Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Tongue-tied by Macrame

It's happened again. Just when I think I have mastered all the quirks of the British English language and its various odd pronunciations, one reaches out to bite me on the ass.

The culprit this time is the innocuous word macrame. Remember macrame? It was all the rage in the 70s. For some reason the other night I felt the need to speak its name -- MAC-ra-may. My companions hooted with laughter. Apparently not MAC-ra-may, but ma-CRA-may. I don't know which pronunciation is actually correct. I don't care. In my country, the way I said it is right. Sorry, my home country, the land of my birth. In my adopted country, apparently the second way is correct, and humiliating those who say it wrong is socially acceptable.

This has happened to me before, many times. The first word was oregano. My future mother-in-law peered at me over her glasses when I said o-REG-a-no. Politely, she corrected me -- or-i-GAN-o. I already knew about the to-may-to/to-mah-to debate (we Americans preserved the Elizabethan pronunciation apparently). I knew about lu-ten-ant/lef-tenant. I discovered Van Go/Van Goff, ga-RAJH/gar-ridge, and jag-wahr/jag-u-arh.

The British have a way of taking foreign words and making them their own, with their own pronunciations. Take poor Jose Mourinho. In his home country, and probably the rest of the world, he is HO-say. Here in Britain, he is Josie (as in Josie and the Pussycats). When I order Mexican food with my friends, I have hal-i-pen-yo peppers while they have jal-i-pe-no peppers.

I don't know if the Brits should be criticised for pronouncing foreign words their own way. Every language contains bastardized forms of words from another language. Even French. But I do think that some Brits show their ignorance of other cultures by making fun of those who pronounce words differently. Not that ignorance is something only the Brits have. They just are more pronounced in how they show it.


Annie said...

We could have our own debate on the 'correct' version of most of the words you post here :) However, I just have to say - that any Brit pronouncing Jose as Josie - is just plain wrong - and a little big ignorant! Same goes for Jalepeno.

I am growing Tomatoes and Basil right now - you can imagine the strange looks when I tell my friends :)

Kaycie said...

I'd find that quite irritating. When I visited Slough, Windsor, and London, the local people I came into contact with always commented on my accent, but it never felt like the comments were derogatory. The people my husband worked with did kid me about sounding a bit like Scarlett O'Hara, but it seemed innocent. Maybe because I was a tourist rather than a resident?

DogLover said...

In England, we spell the word "macramé" because it comes from the French, though it is evidently originally an Arabic word. I think the French would pronounce it something like Mac-RAM-é, so we are only being logical!

I do like your MAC-ra-may; it sounds like a Scotsman!

We do laugh at what we think of as mis-pronunciations, no matter by whom; this isn't spiteful - it's just that we laugh out of surprise! I'm sorry if it gives offence.

I have to say, we also find Americans laughing at our pronunciation too. But we don't take offence because we are, of course, superior to other races, and know we are always right. That may give offence - and quite rightly too! Are there any people more pompous that us Brits?

And haven't you just been smiling at the way I have spelled "offense"?!

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Coffee - there has always been a long tradition of the Brits taking the mickey out of each other over their pronuncian of words. God, when I left uni to come to England on my first job I was teased relentlessly about my Scottish accent and vocabulary which was quite different to English It was always a term of endearment. I hope the people that are conversing with you aren't doing it with a wicked bent to put you down, for that is their problem and not yours.

But, yes after a while it can become boring and you just want to get a break from it. My bugbear is to hear people say herbs as erbs without the H! Guess we all have them.

Anonymous said...

Tell them all to got lost.

They should appreciate you for who you are,


Fred said...

Great post. When I lived there I got corrected quite often myself. I can't remember any specifics at this point, but I do remember sometimes getting annoyed.

But, I still enjoyed my time there. We had a great time, and I hope to get back to teach at an American Community School.

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

Annie: Do you ever get corrected when you say herbs instead of erbs?

Kaycie: I bet your lovely southern accent charmed everyone.

Doglover: Ah, but have you noticed that I adopt some British spellings at times, and not at others? I think the pompousness comes from being an island race.

MOB: I guess I didn't expect it from this particular group (church friends). I have come to expect it from so many others. And yes, the English do like to take the mickey out of the Scots. And wouldn't it be erbs, not herbs?

Not Waving: I like your thinking.

Fred: Well, come on over. The economy sucks, the weather sucks. Otherwise, it's a great country.

ChrisB said...

This post had me laughing in the nicest possible way.

I recall on one of the trips I took to see my daughter who lives in the states, that she gave me a lesson on how to pronounce words so that I would be understood including water!

I have to say I would never presume to correct someone who pronounces words differently to the Brits way (and in any case we have plenty of regional differences in pronouncing some words) and I would not expect to be called ignorant. I would happily have a laugh with anyone who teased me about the way I pronounce certain words.

jenny said...

Well, me being deaf, and not hearing the way some words are pronounced, I have to take a guess sometimes. For some reason, I always get asked if i am irish, so apparently my accent (which is only because I'm deaf) sounds irish.

I had a big problem in grade school in the mid-80s when mousse came out for hairstyling.. do you say it like moose or mouse? I couldn't ask my parents, they're deaf, too. So anyway, I was at school and a popular girl asked me how I did my hair and I replied I used "moose". When she gave me a funny look I quickly said "mouse? moose?" They all ended up laughing and snickering at me and I wanted to disappear into the floor.

I know now it is "moose" but I also developed an aversion to using the stuff, so I never have to say it again!

Fire Byrd said...

It's not just Americans saying things differently, the English do it to. Where I was brought up everyone said baath and I was taught to say barth. So I've put up with critisim of how I speak forever.

Expat mum said...

No, I get the mick taken all the time - by my own bloody kids would you believe? (And by the way, wouldn't you have benefitted from my not-then-written book when you moved over?)
Only two nights ago, the Queenager had me and my mother say "squirrel" over and over again for her amusement. I can't quite hear the difference, but apparently our more pronounced two syllables (sp?) was hilarious (despite the fact that the word has two). My Americans here seem to say it more as a squashed up word.
Question - do you say "error" more like "air"? Most Americans do.

Queen Vixen said...

Your accent is divine. Just be you - let the brits sort it out :o)

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

ChrisB: Oh yes, water. Such a simple word. You wouldn't think there would be more than one way to pronounce it. My kids make fun of the way I say it all the time. There's teasing, Chris, and then there's humiliating. This felt like the latter.

jenny: Oh, I feel for you. I remember not being sure about the pronunciation of mousse. I think you've taken the sensible route of not using it. Think of all the money you've saved.

Fire Byrd: Yes, you're right. Southerners tend to be quite critical of the way Northerners speak, and vice versa. And no one can understand the Scots! And for some reason a Brummie accent is the least desirable. Go figure!

Expatmum: I pronounce error as air-er. And squirrel as sqwerl. And I live on the Wirral, which rhymes with squirrel if you're British or American, whether you say it as two syllables or one squashed-up word.

QV: And you're divine too. Thank you.

ArtSparker said...

U.s. pronunciation of French words (including macramé) places the emphasis where the French have it (see under gatEAU and GATeau).

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I came across your blog while looking up how to pronounce macrame. I am Australian and I pronounce macrame in three parts as ma-cra-me, where the first two syllables rhyme with 'R' and the last syllable rhymes with 'A'. Most people look at me like they don't understand what I am saying and pronounce it in their own way (and everyone seems to have a different way to pronounce it).

I've never been out of Australia, so no one has 'corrected' my pronunciation to their country's version, but when I was in university I had an American laugh at me when I said 'half' (it sounds more like the English way of saying it than the American way, but I suppose a little different still. Again it kind of rhymes with the letter 'R', imagine the middle two letters were pronounced the same as the name of the letter R). It didn't feel like he was laughing at my funny accent, it seemed like he actually thought I had pronounced it wrong and was making fun of me.

I can understand teasing, it is cute and funny to hear different pronunciations of common words, but I can't understand making fun of someone to the point of making them feel bad, especially when their pronunciation is correct for their country of origin.