Signs of the Times

Ever wondered how to pronounce those weird looking place names that crop up with great regularity in England?


I read in The Times newspaper (acknowledgment for the graphic) that Google is developing an app to help Americans with pronouncing English place names. Although I’m sure it’s not just American visitors who need that kind of assistance. (And probably some of us natives as well.)

Apparently Worcester is the town that gives visitors the most problem – trying to ask for a train ticket to War-cess-ter when they actually want Wuster. As with a lot of the place names in England you just need to remember to leave out half the letters. Yorkshire has some great examples. If you’re ever trying to get to Slaithwaite – the locals call is Slawit. One of my favourites is Barnoldswick – lovely name, you think – it has been reduced to Barlick. And how sad that the delightfully named Mousehole in Cornwall is known as Mowzle.

If you find place names in England difficult, best not to venture into Wales. That is, as they say, another country. And another language altogether.

But it’s not just places. There are numerous examples of surnames that sound very different from how they look. Here are just a few that come to mind:

Cholmondeley – Chumlee

Marjoribanks – Marchbanks

Wavertree – Wawtry

Dalziel – Dee-el

Menzies – Mingis

Please feel free to add to this list.

The fascinating thing about the English language is how it evolves over time and incorporates words from other languages as well.

What’s in a word?

I received some useful feedback on my novel from two American readers. They said there were a few expressions and words that were unfamiliar to them. They were able to work out the meaning from the context of the story. Anyway, I thought I would share these ones that they made particular note of (apologies and warning of bad language):

1. ‘scraping away like buggery’ (Note – this isn’t something I would say myself, but it seemed to fit the character who said it – photo here shows me in the act)


2. ‘lay by’ – this may be something peculiar to British roads. It’s often a small area with just enough room for one or two cars to park off the road – possibly to look at the view (quaint euphemism for taking a toilet break). Some lay bys, on very narrow roads, are meant as passing places so you can pull in to let another vehicle past. I would be interested to know if there is an American equivalent.

3. ‘stop taking the piss and I might tell you’ – I guess they managed to work out that this meant stop making fun of me.

The word that always throws me when I read American books is ‘pissed’. Now I know that this means ‘angry’ or ‘upset’. To a British reader though, it means ‘drunk’.

If anyone would like to add to cross-cultural use of words and their perceived meanings, please leave a comment.