A Matter of Speaking

No other two languages are as unalike as the English spoken by Americans and Britons, and countless sociological tomes and travel guides of the Edwardian period devoted a considerable number of pages detailing the differences. Not only did vocabulary vary, but the spelling, and most acutely, pronunciation of words immediately marked one as quintessentially English or quintessentially American. In her memoirs, Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan mentioned her anxiety when she first moved to England, for she was expected to modulate her voice, to adopt the low-pitched, slightly muffled tones of her new English relations, and of course rid her speech of any Americanism. Since we have few recordings of speech from the late 19th century, and even fewer, if any, recordings of upper class voices, who knows what difficulties Americans faced regarding their speech when traveling abroad, but those wishing to take part in the transatlantic social whirl were schooled rigorously on the correct pronunciation of certain, mystifying English words.

Pall Mall, the center of London’s club life, was pronounced “Pell Mell”

Surname Pronunciation
Beaconsfield Beckonsfield
Beauchamp Beecham
Belvoir Beaver
Bourne Burn
Cholmondeley Chumley
Cockburn Coburn
Colquhoun Cohoon
Cowper Cooper
Dyllwyn Dillun
Eyre Air
Froude Frood
Gower Gore
Hairstones Hastings
Kerr Car
Knollys Knowles
Mainwaring Mannering
Marjoribanks Marchbanks
McLeod McCloud
Meux Mews
Ruthven Ri’ven
St. Clair Sinkler
St. John Sin Jin
Urquhart Urhart or Urkurt
Waldegrave Walgrave
Wemyss Weems

For those traveling the opposite direction across the Atlantic, American words could be just as frightful:

US English UK English
Bedspread Counterpane
Chore, odd job about the house done by a man
Deck Pack of cards
Dirt Earth or soil
Elevator Lift
Help Servant
Lines Reins
Parlor Drawing room
Store Shop
An American takes a lady “out” to dinner, An Englishman takes her “in”
First floor ground floor


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2 replies on “A Matter of Speaking”
    1. Hi Chris! I noticed (notised!) that as well when I first began to read books published in England. My US history course cleared up my confusion: Americanized spelling was essentially “created” out of patriotic fervor around the end of the Revolution. Webster wrote his dictionary in the early nineteenth century to show that America was a country of its own rather than an extension of Britain.

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