‘Take a trip to Marylebone station,’ chanted my husband. ‘Do not pass Go. Do not collect £200.’ I had been to the station to take the rather nice Chiltern Railways train to Stratford-upon-Avon. En route I had developed doubts, not about my destination, but about the pronunciation of Marylebone. I’ve always said marry-bun, with the vowel of bun indeterminate. But a taxi driver and a ticket collector had said marly-bun. So, back at home, I turned to How to Pronounce It by Alan S.C. Ross, the man who invented U and non-U, but a proper linguistician for all that, and a man guaranteed to take into account traditional tendencies. He counsels against introducing an ‘l’ into Marylebone. Good.
But he did contradict me on nephew, a perfectly common word, in which he prefers a v sound but I use an f sound. Once into the book, I kept turning from one word to another, applauding the advice to pronounce Majorca as Madge-orca, not the imaginary my-yorca, a rendering of the Spanish spelling Mallorca.
Unlike Ross, I would never say seeminal for seminal, reech for retch, googe for gouge, hedjog for hedgehog, or the first syllable of sojourn to rhyme with budge. I wouldn’t say dahmond for diamond, as Ross prefers, or consider pronouncing balloon as bloon. I’d certainly never say sorft or lorft. Arkansas for me is to be said in the American way with the last syllable like saw; I wouldn’t dream of making it Ah-kansas with the last s sounded. I don’t say Ruthwell to rhyme with drivel (though I’m happy with riven for Ruthven), and I have never heard St Neots pronounced Snoats. But I am never tempted to introduce an l into the pronunciation of Holborn, even though. I am shaky on Westminster and Hertford, tempted by my peers to introduce a t where none is called for in speech.
The fact is that spelling-pronunciations are gathering pace. The most astonishing, as I noted last year is women, which instead of being wimmin is now widely pronounced like the singular, but with the second syllable borrowed from men, the plural of man. How can people suddenly start saying that, as if they’d never used the word before?