Word Nerd: 8 most commonly mispronounced British place names

10 Apr

The UK has bizarre place names. We’re not just talking about the tiny Welsh town with a name 58 characters long – Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, or Pity Me – a village in Durham County. Between these two places – the first of which we doubt you’ll ever wrap your tongue around, and the second you will never get wrong, are a host of British villages, towns and cities, which fall in the purgatory of pronunciation. Many places in the UK have names that are an impossible mystery when it comes to pronunciation. What’s especially ironic is that when you learn of these names, they don’t seem challenging. And then one day you discover you’ve been getting them wrong all along.

That’s why, in today’s Word Nerd, we’re listing 8 of the most commonly mispronounced place names in the UK.

1. Magdalen College

There’s a Magdalen in Oxford and a Magdalene in Cambridge. In terms of spelling, it is only the final ‘e’ which distinguishes the sister colleges. It would be fair to pronounce the names as “Mag – da – len”. The correct pronunciation, however, is ‘Maud – lin’. That’s because 15th century English speakers pronounced Magdalene without the g – as Maudelayne. Both colleges have preserved the old pronunciation.

2. Mousehole, Cornwall

There are few English speakers who would get either ‘Mouse-‘ or ‘-hole’, wrong. Yet, put together, the words are pronounced ‘Mow-zel.’ Apparently, the village gets its name from a huge cave a short distance away. And the Cornish accent determines the pronunciation.

3. Bicester, Oxfordshire

The UK has many ‘-cesters’. We can get a short glimpse into British history with this one. The Latin for fort, ‘-castra’, became the Anglo-Saxon ‘-ceaster’ for town or city, which mutated into ‘-chester’, ‘-caster’, and ‘-cester’. The ‘-ces’ sound in English place names is typically tricky. While Cirencester is pronounced as it is written, not so Gloucester or Bicester. Here the ‘-ces’ is silent. So, Bicester is pronounced ‘Bis-ter’.

4. Godmanchester, Cambridge

No one knows, and believe us we asked, why this place is pronounced ‘Gum-ster’. Tell us if you find out.

5. Worcestershire, England

This is the county where the famous sauce comes from. Like the sauce, the place isn’t pronounced ‘Wor-ces-ter’ but ‘Woos-ter’. And the ‘-shire’ is not ‘-shy-er’ but ‘sher’.

6. Marylebone, London

If you’ve played Monopoly, you know this place. It is one of London’s most affluent areas. But do you know how to pronounce it? Few people do.

The correct pronunciation is Marry-le-bon’. But ‘Mar-lee-bone’ is also acceptable.

How did it come to that? In the 13th century, when the language of the aristocracy was French, St-Mary-by-the-Tyburn would have been St-Mary-a-le-Bourne. In the the present-day, it is ‘Marylebone’.

7. Cholmondeley, Cheshire

This polysyllabic wonder is pronounced ‘Chum-lee’. Didn’t Obelix say the Britons were crazy? Apart from phonetic laziness, the interwebs offer no plausible explanation for this freaky pronunciation.

8. Warwickshire, England

We would be remiss to not mention a ‘-wick’. This well-known English county (and its eponymous university) is pronounced ‘War-rick’. The ‘-w’ in many ‘-wick’ places is silent, for example, Norwich, Chiswick, and Greenwich. But not in Ipswich.

These Britons ARE crazy!

Read other Word Nerds here. Any other British places which have weird names or pronunciations? Email us or leave a comment below.

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Word Nerd: How 8 Cities Got Their Famous Names

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