper levels of management. I learned that there are parts of the US where consonants are an endangered species, and parts where people speak so slowly that I find it difficult to remember the beginning of the sentence in order to parse it correctly. And then of course there are the Amish, many of whom only speak English as a second language, their first language being a form of German that even Germans don't use anymore. So perhaps we can swap some people from deep in a West Virginia holler for some folks working at t' mill. ;-)

By Calli Arcale (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink

Shay, I love your story. It's the real life version of an old apocryphal story, in which the headmistress of a very refined girls' school calls the local Air Force base to invite a dozen airmen to attend a dance. With a little hemming and hawing, she manages to imply that it would be best if none of the young men were of the 'Jewish persuasion'. On the big evening, a bus pulls up and a dozen black airmen step off. The headmistress collars their sergeant and says, "There must be some mistake!" The sergeant replies, "Oh, no, Ma'am. Major Ginsberg never makes mistakes."

By Old Rockin' Dave (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink

I wonder how Mike Adams feels about pre-emptive heart surgery. My husband had never had a heart attack when he had quadruple bypass surgery. I don't think he's be alive now without it - and it's been 18 years and counting. :)

Yes -- the Alistair Sims dialect goes over very well here.

I found it interesting (and a little wierd) that when we travelled to Scotland a few years ago, the spousal unit could understand what was being said to him (his family left Scotland for Ireland during the 17th century, and Ireland for the US about 100 years after that. My inlaws have always had trouble getting along with the neighbors) .

(I can’t check because it’s password-protected)

Well, I could create an account by claiming to be a healthcare professional, but that would feel uncomfortably unethical.

By Rich Woods (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink

Calli, the exchange could be even simpler than you imagine. When a little girl from West Virginia was adopted into our family, she used words that came straight from Elizabethan English - 'nuncle' for 'uncle' was the example I remember best. This kind of thing persists today in some of those deep hollows. There are several unique cultures, sadly endangered today, with their own dialects or even distinct languages, such as the Melungeons of the South, the Gullah speakers of the Sea Islands, and the Ramapo Mountain people of New Jersey. Despite the leveling effects of mass media, there are many regional variations for common things, such as whether you drink pop, soda, tonic, or a phosphate with your sub/hoagie/torpedo/grinder sandwich. Some people 'go to work'; many Brooklynites still 'go to business'. For a lot of haredi Jews, Yiddish, a distinct language largely grown out of Old High German, is their first language - I wonder if they can speak to the Amish? I won't even get into the many languages spoken by older or elderly immigrants who have little to no English.

By Old Rockin' Dave (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink

My American wife still has trouble understanding some British native speakers, even here in London, after living here for 14 years. Brits have the advantage of being exposed to American English and accents in TV and movies from an early age. It still amuses me how many Americans have told me that they like my accent, and when I reply that I like theirs, they look surprised and tell me that they don't have an accent (meaning they speak without a regional American accent).

As for the US regional dialects Old Rockin' Dave mentioned, I love the archaic language used in places like rural Kentucky, which is almost Shakespearean - the TV series 'Justified' has some great examples. The word "gotten" used to sound archaic to me, until I realized that I was perfectly comfortable with the word "forgotten". Also what seemed like an odd pronunciation of "tomato" no longer seemed strange when it occurred to me that American are consistent, whereas Brits pronounce "tomato" and "potato" differently for reasons I don't understand at all.

Divided by a common language, as they say...

By Krebiozen (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink

Given the unmistakable evidence of major genetic flaws, Mike Adams needs to volunteer for the very first prophylactic brain transplant.

By Dangerous Bacon (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink

I learned that there are parts of the US where consonants are an endangered species

I have learnt from Scottish friends that there is no consonant which cannot be enhanced by replacing it with a glottal stop. Or glo'al stop if you prefer.

Mike Adams needs to volunteer for the very first prophylactic brain transplant.
I believe that he has already opted for prophylactic removal.

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink

For those interested in language, I have witnessed a new dialect of English developing over the past few years. It's known as Multicultural London English and is spoken by most of the young people in my part of London, of all cultural backgrounds. It has elements of Caribbean, Asian and Cockney, and elements all of its own. The most noticeable thing is the vowel sounds that are produced in the back of the mouth, or "maath" as MLE would pronounce it.

By Krebiozen (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink

Krebiozen - Henry Higgins would have been fascinated.

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink


**Lovely American RIers – your countrymen seem to hold the Daily Wail in very high esteem, this puzzles me, as the content is clearly an incoherent jumble of manufactured outrage and absolute wrongness.

Is it because of some belief that British papers are all serious and authoritative? Is it that commanding, forthright Teutonic font? I don’t get it. I’m often presented with a DM article as “proof”, with an air of “See, it’s in the news”

'Cuz it's British, don'cha know! The same reason that Benny Hill is an uplifting cultural experience. (Not kidding, our local PBS station used to run it on Saturday night.)

As far as the Yorkshire accent goes, I think enough of us have watched All Creatures Great and Small to find it charming. Understandable, not so much.

I have to ask, though, do British people find most attempts by American actors to do a British accent as laughable as the other way around? I can count the number of British actors I've heard who can do a believable General American (not Southern!) accent on my thumbs.

By The Very Rever… (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink

Well, the names "tomato" and "potato" don't really share an etymology. "tomato" is from Nahuatl tomatl, wheras "potato" is from batata in some Polynesian language. In both cases, the /ah/ sound is more authentic, but it doesn't look like I'm going to stop saying to-MAY-to and po-TAY-to.

By The Very Rever… (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink

What I find amusing about British pronunciation, though, is that Recieved Pronunciation has only two levels of stress, rather than three (four counting reduced) like General American. This forces them the pronounce "secretary" /SEK-ruh-tri/ and "military" /MIL-uh-tri/, for example—yet they'll pick out a few words to pronounce in violation of the rules of their own dialect, just to be different. /Al-you-MIN-ium/, /Oh-ri-GAH-no/, /JAG-you-ar/.

Sometimes you can hear a momentary pause to switch mental gears, just like preparing to say a foreign word.

By The Very Rever… (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink

Very Reverend #23 -- I know of three British actors who can do general American accents that pass muster for me:

- Hugh Laurie (House MD)
- Alan Cummings (Gold, on The Good Wife)
- Kenneth Branagh (Dead Again).

Any Brits want to weigh in on American actors playing British characters (or attempting to do so)?

I guess I need three thumbs.

By palindrom (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink

Yeah, I need more than two thumbs as well. Hugh Laurie? I can detect a definite British flavor in his diction—it's subtle, but it's there.

The best I've heard is Mark Addy—on Still Standing, you'd never know he wasn't a typical American schlub. I don't know if Melanie Lynskey counts, because she's from New Zealand. Simon Baker on The Mentalist is really good. There's something very slightly odd in his accent, but I just can't put my finger on it...so yeah, I exaggerated.

By The Very Rever… (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink

Any Brits want to weigh in on American actors playing British characters (or attempting to do so)?

They are mostly very good, which is surprising as I think Brits are generally more tuned in to accents, as it is still very much associated with social class here. The only terrible English accent that springs to mind is of course Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. The ones that make me cringe are Brits using an English accent but either they have been in the US for so long their accent has warped, or the director has insisted they warp it to allow Americans to understand it - Jane Leeves in Frasier is a good example, though she is a Londoner doing a sort of generic northern English accent.

I wonder if some British actors are so good that people don't realize they are Brits. Several of the cast of The Walking Dead are British - Andrew Lincoln, David Morrissey, Lauren Cohan (born in the US to British parents, raised in Britain) . Dominic West and Idris Elba in The Wire and Damien Lewis in Homeland also spring to mind. As a Brit, their accents seem impeccable, do they seem as good to Americans?

By Krebiozen (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink

I have often wondered where the F came from in Lieutenant.

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink


What I find amusing about British pronunciation, though, is that Recieved Pronunciation has only two levels of stress, rather than three (four counting reduced) like General American.

I'm not sure what you mean. Can you give examples of these levels of stress? Having lived with an American for several years, I have started to forget what is the British English pronunciation of some words. American English is sneaking into English generally. I even hear young people referring to"the feds" here, when they mean "the police". I doubt that British English will survive more than another generation.

There are a whole lot of inconsistencies in all forms of English, with weird spellings, pronunciation, irregular verbs etc etc.. It must be a nightmare to lear as a foreign language.

For some reason I remember Frasier being ejected from an English pub for offending the locals, protesting, "I'm an Anglophile, I spell color with a 'u' !"

By Krebiozen (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink


I have often wondered where the F came from in Lieutenant.

Me too. The pronunciation of Magdelene, Slough, Leicester, and several other British English words are equally baffling.

I also wonder about the the W in Arkansas, and why Americans pronounce "Basil" the same as "Basal". Why is "khaki" pronounced "cacky" when Brits pronounce it "carkey" (something I discovered when a joke's punchline depended on the homophone between khaki and car key)?

By Krebiozen (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink

I should point out I mean Magdelene as in the colleges of Cambridge and Oxford Universities, which are pronounced "Mawdlin", for some obscure reason, not as in Mary Magdelene. It's probably so students can laugh at plebs who mispronounce it.

By Krebiozen (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink

Simon Baker on The Mentalist is really good.

Owain Yeoman, who plays Rigsby, is Welsh, but his accent seems pretty good to me.
Gillian Anderson is bilingual - I have heard her do interviews with both American and English accents, depending on where she is.
Sorry, I'm fascinated by this. I'll shut up now.

By Krebiozen (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink

Krebiozen—re levels of stress:

Supposedly, Standard British English has only two levels of stress: Stressed and Unstressed, whereas in General American, A word of more than two syllables usually has one that's at an intermediate level of stress, like the third syllable of /SEK-ruh-TAR-y/. (There's also reduced, ;ike the second syllable of "button", but I digress.

What distinguishes secondary stress from unstressed is that a fuller inventory of vowel sounds can appear in secondarily-stressed syllables. In unstressed syllables, in GA at least, only the schwa and the "i" in "pencil" are possible.* In secondarily-stressed syllables, more can appear, again, like the third syllable of "secretary" or the full "o" sound at the end of "oregano". Thus /uh-LOO-min-um/ would be perfectly copacetic in RP, but the British choose to pronounce it with not just one, but two secondary stresses: AL- and -YOU-, which is not doable in any English dialect that I know of.

*Actually there are American dialects where only the schwa is usable in unstressed syllables. I first noticed this with Julie Kavner (who is now the voice of Marge Simpson) back on Rhoda. She said "tuh-RIF-fu¢k" an awful lot. I should look up where she's from.

By The Very Rever… (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink

And I didn't really realize that Gillian Anderson was British, which since she spent about ten years on my freebie list, is kind of an oversight on my part....

By The Very Rever… (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink

Krebiozen - I have relatives who pronounce it "ar-KAN-sas" (of course, they're from Kansas). i presume the pronunciation of the state is French, like the Ouachita mountains. But I don't know that.

Everyone I know says "Bay-sil" instead of rhyming with a John Cleese character. We did lose the "h" in "herbs".

However, I find that references to Argentina as "the Aregentine" grate...

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink

@ Mephistopheles:

I've heard similar stories that the natives' word was pronounced sans the s (as in French) by the original French settlers/ explorers and with s ( the river; also in Kansas) by the predominantly English and German speaking settlers there.

Also, the great differences in dropping r's- then we have the French who drop s, r etc.

-btw- because of my own interesting family, education, travels and cohorts, i could go on and on about the transatlantic divide.
Plus I speak excellent Franglais ( don't ask why), that's a folktale in itself.

There are some other really bizarre ones but one I love is why do some spell "whiskey/ whisky" as they do?
I always mix them up. One is definitely Irish.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink

Plus: Rigsby isn't American? OK, he goes to the top pf the list right away. So, I was basically full of crap, whic is not unusual.

I was mainly interested in the other end of the question anyway—I remember people being quite scathing about Meryl Streep's accents, in that "dingo ate your baby" movie and elsewhere, when Americans think she's so good at it.

By The Very Rever… (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink

And I didn’t really realize that Gillian Anderson was British

She isn't, but she spent a lot of her formative years in London, until she was 11. I think accent tends to become fixed in early adolescence, unless a conscious effort is made to change it. She seems comfortable using either American or British English pronunciation (currently doing the former in Hannibal and the latter in The Fall).

By Krebiozen (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink

Denice Walter - re: dropping the Rs - when i went to school in Massachusetts, I was taught of the law of conservation of Rs (or in the local lingo, Ahs). The letter R would migrate from one word (e.g. car, Harvard) and end up in another (e.g. Cubar).

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink

Krebiozen – I have relatives who pronounce it “ar-KAN-sas” (of course, they’re from Kansas).

Hence Ark. Code Ann. 1-4-105.

Why is “khaki” pronounced “cacky” when Brits pronounce it “carkey”

"This cloth is called khaki. We could adopt it. It is light, comfortable, grotesque, and deceives the enemy, for he cannot conceive of a soldier being concealed in it."

Isn't "khaki" the word for mud in an Indian dialect?

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink

"Khaki" is just Hindi for "caca", right?

Anyway, British khaki and American khaki are completely different colors, so maybe they should be pronounced differently.

As to the "f" in "Leftenant"—very helpful, actually. It took me many years to fully realize that the RN and RAF rank "Lieutenant" was pronounced the same way, without that helpful spelling pronunciation. (I'd say to myself: "They should be pronounced the same...but they are a totally different rank from an Army Leftenant...I just don't know.")

By The Very Rever… (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink

Palindrom @27. I honestly didn't know that Gwyneth Paltrow was American when I heard her in "Emma". Of course, I may have just been sideswiped by her beauty!

Some of the people who have my highest regard as Americans who do good English dialects are the the folks at Plimoth Plantation - a recreation of an early English settlement in New England. They not only speak early 17th Century Emglish, but do it with different 17th C. English regional dialects! I took part in a militia exercise there one year, and was treated to the (very period correct London accent) command of "Fire a wolley at the willage"!

By sheepmilker (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink

Gwyneth sounds like a Welsh name to me, like Tom Jones or Harry "Neddie Seagoon" Secombe.

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink

British actors who make creditable Americans: Andrew Lincoln and David Morrissey, "The Walking Dead"; Albert Finney, "Wolfen" and "Little Orphan Annie"; Peter Sellers, "Doctor Strangelove", "Lolita".
Hugh Laurie said that when he made "Street Kings" that as soon as he started speaking in his American accent he also started to limp without thinking.
What really cracks me up with Brit-speak is the almost perverse unwillingness to pronounce foreign words in anything like the original way - "the Argen-TYNE", "yogg-urt", and so forth. And hate to break it to you in the Fogbound Isles, but there is no country called "The Ukraine". There is one simply called "Ukraine".
New York has a few idiosyncratic pronunciations. Houston Street is pronounced "house-ton". No real New Yorker says "you-ston". In Brooklyn, Rapleyea Street is "rapple-eye", not whatever the hell it really is. Near to where I live on Long Island, we have Spagnoli Road, and everyone pronounces the 'g', in spite of the large number of Italian-Americans hereabout.

By Old Rockin' Dave (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink

I'm not a Brit, but completely bought into James Marster British accent when playing Spike in Buffy.

For some reason I remember Frasier being ejected from an English pub for offending the locals, protesting, “I’m an Anglophile, I spell color with a ‘u’ !”

They must have thought he was Canadian.

Poor Orac-in one day, two very excellent blog entries hijacked.

@Krebozian I lived in the southwest U.S. for a while, so I hear "the feds" as an American abbreviation that originally referred to the Mexican "Federales," but has come to be used for any federal agent or agency, replacing "g-men."

Simon Baker on The Mentalist is really good. There’s something very slightly odd in his accent, but I just can’t put my finger on it
That's because he's an Australian.

By Christine (the… (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink


They must have thought he was Canadian.

Sounds reasonable. It turns out that many in British Columbia do not say "aboot" for "about", nor end every question with "eh"*. Most have a generic North American accent.

I am married to an ex-Canadian. His father worked for a company that made him move back and forth often between the USA and Canada, except for some time in Pennsylvania it was always west of the Rockies. He had issues with spelling tests. Also, apparently simple words like "decal" are pronounced differently even though the locations are only a three drive and two hour ferry ride away. (he is from Vancouver Island)

He does freak me out with his knowledge of accents. While we were in Germany he knew some folks we met in the transit tunnel were from part of the UK correctly, I had no clue.

three hour drive"

When I was 15 or 16 our family went to Grand Cayman for spring break. We stayed at a hotel that was owned by an American couple. Their son attended school in the US, but was visiting them during spring break. He would speak to the guests with an American accent and to the staff with a strong Caribbean accent. He was bidialectual.

A couple of years later we went to Britain and visited a family of 6 who had moved around a lot and spoke English with 5 different accents. The father grew up Oklahoma and the mother was French. The oldest child had a Midwest (American) accent, the second oldest child had a Canadian accent and the youngest 2 had posh English accents.

By Militant Agnostic (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink

Old Rockin' Dave,

What really cracks me up with Brit-speak is the almost perverse unwillingness to pronounce foreign words in anything like the original way – “the Argen-TYNE”, “yogg-urt”, and so forth. And hate to break it to you in the Fogbound Isles, but there is no country called “The Ukraine”. There is one simply called “Ukraine”.

Bearing in mind there is no right way of pronouncing anything and this whole language thing is simply made up... It's not perverse, it's the way we are taught by our parents and teachers - to abandon it (on an individual level) would be perverse. As a matter of fact I don't remember ever hearing anyone say "the Argen-TYNE” or “The Ukraine”, except in old movies, any more than people say "the Sudan" or "the Congo", or pronounce "Kenya" as "Keenya" any more. A quick search for "the Argentine" came up with an example from 'John Barleycorn' by Jack London (an American) from 1913. I think these terms are just archaic.

However, you could legitimately add "oregano" to your list. I have no idea why we pronounce it "oreGAANo", and not how Italians and Americans do. "Valet" is one that amuses me, as many people assume it is from the French and drop the "t", but it isn't, and should be pronounced with a hard "t".

As for yoghurt, I think you will find the original Turkish pronunciation is closer to the English pronunciation than the way Americans and everyone else in the English-speaking world (including Scots) pronounce it - you're all wrong ;-)

By Krebiozen (not verified) on 22 May 2013 #permalink

I'm not British, so that's not why I resist dropping the definite article where it belongs in geographical names—they just sound completely illiterate without them. I guess I've been "fatigued into compliance" with The Lebanon and The Labrador and The Gambia and The Cameroons, but I draw the line at dropping it from The Sudan and The Ukraine. I just cannot do it. (Or the calculus, as far as that goes.)

By The Very Rever… (not verified) on 22 May 2013 #permalink

Article about definite article place names.

Professor Liberman says the habit of putting "the" in front of place names is heard throughout the English-speaking world and is common to Germanic and Romance languages. "In general, use of the definite article is unpredictable. Why should it be London but The Thames? There is no logic for it yet this is the way it is.

By Krebiozen (not verified) on 22 May 2013 #permalink

Here in the North Island I cannot argue.

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 22 May 2013 #permalink

In Canada, we have Yukon Territory, which the locals call Yukon, and everyone else calls The Yukon. I don't know why. I'm heading up there this summer, so I want to get this right.
I'm from BC (Vancouver Island actually), and during my travels, my accent is often thought to be American, usually Californian. Not Washington though. They have a definite accent (i.e. Warshington).

I coached dialects for some of my directors when I was a theatre major. I grew up in a rather theatrical family and we just loved adopting a dialect and running with it to amuse ourselves, especially my father who travelled the world in his youth working on a scientific vessel. My favorite exercise was to make students read a book and call out dialects in which the student would then read aloud. The most fiendish of these was the dreaded Cockney/Australian/South African (both native English and Afrikaaner speaker)/Kiwi series. I can barely do it myself. I love the evolution of language . . . and the derailing of threads.

By Pareidolius (not verified) on 22 May 2013 #permalink

I can't believe nobody mentioned Bob Hoskins yet. His native accent is old-school London Cockney, but he manages a slightly London-inflected accent for interviews as himself, and was absolutely pitch-perfect as Eddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, astonishingly.

I must admit -- as a Canadian -- being baffled by people who have no glottal stop in their native idiolects. Why my good friend from Hastings has to say "droring" instead of "draw'ing" is beyond me. (As a student of foreign languages, having a generic Canadian accent -- fully rhotic and with the glottal stop -- has served me well. I have a wonderful upper-class Tokyo accent in Japanese, and can actually pronounce the stop in Hebrew words like ma'ariv, although the full-on Sabra kh eludes me a little...which just makes me sound Ashkenazi.)

By Interrobang (not verified) on 22 May 2013 #permalink

I've always said *the* Ukraine which sounded and felt correct ( it' s probably like 'la France', no?) but recently I've become acquainted with a tennis person from there, so I've begun saying "Ukraine".

I read a commentary by actor/cook Madhur Jaffrey who speaks of her fellow Indians' twists of English- mostly topics related to food- e.g. "selices" of bread and chicken "cutlass' are the ones I recall.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 22 May 2013 #permalink

I love this place and I love this thread - actually, you are now smack in the middle of my professional territory, as I'm a qualified linguist and while at university, I did a lot of work on regional dialects and accents of American and British English (as well as things like Black English Vernacular).

BTW - as for actors, it usually makes me cringe when I hear a British or American actor trying to emulate Russian accent in English (usually the ones playing the bad guy in the movie). Fortunately, there are some good Eastern European actors in Holywood who can play the part believably.

Poor Orac-in one day, two very excellent blog entries hijacked.

I must admit, I'm simultaneously puzzled, amused, and annoyed at the threadjacking of this comment thread into a discussion of British and other accents. One can but scratch one's head at the weird direction comment threads sometimes take...

Tbruce: "Warshington"

Not in my house! (Yakima native dad was a linguist)

(by the way, Tbruce, you are from a cool island... hubby is from Pt. Alberni)


I must admit, I’m simultaneously puzzled, amused, and annoyed at the threadjacking of this comment thread into a discussion of British and other accents.

You only have yourself blame, for attracting such an assortment of interesting and erudite commenters.

By Krebiozen (not verified) on 22 May 2013 #permalink

"to blame". Sigh.

By Krebiozen (not verified) on 22 May 2013 #permalink

Orac, it could be worse: " I can has...", " no can do",
WHATEVER", "totes", <3 ad nauseum.
I rest my case.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 22 May 2013 #permalink

If you really want a good laugh, come to central Illinois and experience how we mangle all the French place names here.

Krebiozen, I listen to the BBC Newshour almost everyday, and their staff do refer to Argentina and Ukraine the way I said. I always thought that Auntie Beeb says things in the 'proper' English way, but could be wrong.
As for the right way to pronounce 'yogurt' the Turkish sounds much more like "yort" with a very slight space between the o and the r. The g in there comes from a convention of transliteration. The Greeks, despite their general disdain for anything Turkish, call it 'yaourti", as near as I can render it. To my ear both support the American way somewhat more than the British.
Dictionary.com lists the French pronounciation for 'valet' first, and given the French etymology, I will go with that, even though it's a deviation from the older Latin root.
Reverend, of the examples you give, "The Cameroons" makes sense in a historical context, because after World War 1 the German colony of Kamerun was split into British and French mandates, which were reunited after independence, but now it's the Republic of Cameroon, no plural.
And just to take things farther afield from the original topic (Sorry, Orac!), when I began reading "The Cat in the Hat" to my kids I found it very natural to make the cat a Cockney and the fish a German, to the point where I can't hear it any other way.

By Old Rockin' Dave (not verified) on 22 May 2013 #permalink

@ Shay:

There may also be an equivalent for Spanish in CA.
Our friend, Pareidolius can add ot the list I'm sure, but
"San RaFELL" and "Va LAY O" for San Rafael and Vallejo.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 22 May 2013 #permalink

people who have no glottal stop in their native idiolects
I recommend a week in Denmark for enough glottal stoppage to last a lifetime.

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 22 May 2013 #permalink

Old Rockin' Dave,

Krebiozen, I listen to the BBC Newshour almost everyday, and their staff do refer to Argentina and Ukraine the way I said. I always thought that Auntie Beeb says things in the ‘proper’ English way, but could be wrong.

Weird. Maybe it's like the BBC World Service which sometimes sounds as if it is stuck in the 1950s. I have never, ever heard anyone refer to "The Argentine", even before the Falklands War; used as an adjective to describe people or things from Argentina e.g. "the Argentine ambassador", yes, but not to describe the area. I have known a number people from both Ukraine and Sudan, so maybe in those cases it got corrected many years ago, and I have forgotten. Having looked it up, "The" was offically dropped from "The Ukraine" after the dissolution of the USSR when Ukrain became its own country.

I will take your word for yog(h)urt, as my only Turkish-speaking friend is currently unavailable. To clarify, I pronounce the beginning of yoghurt to rhyme with "fog", whereas my American wife pronounces it to rhyme with "blow", which still sounds odd to me after all these years...

"Valet" entered the English language in the 17th century as a variation of "varlet" and was pronounced with a hard "T" until very recently.

I love the way language evolves, like the way multicultural London English, instead of dropping aitches, inserts them where they don't normally belong, a habit borrowed from Caribbean patwa (or patois, if you prefer), so you hear people talk of a "hambulance".

By Krebiozen (not verified) on 22 May 2013 #permalink

There are plenty of glottal stops in Cockney, replacing "tt" and some but not all dropped aitches - "She ad a bo''le in er 'andbag" (using ' for glottal stop), a habit that has become common even in Old Etonians like David Cameron, which makes me cringe, for some reason.

Lots in Arabic too. Emphasis is odd in Arabic, as it depends on which consonants are involved, so Mustafa should have the last consonant emphasized, which English speakers often get wrong.

By Krebiozen (not verified) on 22 May 2013 #permalink

My Irish friend relates that whenever her father was very angry he would curse -in Gaelic- with a long string of bad words only punctuated with the occasional "f@cking".

It seems that he needed to resort to good, old Anglo-Saxon for that.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 22 May 2013 #permalink

Anyone who pronounces Spanish town names correctly in California is looked at askance, especially if they're hispanic and have no trace of an accent otherwise. It's called Rigo Chacón Syndrome and there is no cure . . .
On location in Los ANyeles,

By Pareidolius (not verified) on 22 May 2013 #permalink

I am personally glad that at least La Jolla is not pronounced "la joe la."

Pareidolius, I am reminded of an old SNL sketch with Jimmy Smits as a new employee having lunch with the other staff, all Anglos. They are eating Mexican food, and pronounce all the names and other Spanish words in an exaggerated manner while he becomes increasingly annoyed.

By Old Rockin' Dave (not verified) on 22 May 2013 #permalink

Regarding the Ukraine, the Sudan, etc, some people use the bare forms for the modern countries and the ones with articles for the historical regions. Useful, but probably too clever to catch on among the sort of people whose only knowledge of Ukraine comes from the Eurovision Song Context.

Concerning the Gambia and the Lebanon, I'd normally interpret the forms with the article as refering to the river and the mountain range respectively. The Congo is either the river or the region, just Congo is either of the modern republics. (Kongo is the early modern kingdom.)

By Andreas Johansson (not verified) on 23 May 2013 #permalink

Somehow I may need a cookie for my cell phone

Shay #15--My dad had the same sort of experience in Scotland, and his maternal ancestors share the same Scots-Irish history and timeline. If you are interested, how may we exchange family notes off-blog? I have a throwaway email I'll share if this suits you.

By BrewandFerment (not verified) on 27 May 2013 #permalink

Early stage cancer, even with a clear PSA and ultrasound. No doubt Adams will proclaim that PSA and ultrasound are now totally useless, and so you must rely upon his quackery to keep you cancer free.

i like your insolence. :P

This place feels like one of the few bastions of sanity on the internet.

I am also writing this because of your mention of the daily fail. Now, I use tea and kittens to block the daily fail and I should probably add other "news" sites as well.

I also hate the news for being such utterly, loosely factual trash.


This nice article caught my eye a few months back as well.


By impressed peru… (not verified) on 30 May 2013 #permalink