Friday 25 February 2011

When Pronunciation Matters

I had a meeting in London earlier in the week and as usual found myself surrounded by American accents (are there really that many Americans in London??) and overheard what to me is worse than nails on a chalkboard - "how do we get to lie-shester square?

Oh no they di'int!

Ok so I know you can't really blame them.. How are they to know? But for any new or aspiring expats out there, I thought I'd save you potential future embarrassment with a little pronunciation guide.*

The tourist Mecca that is Leicester Square is pronounced less-ter square.  Same for the county in the north called Leicestershire - it's pronounced Less-ter-sher (do note that the -shire suffix is not pronounced shy-er.) 

Other counties that can sometimes cause confusion are Derbyshire and Berkshire.  In both instances, the second consonant is pronounced as an A rather than an E.  Derbyshire = darby-sher (or actually more like darbeh-sher really) and Berkshire = bark-sher.

Others bound to trip people up:
Southwark = suth-eck
Ruislip = rye-slip
Gloucestershire = glosster-sher

In addition to the -shire suffix, there are a few others which will come up frequently.  If you master these, you will greatly reduce the risk of making an ass out of yourself:
-ham = -em
-mouth = -meth
-wick = -ick
-borough = -bra (kind of)

Still confused?  Lookie here - there's even a website that has sound files of people pronouncing words.

I should mention I had a bit of an argument about pronunciation once - another expat told me she would continue to say these words (including town/city/county names) however she wanted because she claimed it was her accent rather than a blatant mispronunciation, but I disagree strongly.  I'm not saying that you should start saying al-loo-min-ee-um or to-mah-to, but in my opinion, Derbyshire, Berkshire, Southwark, etc are proper names of places in England and therefor should be said the proper way as determined by the people of England, not the way a "foreigner" thinks they should be said.  (Attn: people who say Bear-ick Obama, pay attention to this rule!)

Happy Pronouncing!  (oh and if you are moving to or new to Wales, may the force be with you)

*important to mention these pronunciations may vary slightly depending on the region to which you move. I live in the Home Counties, so keep that in mind.


  1. I certainly agree, a place is called what its called, and you are either saying it right or not.

    Another thing that annoys me now I'm living in Cyprus is the way the English (myself being one) have changed names all over the world - the capital of Cyprus is Nicosia, but Lefkosia in Greek, "we" changed it when we came and took over. If its called Lefkosia then we should have just called it that.

    Sorry rant over!

  2. You must add Thames! 'Tims'

    Always fun to drop by and see what you're thinking about. BTW, I'm a huge JLS fan too ;)

  3. Totally agree with you about pronouncing proper names in the way that it is accepted to pronounce it. English names are just so distinct (and I had to laugh about the Wales comment!)
    Thanks to my English dad I was well schooled on some of those you mentioned before I got here - but Cumbria has it's own unique way of pronouncing words which has completely tripped me up! :)

  4. Good blog. Another to add is how some Americans pronounce places like Edinburgh or Middlesbrough as like burrow at the end.

    Here is one that even my fellow natives struggle with if they aren't local - there is a village in Cheshire called Cholmondeley, which is actually pronounced Chum-lee.