Since Susan and I write books dealing with England and the English, we’re constantly reminded that English is a foreign language. And a minefield. Among other things, there’s pronunciation. Now I grew up knowing something about tricky words because I was born in Worcester, which most people pronounce incorrectly—including, I was stunned to discover, one actual English person actually speaking on the phone to me from England. It’s pronounced Wooh (like the sound in wool or full)-ster—except by a large segment of its populace, who pronounce it Wis-tah. You can hear it with an English accent here.
One of my Regency dreamboats, Granville Leveson-Gore, was another name tease. It’s Loo-son-Gaw according to Black’s Title and Forms of Address and Lewson-Gorr according to the 1936 Whitaker’s Peerage, Baronetage, Knightage, and Companionage. But if you're talking about Gower Street, it’s pronounced the way it looks.
A marquis in England, one soon learns, is a mar-kwiss or a mar-kwess but not a mar-kee.
[Illustration: Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire, England from Morris's Country Seats (1880)]
In researching my latest book, Last Night’s Scandal, I learned that Alnwick, Northumberland, loses a few consonants in pronunciation. It’s An-ik.
Lady Cowper, one of Almack’s patronesses was Lady Couper according to Manners and Rules of Good Society. But Black’s Titles and Forms of Address offers both Koo-per andKow-per.
Another name familiar to Regency aficionados is King George IV’s mistress Lady Conyngham. She was Lady Kun-ingam. Meanwhile, Cholmondeley shrinks down to Chum-li (Click on the symbol to hear it here.) Cockburn is Co-burn, and Colquhoun is Ko-hoon.
Lord Elgin—of the famous Marbles—is said with a hard “g.”
Knollys is Knoles.
Mainwaring is Man-nering.
Marjoribanks is March-banks.
Ponsonby is Pun-sunbi.
Pontefract is usually Pum-fret but sometimes said as spelled.
Ruthven is Riv-ven or Ri-then.
Slaithwaite is Slo-it, except when it’s said as spelled.
Urquhart is Erk-ert.
Villiers is Vil-lers.
Waldegrave is Wawl-grave. This is definitely audience participation, so feel free to add your favorite doesn't-sound-like-what-it-looks-like names.
Top left is a detail of a full-length portrait of Granville-Leveson Gower by Sir Thomas Lawrence. It hangs in the Yale Center for British Art, along with an astounding collection of other beautiful paintings.
Sir Thomas Lawrence's portrait--at bottom right--of Lady Conyngham is dated 1821-24, when she was the Marchioness Conyngham.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.