Archive 6 of JWL Blog


Readers who need explanations of any of the abbreviations used may find them at Section 1 of the Home Page.

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14/01/2008Pronunciations at the BBC#060
08/01/2008OBG Again#059
06/01/2008Old Lang Zyne#058
30/12/2007The Year Two Thousand and DATE#057
19/12/2007DAVID ABERCROMBIE born 19th Dec 1909#055
14/12/2007Chewing over Liquorice again#054
11/12/2007Why has Lickerish replaced Liquorice?#053
04/12/2007Anniversary of the Death of Daniel Jones#052
30/11/2007The Pron. of a Shakespearian Name etc#051

Blog 060

The 14th of January 2008

Pronunciations at the BBC

Reading Graham Pointon's recent blog "The BBC and its Pronunciation Unit" I was pleased with the frankness of his remark "The initial job of the committee was to make recommendations to announcers on the pronunciation of words that presented them with some difficulty ... The linguists on the committee were well aware that they were not deciding on correctness, but Bridges and Shaw, and the other non-professionals on the committee, believed that they were helping to maintain high standards in English usage". The fact was, I have no doubt, that that brilliant but dreadful man the BBC's first Director General John Reith, as a control freak was intent on imposing, as he himself put it "uniformity of pronunciation to be observed by announcers with respect to doubtful words". No doubt any word was doubtful for him if it wasn't spoken in the way he thought it should be. His idea of how to consult his staff over his recommendations was well illustrated by the story told by the famous wartime-and-later announcer Alvar Liddell who on being spoken to by Reith happened to use, in a perfectly normal pronunciation, the name Glasgow ie as /`glɑːzgəʊ/. Reith glared and snarled at him "Glasssgow"!

He set up in 1926 a committee to give him "expert advice". It was one of his various moves to gratify his vanity by associating himself with famous public figures of the day. He initially made the Poet Laureate Robert Bridges its chairman and added Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson and George Bernard Shaw along with the genuinely appropriate Professor Daniel Jones and Arthur Lloyd James. He later added among others Lascelles Abercrombie, H. C. K. Wyld, Lady Cynthia Asquith, Lord David Cecil, Rose Macaulay and I. A. Richards. Even after enlarging it to twenty members he was inviting nominations to it from The British Academy, The Royal Society of Literature, The English Association and The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

A series of booklets was published entitled Broadcast English containing various "recommendations" to announcers, a term which embraced newsreaders. They very soon had to withdraw many of these recommendations largely voted for by people with a variety of out of date prejudices and very little awareness of linguistic realities. Even by its third edition of 1935 it was spattered with fading usages like `/berɪt/ for beret, /`restərəɒŋ/ for restaurant, /kaɪ`rɒpədi/ for chiropody, /`prəʊfiːl/ for profile, /ʃiː/ for ski and stressings like `applicable, eti`quette, `disputable, `pejorative, quan`dary, se`cretiveness, so`norous and va`gary

This Reithian unrealistic style of prescriptiveness has never been entirely abandoned by the BBC. It was moderated somewhat with the setting up of the Pronunciation Unit under G. M. Miller (who still continued the policy over Auld Lang Syne:"the s must not be pronounced z" said the first booklet). When her successor Hazel Wright reviewed BBC Pronunciation Policy and Practice in 1974 the title page of her new booklet insisted "Its rulings are mandatory for BBC staff announcers and newsreaders" tho it did also say later "the Pronunciation Unit normally does not step outside its advisory role to lay down the law on the pronunciation of individual words from the general vocabulary stock". Things were moderate also under her successor Graham Pointon except that certain interfering big guns at the BBC encouraged the late great lexicographer Robert Burchfield to indulge himself in a holiday from dictionary drudgery to produce a 40-page booklet The Spoken Word: A BBC Guide (1981) in which a select list headed "Preferred pronunciation" was a slipping back into the bad old ways. It in effect proscribed various pronunciations well established even in some cases predominant (if not all of them then certainly most now) in educated usage including ap`plicable, ate as /eɪt/, centri`fugal, `cervical, com`parable, con`troversy, deity as /`deɪəti/, `dispute, ex`quisite, government as /`gʌvəmənt/, ha`rassment, homosexual as /həʊmə`sekʃuəl/, ki`lometre, `metallurgy, `research, spontaneity as /spɒntə`neɪəti/ and temporarily as /tempə`rerəli/.

Under the present régime we see in the Oxford BBC Guide to Pronunciation signs of the same old ethos with for example the advocacy of (much less usual if at all existent amongst any considerable number of British speakers) foreign stressings (particularly of many French words) such as with Gau`gin, Gou`nod, `Helsinki, Maa`stricht, Ma`net, Mo`net, Pa`thé, souf`flé etc which in effect proscribe the usual British forms.

Blog 059

The 8th of January 2008

OBG Again

I've been poring over the Oxford BBC Guide to Pronunciation again and I may say I find it endlessly fascinating. Its compilers were Catherine Sangster, who now heads the BBC Pronunciation Unit, and Lena Olausson who has now left the BBC and returned to her native Sweden having been to the best of my knowledge the only non-native English-speaker ever to have been employed in it in its long history (see Graham Pointon's current blog) of almost seventy years. 

I'm quite grateful to them for revealing some bloodcurdlingly improbable relationships between spelling and sound particularly with regard to various of their Gaelic items. I'd never have guessed that the term for an Irish party political conference Ard Fheis would be pronounced in effect exactly as our version of the French place name Ardèche; or that the Irish name for Dublin Baile Átha Cliath would be /ˈblɑː `kliːə/; or that the Scottish Gaelic name for the Western Isles Na h-Eileanan an Iar would be /nə ˈhɪlənən ən `jɪər/.

My fascination is, I have to admit, from time to time alternated with irritation. The dust-cover OUP are marketing it with is potentially very misleading. It calls it "the essential handbook of the spoken word" which the text plainly does not claim to be. Its aim is more akin to that of an anthology than a dictionary. This blurb also remarks "Notes provided on variant pronunciations" when the almost complete lack of these is just what I find is its most unsatisfactory feature especially when the sole pronunciation recommended is so often at variance with what huge numbers of intelligent people normally say.

Very reasonably well educated English speakers in general have little knowledge of any spoken language other than from learning to pronounce French. In the course of that they widely pick up the idea that the foreign pronunciation of j's and many g's is as /ʒ/. It's not too surprising then that they very often generalise that to other foreign words such as adagio, Azerbaijan, Beijing, Borgia, doge, Gigli, Perugia, raj, Sergio, Taj (mahal) and so on. It's really no good ignoring such widely entrenched usages just because they're not "justified" by reference to the original language. Their existence should in my opinion be acknowledged and not condemned as is virtually what is done by ignoring them. The major pronunciation dictionaries in the main do so if at times a little grudgingly. OBG regularly either ignores or deplores. 

PS Graham Pointon in his blog of 22 Feb 08 makes some very interesting comments as follows

Abidjan, the capital of Côte d’Ivoire, in which the letter combination ‘dj’ makes it quite clear that the affricate is intended. Nevertheless, BBC reporters - even those stationed in West Africa - frequently pronounce this with a fricative rather than an affricate.

In one name, where the orthography has initial G, the ‘mistake’ is to use a velar plosive instead of the affricate: Genghis Khan. The -gh- in the middle gives away the fact that we have borrowed this spelling from Italian (perhaps as far back as Marco Polo), and that therefore while the medial consonant is a velar plosive, the initial one is intended to be an affricate.

Blog 058

The 6th of January 2008

Old Lang Zyne

The title of this blog is deliberately provocative because its subject is largely the pronunciation of "Auld Lang Syne". A week ago, in the first minute or so of the new year, millions of people were observing the longstanding custom of glancing back at the unforgotten good old days of the past in celebrating the new. Let's see how the pronouncing dictionaries tell us people with the General British accent say the word. We find that EPD is the least realistic giving us /ˌɔːld.lӕŋˈsaɪn, -zaɪn/. That first version is certainly how the prescriptivists at the BBC Pronunciation Unit (see the Oxford BBC Guide to Pronunciation) would have their clients say it: they acknowledge no other "correct" form. At least EPD records that there is also a version with /zaɪn/. ODP rightly gives precedence to such a form tho it suggests that /ɔːld/ is more usual. So by default does LPD. My confident observation is that most people say (and many more sing) not /ɔːld/ but /əʊld/ and not /saɪn/ but /zaɪn/. Scots, however, because perhaps most of them, if only thru knowledge of the works of Burns, are conscious of the existence of syne in other contexts and various meanings, seeing it as something like a variant of since.

This means that in consequence few Scots would ever pronounce it as "zyne" and they tend to perceive others doing so as merely Sassenach ignorance. I remember with affection the charming Scottish lady who for three decades or so headed the BBC Pronunciation Unit. She (G. M. "Elizabeth" Miller) couldn't reconcile herself to the fact that the "zyne" pronunciation was so universally used in England. So much so that every year her Christmas card to lots of people at the BBC always contained a reminder that the "correct" pronunciation was not Auld Lang Zyne but Auld Lang Syne.

She was misguided in doing so because it wasn't anything reprehensible on the part of the vast numbers who employed that usage. It was simply that over the years most English-speakers had come to perceive the two words "lang syne" as a unit and then accordingly subjected it to the perfectly natural phonological tendency of voicing the /s/ to /z/ by assimilation to the foregoing /ŋ/. It was no more a mistake than when we say /`æŋʃəs/ but /ӕŋ`zaɪəti/ for and anxious and anxiety

Wikipedia has a very useful article on Auld Lang Syne even including a transcription in IPA symbols of the Burns poem but as is their unfortunate regular practice not giving any information on their sources. This transcription differs notably from the one given in the Manual of Modern Scots by William Grant and James Main Dixon which Cambridge University Press published in 1921 and is now long out of print. At its p.453 it gives the chorus and the only really well known first stanza as follows:

fər ɑːld lɑŋ səin, mə dir, fər ɑːld lɑŋ səin,

wil tɑk ə kʌp o kəindnəs jɛt, fər ɑːld lɑŋ səin.

ʃud ɑːld əkwɑntəns bi fərgɔt, ən nɪvər broxt tə məin,

 ʃud ɑːld əkwɑntəns bi fərgɔt, ən ɑːld lɑŋ səin?

Blog 057

The 30th of December 2007

The Year Two Thousand and DATE

If you read aloud the title of this blog anyone hearing you will have no doubt that you have said "The Year Two Thousand and Eight" tho they may be conscious that you've said it in a slightly or vaguely odd or fussy way. I've been prompted to make the remarks that follow because I've heard it said that way by someone who is rightly considered to be one of the best, most respected and most experienced of the BBC's newsreaders. She is probably the only one of them who regularly says that sort of expression in that sort of way. She no doubt consciously does so because she thinks it likely that consistently including the final <d> of the spelling of the word "and" will maximise her intelligibility. I'm afraid, however, that it won't. Many others may share this delusion but the others aren't as efficient as she is in putting her idea into practice. 

The fact is that /ənd/ as a pronunciation of the word and when it is (as is by far most often the case) unstressed is relatively unusual. Departing from the normal way of saying the word — which is /ən/ — can be irritating as it is, for me at least, when I hear her with brilliant consistency seeming to refer to "England and Dwales" or even momentarily puzzling as when I've heard her mention the "A and D" department of a hospital with accident and emergency facilities. Similar things to what I've said here and more about the word and may be seen at §4.7.17 on this website.
The conjunction and is probably the most frequently used word in the English language. My book People Speaking (OUP 1977,1979) showed more occurrences of and — 108 in 5,576 ie nearly two percent of all the words — than of any other word. Only about a dozen of those occurrences contained /d/ and then mainly in situations of hesitation. The complete sound files for that book may be listened to at §4.1 on this website.
Dictionaries fail to convey the infrequency of the form /ənd/ adequately. Even LPD lists the weakforms of and in the order /ənd, ən/ (both schwas italicised) which departs from the general principle of listing more common before less common pronunciations. This is a tradition going back to Jones and followed by Gimson. Henry Sweet even put into circulation in his Primer of Spoken English (1890) a myth assiduously repeated in various textbooks that /ən/ was normally used before consonants and /ənd/ before vowels. When I came to compile my Concise Pronouncing Dictionary (OUP 1972,1977) I decided to omit the weakform /ənd/ entirely as being too unusual for EFL users to adopt at all — not to mention likely to be overused if sanctioned.
Ms Cass is also one of the very few newsreaders (if not the only one) to favour pronouncing Wednesday with an extra /d/ as /`wednzdeɪ/. She also seems to feel that a word like Sutton is better pronounced with a schwa in its unstressed syllable ie as /`sʌtən/ rather than using a syllabic /n/ making it /`sʌtn/ as most of us do who have no Scottish associations. I hope she'd forgive these few little aspersions if she heard of them. These tiny idiosyncrasies apart she's a truly admirable newsreader.
Not only do almost all of us have no /d/ in our pronunciation of unstressed and and many of us even when we stress the word but probably at least half of us — tho you're unlikely to find the fact mentioned in the phonetic literature — have no /d/ anywhere in the phrase a thousand and. So nobody's likely to feel that anything sounds wrong with the following: / ӕn aɪ wɪʃ ə ˈhӕpi tuː θaʊzn ən ˈeɪt | tu ˈɔːl maɪ ˎriːdəz /.

Blog 056

The 26th of December 2007


I have a respected colleague and friend of thirty years with whom I correspond from time to time on various matters and who shares with me the experiences of having worked for a number of years at a Norwegian university and having had a connection with the BBC Pronunciation Unit. As to the latter, mine was very minor: it was that roundabout 1970 I took on what was in her Preface to her BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names of 1971 (OUP) referred to by its editor the late "Elizabeth" G. M. Miller with generous exaggeration as "the arduous assignment of proof-reading [it], in the course of which he has offered much constructive criticism and valuable guidance on phonetic problems...". Graham Pointon on the other hand was head of that Unit for twenty-three years. 

    Anyway, in the course of a recent email the over-modest Graham let drop the fact, hitherto unknown to me, that he has a website on which he occasionally puts blogs on topics of mainly linguistic interest. I immediately enquired its name ( and found it full of interesting stuff and commend it heartily to readers of these blogs. Like me he doesn't treat it as a journal in the etymological sense but writes it occasionally when the urge takes him. He tells me, by the way, that he coined the term "linguism" for his site but he's not quite right. The OED has two examples of its previous use, one from 1819 "nonce-wd. Conversance with, or predilection for, (foreign) languages" and one from 1967 as  "Advocacy of languages on a regional basis". He originated his sense of it.

I propose now to quote from one of his blogs especially because I have a differing point of view on the topic. At June the 18th this year he wrote with of course great authority: "A number of broadcasting journalists are of Asian origin. Most — if not all — of them speak English without any trace of "foreign" or non-native accent — until it comes to names from their parents' part of the world. A case in point is Afghanistan, which Mishal Hussein pronounces with a very un-English sound for the "gh" spelling. BBC policy for pronunciation has always been to use the nearest English sound for the native one for all languages, in order to make it easy for the presenter to pronounce, and for the listener to understand".

While I don't question the general principle involved, in this case I completely disagree that there has been any serious problem caused by the way in which this excellent television presenter has in my hearing uttered the word in question. She has articulated it so smoothly on the occasions on which I've heard her use the word that I shouldn't be surprised if over half her audience didn't even detect that there was anything noticeably un-English about the way she said it. It is true that her articulation to anyone with any training in phonetic observation is audibly uvular and not velar but it is graceful and unobtrusive and I for one wouldn't wish her to say it any differently. I shd say that she has been universally perfectly understood and that her manner of speaking has not registered in general with the vast majority of her audience as any more disturbing than various other sorts of minor features of articulation that differ from one presenter to another. I find it completely impossible to imagine that she maintains such a habit merely in order impress upon her audience her proficiency in a foreign language. I doubt if it is anything but the most natural and therefore easy sound for her to use in the context.

Blog 055

The 19th of December 2007

DAVID ABERCROMBIE born 19th Dec 1909

Picture of Abercrombie and Mary with Bella

David and Mary Abercrombie

This cheerful photograph was taken on the morning of the 19th of March 1982. The third personality in it was our beloved golden retriever Bella whose good-tempered readiness to pose with them evidently amused the Abercrombies. We had stopped for refreshments at our house on the way from Leeds to York station for them to catch a train back to Edinburgh. The previous evening to a very full and appreciative audience David had given The Daniel Jones Memorial Lecture at the University of Leeds.

This had come about because at a staff meeting of the Department of Linguistics and Phonetics in 1980 I had reminded my colleagues that the following year was to be the centenary of the birth of Daniel Jones and suggested that we should adopt some way of commemorating it. There was immediate unanimous agreement that a memorial lecture sh'd be the means and that the ideal person to invite to give it sh'd be Jones's most distinguished pupil David Abercrombie. The lecture was later published first in Phonetic Linguistics (subtitled Essays in Honor of Peter Ladefoged and edited by Victoria Fromkin) in America in 1985 and again in a collection of fourteen papers by Abercrombie issued by Edinburgh University Press in 1991 entitled Fifty Years in Phonetics.

The title of the lecture was "Daniel Jones's Teaching". It was quite gratifying on the occasion to see how a large mainly young audience received it with such enthusiasm when it was about matters that they might well have considered so much dead history for them but DA's genial personality evidently captured their imagination. His style was certainly not hagiographic. He said DJ was not a profound thinker but an outstanding teacher, demanding but kind. DA had the light style that brought out the humour of his account of his first meeting with Jones who said "How do you do? Come in and sit down. Would you please say a voiced bilabial implosive?" DA commented dryly "At that time I was not aware that he did not have much in the way of smalltalk."! He candidly admitted that he never got round to finishing the Leeds M.A. thesis he had started to write on "The Phonetic Basis of i-Mutation". He never even salvaged a short article on the topic out of that work so far as I know.

He described how all the teaching that Jones and his immediate colleagues gave was on the performance of a wide variety of languages including Urdu which DA pronounced unorthodoxly as [`ʊrdu] and Sinhalese — which was the spelling DA used in print though the other one Singhalese w'd've better represented how he said it as [sɪŋəliːz]. He also confessed that DJ was slow to express approval of his attempts at saying Cardinal Vowels 1 and 3. At that point I felt some relief that in all the years I'd been teaching them I never felt they were problematic and that when I met DJ he hadn't askt me to say them. Perhaps if he'd he'rd me do them he wouldn't have recommended me, as he did when I'd spent a couple of hours with him at his home, to apply for a job in his old department when one came vacant. Anyway, it's one of my favourite stories that J. R. Firth was "most amused" when he said to DJ after DA "had been working in the Department a while, 'What do you think of Abercrombie?' and DJ answered only 'Well, his Cardinal Three's not very good'. 

Another of the things he said which I found startling was that, altho he recorded them at one time, DJ never taught the Secondary Cardinals and also that DA never even he'rd him use the term Primary Cardinals. Other curious facts that emerged were that after 1945 DJ wrote all his personal letters in Nue Spelling — not inappropriate for the President of the Simplified Spelling Society. (Incidentally I hope my readers are not too irked with my tentative occasional experiments with to some extent avoiding various of the irrationalities of English spelling.) I was not surprised to hear that DJ said he w'd've liked to've re-done the EPD in Extra-Broad Simplified IPA symbols. Other things I noticed were that DA pronounced Glasgow as /`glɑːsgəʊ/ which w'd've pleased that old ogre John Reith. And another of his pronunciations which I noted reminded me of my recent blog on Gordon Brown's pronunciational idiosyncrasies (Prime Ministerial Pronunciations 25 Nov 07) when I remarked that all of us have a few oddities in our repertoire. DA said /`pəʊstjʊməsli/ for posthumously which none of our dictionaries regard as normal. But that's enough. I hope this taster encourages some of you to dig out the piece and read it.


Blog 054

The 14th of December 2007

Chewing over Liquorice again

One sees in the John Wells phonetic blog of 13 Dec 07 that he'd received several interesting comments on the word liquorice. First Kensuke Nanjo pointed out, simultaneously with my previous blog on this topic, that Clive Upton "gives a variant with /-ʃ/ in the first place for British English...since this variant has been the most common in American English (I don't know since when, though), do you think this is another instance of Americanization?". John replied guardedly "It may well be the case that /-ʃ/ gradually spread in the States before spreading here in Britain." I'm inclined to think that that would be one of the many unjustified assumptions one meets with that a British usage originated in the USA. As to how long it has been predominant in the States, it's not easy to guess. The oldest American dictionary in my personal collection, a voluminous two-volume Funk and Wagnalls of 1914, only offered /-ɪs/. The great Edward Artin in the 1966 unabridged Webster gave three versions all of which he designated as challenged by his excellently concise use of ÷ to indicate division of opinion as to the acceptabilty of them as usages. On grounds obviously of frequency of occurrence he listed/-ʃ/ first.   (Incidentally he complimented me on my use of £ and $ in my CPD for usages with respectively GB and GA currencies. Only the Cambridge International Dictionary of English ever dared follow me in that.)

John asks "has anyone got evidence of /-ʃ/ in BrE, or anywhere, before 1950?" I'd say there were some such indications. In Under Milk Wood which he had written by 1952, Dylan Thomas had the phrase "lickerish bog-black tea". Wright's English Dialect Dictionary (1905) only had lickerdish for liquorice but his contributors didn't take much notice of mere pronunciation variants. Iona & Peter Opie in their The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren (1959 p.1) quoted from a Birmingham children's verse the couplet "Can't eat a bit of fish, Nor a bit of liquorice". At p.166 they said "Most boys...consider that a better name for 'liquorice sticks' is 'stickerish  licks'. 

John's quotation from a communication from Sidney Wood, as he says, is very much along the lines of my remarks in my blog. Finally Petr Rösel of Mainz University quotes  E. J. Dobson's massive Pronunciation of English — 1500-1700 as saying a "tendency for [s] to become [ʃ] seems to have been widespread in mostly EMidl and Northern dialects, a tendency which affected chiefly final [s]". Personally, I don't believe that that is the prime cause of our having [ʃ] in liquorice though it may well have been a contributory factor. In my Glamorgan Spoken English book, mainly completed at the beginning of the fifties,  I noted that many miners ended brattice with [ʃ] and cornice was also so treated by many. Cymric /ˋkɪmrɪk/ speakers used /ˋlɒʃɪn/ for lozenge (in the sense sweetmeat, Cardiff lossin) and coppish for codpiece (in the sense trouser flies) and, tho only known to me as jocular "linguistic slumming", winsh for wince. In Cardiff I knew /`gran(t)ʃə/ for grandsire (ie grandfather). The widespread items /`aʃfalt/ for asphalt and /`pɪn(t)ʃəz/ for pincers were obviously only arrived at by confused associations.


Blog 053

The 11th of December 2007

Why has Lickerish replaced Liquorice?

As so often, I've found John Wells's phonetic blog of today quite fascinating. The result of his preference poll was really surprising to me. When I included the /-ɪʃ/ variant of liquorice in my Concise Pronouncing Dictionary in 1972 I was sure no-one else had suggested that it was a common form among educated British speakers — it appeared as such in no dictionary I knew — but I admit I never imagined that it would be claimed as the predominant usage within less than half a century. I see that Clive Upton in 2001 anticipated the Wells poll finding by giving it pride of place in his Oxford Dictionary of Pronunciation.  

I grew up in an immemorially monoglot English-speaking city, Cardiff, which suffered the relative embarrassment of being by a long political tradition regarded as belonging within the borders of Wales. For most of my childhood I was unaware of the pronunciation /`lɪkərɪs/ for liquorice and have even subsequently not heard it very often — perhaps partly coz I've never liked the taste of the stuff. The black cylindrical sticks it used to come in were only grudgingly accepted by my junior self as something thru which to suck sweet sherbet powder. I pronounced it /`lɪkərɪʃ/ and still do unless I ga’ge that my interlocutors may find it odd that I should do so.
Incidentally, when I investigated the matter the strongly Welsh-influenced kind of English spoken over most of South Wales (which I labelled Cymric in my unpublished book of 1964 Glamorgan Spoken English) the term liquorice was little used — being replaced by spanish. This substitute had by the time of Joseph Wright's great English Dialect Dictionary (1905) been also recorded for Oxfordshire, Kent, Yorkshire and Durham.

I often used to wonder why the /s/ of earlier forms came to be replaced by /ʃ/: it c'dn't have been said to be a simple phonological development coz the pattern is so unusual. I'm satisfied now with the explanation that it was due to the influence of the formerly very common word lickerish. This was adapted from the older form lickerous by English-speakers' substitution of a more familiar suffix. Lickerous has been taken to be derived from a Norman French form likerous which has not actually been found but can reliably be deduced from the Central French form lecheros which gave us the English word lecherous. Chaucer used lickerous in both its earlier sense of "having a keen ... desire for something pleasant" (OED) and as "lustful". Both those senses had developed from the even earlier "fond of choice or delicious food" (OED). The French word had reference to "debauchery or gluttony" (OED). The pair of forms were ultimately cognate with our word lick. Plenty of people like to lick liquorice.

One further question is "Why has liquorice/licorice got these two spellings?" OED doesn't seem to comment on the matter but the older and more etymologically appropriate spelling-type is not the one which is most usual in the UK ie the one with with qu. Liquorice is prepared from the rhizome (root section) of the plant known to botanists as Glycyrrhiza glabra /glɪsɪˈraɪzə `gleɪbrə/ ie the smooth variety of a type of plant termed in effect "sweet root" with etymological connections with the words glucose and glycerine — all of course from Greek. English, like Italian, has developed spellings affected by the false presumption of a connection between liquorice and the stem of the word liquid. So the "proper" spelling, which the US favours, is licorice. The UK qu has only meant graphic alteration without changing the pronunciation. No English-speaker pronounces liquorice as */`lɪkwərɪs/ any more than they insert a /w/ into liquor though there it would be restoration of a sound which was present many centuries ago. However, the Italians do insert a /w/ into their version liquirizia /likwi`rittsja/. (There are no such temptations for the French with their réglisse /ʁeglis/, or the Germans with Lakritze /la`krɪtsə/ or the Spanish with regaliz /rega`liθ/ or the Dutch with zoethout /zut`hɔʊt/. I like to call that dropping of the /w/ sound, which is very common as it is with the other weak "approximant" consonants /r/ and /j/, "wyn-dropping" borrowing a name from the futhorc (runic alphabet) in the way we've all borrowed "yod" from Hebrew.

Finally the great OED at liquorice, giving historical spellings from the 13th century onwards, has ones with qu  only from the 16th and ones with sh only from the 17th. I was amused to see the 19th-century entry "dial. lickerish". Now that can only mean dialect spelling and not dialect pronunciation of course.

Blog 052

The 4th of December 2007

Anniversary of the Death of Daniel Jones

I first really fully realised that I'd been bitten by the bug for linguistics and phonetics, especially the latter, in the middle of a so-called English Language and Literature degree course that was nearly all (I realised after enrolling in it) to my mind English literature when I found that, although I quite liked many of the books I was required to read, I really tended to begrudge the time they took me away from what really fascinated me most. The seed had been first sown a few years before when I came across in my city library in 1946 or 47, while I was on leave during the course of three rather reluctant years in the British army, Daniel Jones's Outline of English Phonetics. In 1954 I began some courses in the Department of Phonetics that Jones had set up at University College London taught notably by A. C. Gimson. Jones had retired in 1948.
I had once heard Jones give a public lecture. I believe it was in 1950 under the auspices of the Modern Languages Association. I don't remember any details of it now except that he caused huge amusement when he demonstrated what I believe was the word for mosquito in some African language with startlingly onomatopoeic effect. I don't think he even smiled but just impassively waited for us all to regain our composure. I doubt if he ever made jokes though he did give "phonetics" as one of his only two "recreations" in Who's Who. The other one was "music (especially Bach)". His idea of humour was the variety of very feebly jokey pieces he included in his best-selling (in Germany at least — it was published in Heidelberg) Phonetic Readings in English which first appeared in 1912 and went through a prodigiously endless number of reprintings. An example from it was the piece about a man who, having accidentally drunk some ink, decided to swallow some blotting paper. He made more than one set of recordings of parts of that book.
At any rate, I did get to ask him a question from the floor at the end of the lecture. It was, as far as I can recall, asking his opinion of the harsh comments made by the great scholar Henry Cecil Wyld on the pronunciations of particular words by some people. He replied to the effect that he didn't sympathise with that sort of comment saying something like you never knew when your best friend might come out with one of those pronunciations the next day. Wise words!
In the early sixties I had written to him with some comments on the EPD and the Outline and he had replied cordially but very briefly by hand. The ailing octogenarian was evidently too frail to do so at length. When I mentioned this to Gimson, with whom I was regularly in touch, he said that he had told him about me and that Jones would welcome a visit from me. So on the afternoon of the 23rd of July 1965, having phoned the previous day, I set out from Marylebone railway station — at which in its restaurant for many years Jones was accustomed to entertain various visitors — to his home at Gerrards Cross in Buckinghamshire not half an hour away. He let me in himself and I never saw Madame Cyrille but I did hear her voice telling us she had put out some tea and biscuits saying "Messieurs sont servis!". They always spoke French to each other at home. He took me upstairs to what I noted in my diary was a somewhat "museum-like establishment". I also noted my surprise to find him so "with-it". We talked about a variety of things. When I asked him if he played the piano that was in the room he told me that he had done so but showed me his hands shrivelled with arthritis.
I was pleased to hear him speak very warmly of Henry Sweet from whom he'd received weekend courses of instruction in Oxford. He mentioned that Sweet had been offered the editorship of its New English Dictionary (later renamed the Oxford English Dictionary) by the Philological Society but had felt it was too much for him to have taken on.
In talking about the locality where he lived he remarked to me that he knew it was terribly old-fashioned not to say /krɒs/ but he still habitually pronounced it Gerrards /krɔːs/ which by then to most people was inclined to suggest the spelling "crawss". I was hearing genuine Victorian English his speech habits having of course been largely formed before the end of the nineteenth century.

I told him about the systematic collections I'd been making of data on the pronunciations of radio newsreaders and how their usages frequently differed from what was shown in his EPD. I also told him how Gimson and I had agreed with Oxford University Press that we should begin work jointly on a new concise pronouncing dictionary. When I mentioned that in it, on the basis of my findings, I proposed for example that the first pronunciation to be given for the word government should be /`gʌvəmənt/ he was in complete agreement to my considerable satisfaction not to say relief. In fact I was to learn later that in the forties, in the notes he had provided privately to the BBC on the performance of various announcers, he had criticised some of them for saying that word as "goverment". However, when I pointed out to him how overwhelmingly often I found that that was the pronunciation currently in use by all but the odd one or two of the contemporary presenters and newsreaders, he expressed ready approval that that fact should be reflected in the new dictionary. In due course, when Gimson, in view of our understanding with OUP, said to Dent he no longer wished to edit the EPD for them, the publishers did a volte face and offered him carte blanche for all the changes he wished to make that they had previously refused to agree to. At that point he understandably felt he wanted to bow out of our collaboration. I completed alone that Concise Pronouncing Dictionary of British and American English and handed its manuscript to OUP in 1968. They finally, after incomprehensible not to say unconscionable delays, brought it out in the summer of 1972.
Naturally I treasure the memory of that day. I felt every bit as delighted as a student of English literature would if given the opportunity of a couple of hours of private conversation with William Shakespeare!

Blog 051

The 30th of November 2007

The Pron. of a Shakespearian Name etc

On BBC Radio 4 Monday to Friday each day at 9.45 am (with a repeat at half past midnight) people read an abridgment of a recently published book in five instalments. As I'm usually free and awake at at least one or the other of these times I often listen to them. This past week the choice has been The Lodger: Shakespeare on Silver Street by Charles Nicholl which was referred to as involving "the only time [Shakespeare's] spoken words were recorded"! Hold on! No, not an audio recording but a written record of the words he spoke in giving evidence at a hearing in a court of law. The narration was delivered very vividly by the expressive voice of Lady Nunn the actress wife of the distinguished stage director Sir Trevor Nunn. She was actually billed under her maiden/stage name Imogen Stubbs. Now you may be wondering what this has to do with a blog with a phonetic slant. Well, I mention her because she made a small mistake in her pronunciation of the name of a Shakespearian character. She referred to Doll Tearsheet as /ˈdɒl `tɪəʃiːt/ rhyming the tear syllable with beer as if it referred to something from someone's eye. This sent me at once for confirmation to my copy of a book called Shakespeare's Bawdy (1947) by Eric Partridge (1894 - 1979), the famous lexicographer of English slang, in which he delved into many of the improprieties to be found in the great playwright's works, mostly in  the form of puns. His book's title was a pun itself because the apostrophe-s could be either a genitive with bawdy a noun or a weakform of is with bawdy being an adjective. 

    Anyway in that book he said of Doll Tearsheet: "A prostitute in 2 Henry IV. So called, either because she tore the bed-sheets in her amorous tossings or because her partner did so while consorting with her". She's not the only allusively named Shakespearian female of the sort. There's also Mistress Overdone, the procuress in Measure for Measure whose name suggests she's been employed to excess in her trade and latterly transferred to a more executive role in it. It's surprising that Partridge, who had such an enthusiastic nose for snouting out punning improprieties in Shakespeare, didn't spot that there was such a possibility with Mistress Quickly. The Swedish phonetician Helge Kökeritz (1902-1964) in his 500-plus-page volume Shakespeare's Pronunciation (1953 p. 220), drawing attention to the common alternative pronunciation in those days of the ending -ly as /-laɪ/ ie "lie", suggested that her name embodied a reference to her readiness for sexual encounters (perhaps in today's parlance a "no-delay lay"). Neither of these writers seems to have noticed that in inventing the surname Falstaff, even before The Merry Wives of Windsor, Shakespeare was hinting that the amorous old rogue's sexual potency was limited. I have come across staff being used dialectally for the male member. And of course a staff has sometimes been used as a weapon which word Partridge noted Shakespeare punning on as we see with Falstaff's crony Pistol. He pointed out that in "2 Henry IV, ɪɪ iv there are several sexual puns on Pistol's name, in reference to pistol = penis (cf. weapon); e.g. 'Falstaff. Here, Pistol, I charge you with a cup of sack: do you discharge upon mine hostess. – Pistol. I will discharge upon her, Sir John, with two bullets..."