Peevish Eurosnobbery

It’s not that I want people to let fly with exaggerated Italian pronunciation in the middle of an English sentence. This leads to righteous head-kickings in red-sauce joints.

Cultured but monoglot Americans signal furren words by swapping the ‘a’ sound for an ‘o’. So Alain Delon’s first name, which he would have said with a broad second ‘a’, becomes eh-LON. Pasta, with its lovely, pappardelle-wide Italian ‘a’, becomes poss-teh. Hasta la vista, whose every short, broad vowel should be given equal, machine-gun stress, becomes HOSS-teh law VEES-teh.

Yet they are clearly physically capable of producing the correct ‘a’ sounds, from Dad to Da-ad!.

This has sub-irritated me for years now. It’s not that I want people to let fly with exaggerated Italian pronunciation in the middle of an English sentence. This leads to righteous head-kickings in red-sauce joints. I just crusade to get them to speak American consistently.

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6 thoughts on “Peevish Eurosnobbery”

  1. Re the accenting of foreign words: Americans tend, I think, to emphasize the first syllable rather than the second, as Irish people do (they say RED Bull, I say Red BULL), and therefore every French word gets undue emphasis on the second syllable: val-AY, ball-AY, croupi-AY.

    Like the new site!

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  2. You’re absolutely right. I used to get laughed at in NY for saying ‘re-LI-gion’. The word Yahoo! took at least a year to go American in my head: from our Irish ‘y’HOO!’ (which sounds much more celebratory to me) to ‘YAW-hoo’.

    I was thinking about this stuff today because of the Bjork CD, which as you say, Americans hyper-pronounce ‘day-BOO’. (Or maybe ‘day-BYOO’. Either way is jarring.)

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  3. Sez yoo!

    A dear friend of mine is Brit and we lapse into hilarity at times with the differences. She just can’t bring herself to speak of “table napkins” among other things. And I’m continuously struggling to keep up with her routinely diminutive abbreviations — everything is reduced to its first syllable with the suffix “-y” or “-ies.” Hence, pressies (presents), Winky (Winco store), etc.

    But I have to say that some of the pronunciations you find so abhorrent must be due to ignorance (theirs, I mean). I would never pronounce Alain, “eh-LON” nor hasta “HOSS-teh” …But don’t take Ahhh-nold as representative of American English either, puhleese!

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  4. Ah, the English, with their tellies, wellies and sarnies. (Sarnies are sandwiches, by the way.) The Dublin equivalent of such cutsification is adding a ‘bo’ to these abbreviations, so that Christmas is Crimbo, sandwich is sambo. We have more sense down the country.

    It’s very possible I’m just being snotty about New Yorkers (and specifically, monoglot NYers) in these pronunciation observations, but I swear that’s how they say Hasta la Vista! Okay, sometimes they drop the ‘h’.

    I’m surprised your friend has a problem with ‘napkin’, by the way. I thought napkin was the U term (in the Nancy Mitford sense of upper-class English); serviette was considered distinctly downmarket. They still seem to care deeply about the lavatory/toilet distinction as a betrayal of class origins.

    I have an English friend who has lived in the US for many years. When he went back to London, he asked for the bathroom in an East End pub.
    “Why, mate? Do you want to take a bawf?”

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  5. My friend’s problem with “napkin” is that in her mind it is irrevocably associated with “nappies.” I’ll have to ask her about the class distinctions…

    Take good care of your poor ears!

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  6. Strange. I tend to pronounce things the way you do, but I’m from the Midwest. Plus, I’ve been living in Ireland and the UK for the past two years, so I may have forgotten how I used to pronounce things. I still accent the second syllable in two letter words, however.

    And as far as I knew, I was pronouncing French words correctly, or at least closer to the way they should be pronounced. You say “BAT-in” and I say “buh-TAHN.”

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