Commentary

EDITOR’S CORNER

Cawn’t the British learn to speak English?

The last Harry Potter movie— at least so far—is out. There was a rumor going around that the series was so profitable they were going to take the final page of the last book and make six more movies out of it.

If you want a movie review— and I understand there are actually people who make their living doing that—this is not the place you’re going to find one.

The actor who plays that Lord Moldymort character seems to be getting a lot of good press for his performance but I wondered why nobody ever talked about him.

Turns out they were talking about him. His name is Ralph Fiennes. Except because he’s British they don’t have a clue how to say it.

It took me about 12 interviews to realize when the cast and talking heads were talking about “Rafe Fines” they were appraising the work of Ralph Fiennes.

Oh c ome on, people, how can you pronounce R-A-L-P-H wrong? It is, and always has been “Rowlf.” Just bark your way through it.

And Fiennes—which is obviously “fee-innis” gets called “fines?” Rafe Fines sounds like what you get if you park in a restricted spot at a British air base.

I had visions of the British watching reruns of “ The Honeymooners” and going “I say, that Rafe Kramden is somewhat mirthful.”

Now let’s get this out front right away. I’m an Anglophile, generally love British culture.

I often quote phrases from obscure British television shows which confuses my friends greatly. I even speak English. But there are times when I want to channel Jefferson, Adams and Washington, grab a musket and head to Bunker Hill.

For instance, I don’t get royalty or titles. I don’t care when there’s a “royal wedding,” even the one when that Prince Charles guy finally married his horse.

And the concept that Dude A gets to be called a “lord” because of who his family is, and is considered better than Dude B, grates on me worse than fingernails on a chalkboard.

One of the great moments in history, I think, was when Eisenhower told Churchill, over British objections, how the invasion of Europe would go down.

A historian wrote: “A man born in a modest frame house in Denison, Texas, laid down the law to a man born in Blenheim Palace.”

It’s been said the U. S. and England are “two nations separated by a common language” and it’s not hard to come up with a list of words as evidence.

The American pronunciation in italics, followed by the British version in parentheses:

• Lieutenant—loo-tenant (lefttenant).

• Glacier—glay-sher (glassyer).

• Jaguar—Jag-war (Jag-youur).

• Schedule—sked-yule (shedyule).

• Medicine—med-i-sin (medsin). Don’t worry, the missing syllable turns up in the next word.

• Aluminum—uh-loo-min-um (al-you-min-ee-um).

• Garage—guh-raj (gerr-idge).

• Fillet—fill-lay (fill-it).

• Can’t—can-t (cawn-t). Or in Texan, cain-t.

The last is the one that probably gets me the most.

When the actors in the Harry Potter movies were 10 years old they were “cawnting” this and “cawnting” that and it made them sound, well, snooty.

I had already noticed that nobody at Hogwarts was named Bubba.

That’s not even scratching the surface of words which are pronounced the same but have difference meanings.

For instance, in Britain the word “athlete” refers only to someone in track and field. Here, or course it means all sports.

Uh, except “sports” is “sport” across the big pond. No idea why.

Of course the British maintain they’re pronouncing everything correctly because, after all, it was their language first.

I found that an eminently defensible position until I looked up Ralph Fiennes’s full name.

You ready for this? It’s “Ralph Nathaniel Twigleton-Wykenham- Fiennes.”

Guess they just cawn’t help it.


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2011-07-21 digital edition



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