Wacky English pronunciations


In the first of three posts about tricky pronunciations, let’s look at some proper nouns — mainly of the English or British variety — that don’t sound quite the way they look.

Names of titles:

Boatswain — pronounced BOH-sun

Colonel — KER-nel

Lieutenant — Lef-TEN-ant

Viscount – VIE-count

Names of places (in the UK): 

Beauchamp —  Beechum

Bicester — Bisster

Blenheim — Blennum

Gloucester — Glosster

Greenwich — Grennitch

Leicester — Lester

Leominster — Lemster

Magdalen — Maudlin

Warwick — Worrick

Worcester — Wooster

Weymiss — Weemz


Cholmondeley — Chumley

Featherstonehaugh — Fanshaw

Mainwaring — Mannering

Marjoribanks — Marchbanks

First names: 

Aoife (Irish) — EE-fa

Naomh (Irish) — Neeve

Siobhan (Irish) — Shuh-VAUN

Saoirse (Irish) — SEER-shuh

St John (first name or surname) — SIN-juhn


And here are some weird American place names thrown in for good measure:

Arkansas — AHR-can-saw

Boise, ID — BOY-zee

Cairo, IL — KAY-row (not KIE-row)

Leominster, MA — Le-MON-ster

Ojai, CA — OH-high

Versailles, KY — Vair-SAILS (not Vair-SIGH)


Here’s what the English pamphleteer, farmer and journalist William Cobbett wrote about pronunciation in his grammar treatise of 1818: “Pronunciation is learned as birds learn to chirp and sing. In some counties of England many words are pronounced in a manner different from that in which they are pronounced in other counties; and, between the pronunciation of Scotland and that of Hampshire the difference is very great indeed. But, while all inquiries into the causes of these differences are useless, and all attempts to remove them are vain, the differences are of very little real consequence. For instance, though the Scotch say coorn, the Londoners cawn, and the Hampshire folks carn, we know they all mean to say corn. Children will pronounce as their fathers and mothers pronounce; and if, in common conversation, or in speeches, the matter be good and judiciously arranged, the facts clearly stated, the arguments conclusive, the words well chosen and properly placed, hearers whose approbation is worth having will pay very little attention to the accent. In short, it is sense, and not sound, which is the object of your pursuit.”

William Cobbett, A Grammar of the English Language in a Series of Letters: Intended for the Use of Schools and of Young Persons in General, but More Especially for the Use of Soldiers, Sailors, Apprentices, and Plough-Boys, 1818

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