May 152012

I have touched on this in The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman – clearly my ancestor Richard Hall would not have wanted to be thought of as a “country bumpkin” and would have been at pains to make sure he pronounced words correctly. Where the spelling differed from the pronunciation he jotted down the reminders: so, we get “shaze” for “chaise”, “dimun” for “diamond” and even “crownor” for “coroner”


I was also intrigued to see that “gold” was pronounced “gould”, Farthing” as “fardun” and “toilet” as “twaylet ” or even “twilight”. O.K., some of the examples are obvious (“yot” for “yacht”) but on the whole he does come across as a tad affected by modern standards!









Place names and proper nouns were obviously not the same as now: I can just about remember people calling “Cirencester” by the name of “Sisester” and the Somerset village of Congresbury being pronounced “Coomsbury” but although we still talk of “Brummies” we don’t call the city “Brummagen” any more. Bartholomew is not, so far as I am aware, pronounced “Bartolomy”.  And even in Richard’s time “Brighthelmstone” was being abbreviated to match the way it was pronounced – “Brighton”.

I suppose it boils down to the fact that pronunciation, like spelling, changes over the centuries. as well as from locality to locality. But it does make you think, if a well-educated man like Richard spoke of “hartichokes” rather than “artichokes”, and called his cucumbers “cowcumbers”. But then, think of the strained pronunciation of “Georgiana” in the film ‘The Duchess’ – it is almost as if the upper echelons of society deliberately strangled their vowels to make it impossible for the hoi-poloi to follow!

  5 Responses to “18th Century Pronunciation – those difficult words where the spelling doesn’t match the spoken word.”


    Things do change – even in one lifetime. The North Norfolk village of Stiff Key, due to tourists, is now pronounced as it is spelled, not as Stookey; the Suffolk village of Chelmondiston, once Chumston, became a dormitory to ‘them fook from Lunnon’ and became first ChelmonDISton and then Chelmo. And the signposts to Sutton Haugh have been spelled Sutton Hoo since the first ignorant London reporters came down before the war.
    Medieval poetry demonstrates that ‘daughter’ and ‘laughter’ once rhymed. I think I’m glad I’m nobody’s dafter… does Richard feel a need to note the pronunciation of Daughter as Dawtor because he was still using the medieval pronunciation? did it linger so long? a fascinating glimpse into the speed of language change if so. Interesting that he notes Augustine to Austin, as the shortening had long been in use, and the Order of St Augustin were known as the Austin friars in the middle ages. equally Bartol[o]my and Bartelmy were recognised variants of Bartholomew [usual pet name being Batty].


    But whereas we all know them as Brummies, how many of us knew that it was because they came from Brummijum? I had certainly not come across that as being the way to pronounce Birmingham.
    “Sissester” for “Cirencester” and “Coomsbury” for “Congresbury” are another couple of oddities which were far more common a hundred years ago. It was in Richard’s time that Brighthelmstone was called Brighton – he used both spellings.


    East Anglia is a good place to find evidence of strange dissent between spelling and diction, which has its roots in spoken continuity with a Mediaeval past. Think of Garboldisham (pron. ‘Garblshum’, which presumably keeps a link with its ancient root name ‘Gaerbald’s Ham’ (see Ekwall), though many now pronounce each syllable); also, Happisburgh, pron. ‘haysbruh’ from ‘Haep’s Burga’.


    The more one reads 18th century script, the easier it is to understand it.
    Excellent post, thank you.
    Regards, Keith.
    A Woodsrunner’s Diary (blog).


    Brummagem is just the phonetic version of Bromwich ham, the old name for Birmingham. (cf West Bromwich).

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