Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Worcestershire, the Missing "U" and Other Anomalies

We live in Virginia, birthplace of presidents, and in some ways, the birthplace of democracy in America. It is also the death of some words, even as we speak.

Our closest town of any size is the very heart of the Shenandoah Valley. It is the city of Staunton, pronounced Stanton. Strangers to the area are prone to vocalize the "au" sound in their first contacts with the city, but they are quickly corrected. What doesn't come so quickly is the explanation of the oral anomaly. So I have evolved my own theory.

Virginia, as you must know, was founded by the Brits. Even if you didn't know that, you could surmise it just from the pronunciation of Staunton. To confirm that, you only have to go across the Blue Ridge mountains to the east, to the town of Faber, south of Charlottesville. That’s where Staunton’s "u" has gone. It is pronounced "Faw-ber."

And then there is the family named Taliaferro, one of the FFVs (First Family of Virginia).

I grew up in North Carolina, and heard my father speak of his friend Taliaferro. He (and the rest of us) pronounced "Tally-a-ferro." When we moved to Virginia may years later, we learned that in this state the name is pronounced "Tolliver." Well, what can you expect from a state founded by people who call St. John "Syngine"? (And put their punctuation marks outside the quotation marks?) For that matter, what do you expect from a country that owns up to Worcestershire by calling it "Wostershire?"?

And by the way, it's pronounced "Cline," not "clean."

Words matter, and most especially when the words are you.

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