I just discovered an important fact about the pronunciation of a common English word—something that doesn’t happen very often any more. A comment in a (silly) MetaFilter thread informed me that the word trait was traditionally pronounced exactly like tray, at least in the UK; in other words, the final -t is (or was supposed to be) silent. (The OED lists both pronunciations, “tray” first; the 1998 edition of the Cassell Concise lists both, but in the reverse order.) This is not surprising for a borrowing from French, but I had never run across it, and I doubt many Americans have. So what I want to know is: are my UK readers familiar with this pronunciation? If so, is it current, a bit old-fashioned, or something they said back in grandfather’s day? (And of course if any Americans are familiar with it, I want to know that as well.)


  1. I know both. I say the [t] (I’m 27) but my parents don’t.

  2. [Where are your linguistic roots, Claire? USA only?]
    Traditionally, educated Australians have sanctioned only the “tray” pronunciation, regarding the alternative as clear evidence of illiteracy. Even as a technical term in psychology it was uniformly pronounced this way, until the American cultural and linguistic tsunami of the last three decades or so. Now you will hear academic psychologists using either one or the other pronunciation; the same applies generally for other academics. Some of us still wince when we hear “trayt”.
    I submit that much the same should be said for British usage.
    The situation is roughly comparable to that with American “alternate” for British “alternative”. I still correct this in students’ writing, but it’s a losing battle.

  3. Oh, thank you, thank you so much, Noetica!
    I thought it’s me and my [poor] English!
    I has been using “alternative” almost every day writing notes for contractors on architectural drawings (typical phrase: “General contractor shall provide cut sheets of alternative fixtures for architect’s approval prior to purchase”)
    And every time my Cornell-educated boss would insist on changing “alternative” to “alternate”.
    I feel so good right now!

  4. Once again, LH changes someone’s life for the better…

  5. Glad to help, Tatyana.
    I pedantically insist on remarking upon your “prior to”. What ever happened to good old Anglo-Saxon “before”? But I also insist that you continue to feel good (as I now do, too). :)

  6. One step at a time, LH, one step at a time.
    Noetica, I agree with you, it does sound silly. But it’s a standard construction, used in AIA*-recommended contract underwriting, and I assume it is some remnant of “Legalese”. For example, form 171 includes expressions “prior to bid”, “prior to construction”, etc.
    * AIA – American Institute of Architects.

  7. Yes, Tatyana. As you say, one step at a time.

  8. Well, I’m English born and bred and I’ve never heard of the silent-t pronunciation. Or heard anyone using it, that I can recall. Neither in my uneducated working/lower-middle class background nor in my educated university life.

  9. I’ve always pronounced it with t, but I have heard the tray version and I think I even knew it was (also) correct. However, I have heard it rarely and regard it as rather effete. I see Longmans Pronunciation Dictionary (1st ed.) says the tray pronunciation is the standard in the UK, but trayt also exists. I’m 57 and I have a Ph.D. (I mention this in view of Noetica’s remarks).

  10. I’ve never heard any Briton pronounce “trait” as “tray”. One strange, pseudo-French pronunciation I have heard is “envelope” spoken with a nasalised “on” as the first syllable. Some people consider this the correct, “posh” way to pronounce the word, but “envelope” isn’t even the same as its equivalent in French (i.e. “enveloppe”). I’ve yet to hear anyone pronounce “to envelop” with a French accent.

  11. I’ve only ever come across the ‘t’ version. (Born and bred in London, 34 years old, P to the h to the D, for sure.)

  12. Very interesting. Apparently it’s moribund in the UK but still going in Australia (where Claire is from). Incidentally, I just checked my 13th (1967) edition of Daniel Jones’ Everyman’s Pronouncing Dictionary, where the -t variant is given not only second but enclosed in those raised-eyes brackets (“well, certain people do say it this way, but those people… well, you know…”). But that may be a carryover from earlier editions.

  13. I can repeat Sharon’s comment word for word, changing only “English” to “Irish”.

  14. uncanny hengeman says:

    Wow, I feel honoured. I think.
    As I said further down in the thread, I gave up pronouncing it the “correct” way many years ago.
    a) It seemed like I was the only one who ever said it properly – and I was often corrected by people who didn’t know they were pronouncing it incorrectly!
    b) It kinda makes sense if you treat English as an evolving language so I went with the flow.

  15. Noetica, I’m from Canberra and have only been in the US a few years. This came up when I was in Year 11 and doing VCE psychology in Melbourne – the teacher said /trai/ but all the students said /trait/. She kept correcting us but it never did any good. Then I noticed my parents didn’t say the t either.

  16. scarabaeus stercus says:

    those who have a certain trait,
    should serve their tea by tray,
    then they can do a little bray.
    those that have another trait,
    may be givern a higher rate
    if it be their fate,
    then they can be shown the gate.
    Survived this long [ score and ten+]and my addled mind ne’er ‘erd of a geezeer and his trait with only a 3 spot. Oh! live and learn.

  17. I’m Australian, 37, middle class, not university educated, and widely traveled. This is the first time I’ve ever heard of “trait” being pronounced /treI/. Both Macquarie and Shorter Oxford give /treI/ before /treIt/.

  18. LH, my 14th edition of the Everyman dictionary agrees with your 13th edition. Also, Webster’s 3rd International gives the “tray” pronunciation as the British pronunciation, for what that’s worth.
    As I say, there has been an American tsunami affecting pronunciation and much else in life, this side of the Pacific. Young persons here nearly all say “trayt”, now. Some of them even say “TRANSmitter” where we had always said “transMITTer”. I have not yet heard one say “CAPillary” for “capILLary”, but no doubt that’s on its way.
    I can only assume that Britain has been similarly affected.
    In Australia we have long had not only our own established linguistic ways, but a wash of American and British film and television to influence our practice. This makes the situation complex, and provides much grist for observers of contact phenomena. While linguistic diversity preceding the age of mass media may be greater in both Britain and America than in Australia, I suggest that in America there is far less incursion from “foreign” English, and that this explains the surprise Americans often evince when they first encounter pronunciations other than their own. But frankly, I was amazed that you had not ever heard “trai(t)”, LH. And I was also amazed when a most linguistically astute American colleague of mine had not heard (or had not consciously registered) “transMITTer”.
    We are amused that it is often felt necessary to dub Australian films with American voices, when they are exported, against the tide, to the Land of the Free. How quaint and provincial!

  19. Both Macquarie and Shorter Oxford give /treI/ before /treIt/.
    Andrew, the Macquarie’s pronunciations are not worth a knob of goatshit. It has “acciaccatura” pronounced “a-catch-a-TYOO-ra”. Honestly, I wouldn’t have a Macquarie in the house. It is a cheap adaptation of a third-rate American dictionary from the ’40s, into which it introduces fresh errors for the purpose of making it our own.

  20. Big Ramifications says:

    “Some of them even say “TRANSmitter” where we had always said “transMITTer”. I have not yet heard one say “CAPillary” for “capILLary”, but no doubt that’s on its way.”
    I like how Americans say “aLOO m’num” instead of “al YOU minny um”. I reckon their way sounds much cooler. :)
    …And possibly more logical, too. When being processed from bauxite rocks, aluminium is first turned into aluminium oxide before it becomes a refined metal. Those in the industry refer to it as alumina – and both Americans and Australians pronounce it “aLOO m’nah”. Therefore, I reckon the American pronunciation of aluminium makes slightly more sense.

  21. scarabaeus stercus says:

    “like how Americans say “aLOO m’num” instead of “al YOU minny um”. I reckon their way sounds much cooler” This version of Brit stays away from the loo, it costs a penny.

  22. I’m a 36 year old kiwi now living in America. I remember once in high school (in New Zealand), trait was used as an example of a word that everyone mispronounces, ie, everyone said trayt but it was supposed to be tray. But tray sounded so silly that I always avoided using the word; now that I’m in the land of “trayt” I don’t have to think about it. (I still say alyoominnyium, though.)

  23. Big Ramifications says:

    Therefore, I reckon the American pronunciation of aluminium makes slightly more sense.
    No, I totally take that back. Call it a draw at best. At least Aussies say it how it is spelt. Americans neglect to pronounce the second “i”.

  24. Erin Stafford says:

    Not only do we Yanks neglect to pronounce the second ‘I’, we also neglect to write it. We spell the word ‘aluminum.’ I didn’t even know about the British varient until my high school chemistry teacher mentioned it.

  25. Noetica, that’s a fairly widespread pronunciation of acciaccatura. I learnt violin and piano for many years and heard all sorts of variations, but /ækiətʃurə/ or /ækætʃətʃurə/ were the most common.
    Are dictionaries prescriptive or descriptive references?

  26. aldiboronti says:

    I’m British and I’ve always pronounced it tray but, as in many other words, the influence of the speak-as-you-spellers has been pervasive over the last few generations and the tray pronunciation in the UK, dominant forty-odd years ago, has now been pushed into a backwater.

  27. The “tray” pronounciation is still going strong as “the correct” Australian pronounciation in at least some corners of the country (though “trayt” is widely used in Australia, and including by people with higher-social-register dialects). When I was a postgrad, we used “tray” normally, but “trayt” when we were talking about the characteristics referred to with the word “trait” in biology. So in our little community at least, saying “trayt” indicated that one intended it as a technical term. (We did know that Americans universally pronounced it “trayt”, though I’m surprised to hear the “tray” pronounciation seems to have largely disappeared from educated accents in England.)

  28. Coincidentally, I heard a friend of my parents say ‘trays’ for ‘traits’ just yesterday and remarked on it to myself. I think it’s definitely a pronunciation used by the older generation, whereas I would always pronounce the final ‘t’, or by those who are still very conscious of it being a French borrowing.
    It’s the same as with the whole debate here over the pronunciation of ‘garage’, with the older generation reluctant to rhyme it with ‘marriage’ (which is without a doubt the dominant UK pronunciation for ‘garage’) and preferring to use the pronunciation that is similar to US usage and thus to the French pronunciation.
    I’m London born and bred, by the way.

  29. …heard all sorts of variations, but /ækiətʃurə/ or /ækætʃətʃurə/ were the most common.
    To set things straight, the only standard Italian pronunciation of this Italian technical term is /attʃakkaTUra/ (so to represent the doubled consonants). The only pronunciation the Macquarie gives reverses the palatal and and the velar consonants. This reversal is, in my experience also, common enough in pronunciations of this rarely-heard word. It is founded on a complete failure to comprehend Italian orthography.
    Are dictionaries prescriptive or descriptive references?
    They ought to be both. We want a dictionary to give, for example, criterion as the singular corresponding to the plural criteria, because that is originally and traditionally the “right” way, and most importantly because no one can ever get into serious trouble by adopting that usage. But we may also want a dictionary to note that criteria is often used as a singular, AND that this is deplored by many as untraditional and “incorrect”.
    Applying this principle to acciaccatura, we would first want a dictionary to give a pronunciation considered unexceptionable by those who know musical terms well and know their Italian pronunciations; and then, if there is room and if the dictionary aims to be comprehensively descriptive, we want it to note that there are alternatives that stray from the Italian original.
    I would bet that the Macquarie acted out of sheer ignorance, in the present case.
    (One of my piano teachers many years ago knew how to pronounce Italian well enough, but had no idea about French. Confronted with chaconne he uttered /kaKOne/, which has a quite a different meaning!)

  30. Justin: When you say “the pronunciation that is similar to US usage” what exactly do you mean? In the US we say guh-RAHZH; I had always thought the posher variant in the UK was GARE-ahzh (ie, like the lower-register garridge but with a Frenchy ending).

  31. Big Ramifications says:

    Well I’ll be a monkey’s…
    I never new that, Erin. Ya learn something new every day!
    aluminium vs aluminum

  32. LH – the Frenchified version of ‘garage’ with stress on the first syllable is indeed the ‘posh’ version used in the UK, but there is another, that rhymes with ‘marriage’ as described above. I use either one, depending on who I am talking to…
    I think very few Brits would put stress on the final syllable (as the Americans and French do).

  33. On the other examples: I always say ‘trayt’ and never ‘tray’, and I have very often heard ‘acciaccatura’ pronounced the Macquarie way – but that’s not the pronunciation given in my Collins English, which I shall post here if someone will point me to an idiot’s guide to how to type using the IPA.
    My tuppence worth is that I should like dictionaries to reflect both kinds of use IN THIS CASE – it’s handy to know how a word is pronounced in the language from which it is borrowed, in a transparent case of highly specific borrowing such as ‘acciaccatura’.
    I don’t think it’s worth transferring this principle onto any word that has ever been borrowed into English, though. Think of the size and expense of dictionaries!

  34. Angela, the Macquarie pronunciation of acciaccatura is just one of many illiterate and confused attempts to transfer the Italian term into English. I too have heard it said that way, among a number of other inept ways. We expect that a dictionary will authoritatively restore order and give some sort of a ruling, don’t we? And even if we don’t expect that, would we be happy if a dictionary records just one (the one least like the original) of a number of popular pronunciations from the available range? If it did that it would fail even as a purely descriptive reference.
    The Collins pronunciation is a mild and perfectly useable adaptation of the Italian, simply dropping the doubling of consonants, anglicising the “u” a little, and giving the final “a” as a schwa.
    The SOED gives a somewhat more anglicised pronunciation (equivalent to the only one in Everyman’s Pronouncing Dictionary), and I find that its rendering of the “foreign” Italian pronunciation closely resembles mine. It has the doubled consonants; but it predictably gives its wretched Oxford equivalent of /æ/ for every occurrence of “a”. That is glossed as the sound of “a” in “cat”. Bah, once more.
    I doubt that the Macquarie’s exchange of the two types of consonants will be found in any other widely used dictionary. The Macquarie alone risks seriously embarrassing a musician going for a job interview. There’s a good practical criterion for you!

  35. it predictably gives its wretched Oxford equivalent of /æ/ for every occurrence of “a”
    But that is, is it not, how Brits talk? When I listen to BBC News I always hear /præg/ for Prague, &c, and just last night I noticed /pæsta/ for pasta on a TV show. Surely in this case the dictionary is doing its proper job of reflecting common usage. (The only dictionary I know that consistently includes the foreign pronunciation is Daniel Jones’s Everyman.)
    On the Aussie front, I have the Australian Oxford, which seems to take a good approach; unfortunately it doesn’t include acciaccatura.

  36. Justin Neville says:

    Yes, my earlier comments were misleading (oh, alright, incorrect!) with regard to ‘garage’ before. The upper-register UK pronunciation of the word is not as similar to the US pronunciation as I suggested. What they have in common is that the final syllable has retained the French-sounding pronunciation of ‘age’, ie. ‘ahzh’, which most ‘-age’ borrowings from French have now lost. I agree they differ as regards which syllable is stressed and how the vowel in the first syllable is pronounced.
    But my point was that the upper-register UK pronunciation of both ‘garage’ and ‘trait’ remains very close to the French pronunciation than does the lower-register (and, I would contend, the most common) UK pronunciation of both words.

  37. Living in the UK, I have heard “trait” pronounced “tray”, but it is definitely rare and on the way to extinction.
    How fascinating about “garage”. My impression is precisely the opposite — that an old-fashioned upper-class English speaker will pronounce it “garridge”. (“Put the motor-car in the garridge, Jeeves.” “Very good, sir.”) The explanation — insofar as there is an explanation for this sort of absurd U / non-U distinction — is that lower-class people will pretend to be more genteel than they really are by sprinking their conversation with French-sounding words (e.g. “serviette” rather than “napkin”, “envelope” pronounced “ong-velope”, “garage” pronounced to rhyme with Mme Defarge) whereas a true gentleman is secure in his own sense of English identity and doesn’t need to put on Frenchified airs.
    That, at any rate, was the explanation I was given by my mother, who was educated at a very upper-class girls’ school in the 1950s, where great emphasis was placed on correct speech and manners in order to prepare the “gels” for coming out into “society” where they would meet “the right sort of people”. My mother thought it was all a great deal of nonsense, but — such is the power of social conditioning — still took the trouble to teach me all the rules in case I ever needed them.

  38. Justin Neville says:

    it predictably gives its wretched Oxford equivalent of /æ/ for every occurrence of “a”. That is glossed as the sound of “a” in “cat”.
    But that is, is it not, how Brits talk? When I listen to BBC News I always hear /præg/ for Prague, &c, and just last night I noticed /pæsta/ for pasta on a TV show.
    Bit confused about the above comments. I’m from London and I would NEVER use the same vowel sounds in both ‘Prague’ and ‘pasta’. In fact, even those Northerners that would use the same vowel sound in both ‘bath’ and ‘bat’ would use the longer ‘ah’ in ‘Prague’.

  39. Ah now, as for Prague, the old-fashioned English pronunciation can be found in W.J. Prowse’s poem, one of those pieces of whimsical Calverley-esque light verse so popular in the late nineteenth century:
    Though the latitude’s rather uncertain
    And the longitude also is vague,
    The persons I pity who know not the city
    The beautiful city of Prague!
    But that went out with the Victorians, and I don’t suppose there is anyone still alive who pronounces “Prague” to rhyme with “vague”. (On preview: I agree with Justin, “Prarg” is the norm. Maybe I’ve led a sheltered existence, but I’ve never heard anyone pronounce it “Pragg”.)

  40. Well, I have just learned (here in America) that the English are so accustomed to mispronouncing “aluminum” with an extra “i” between the n and the u, it has given rise to an accepted alternative spelling. ;-)
    Can someone enlighten me with regard to the word “specialty”? I have heard English english-speakers pronounce it with an extra “i” between the l and the t. Do they also permit themselves to spell it so — “speciality”?
    (And if they do, why don’t they go on and accept the spelling “Himalya”? Creeping phoneticism seems to have crept only so far. Is it a rule that extra letters may be added, but not removed?)

  41. Justin Neville says:

    Yes, we spell it “speciality” and pronounce it as such (with two more syllables and the stress on the “a”). Similarly, “normality”, not “normalcy”.
    But I don’t see your point on “Himalaya”, which is how we pronounce it….

  42. The common pronunciation of “Himalaya” in the US is “Him-a-LAY-a”, in England, “Him-ALL-ya”, at least to my ears. Justin, are you saying the ay is a dipthong? I could easily be mis-hearing it.

  43. Correcting myself: I can’t say “Him-ALL-ya” is the common pronunciation in England, but I can say I have only heard it from Englishpersons.

  44. Well, I am English and have never heard anyone from anywhere, including here, say anything other than Him-a-LAY-a, or possibly Him-a-LAY-ya (ie. pronouncing the ‘y’). Him-ALL-ya would sound just plain daft (to me at least).

  45. I’m glad I hedged to the extent that I did, or I’d be even more embarrassed now.
    The wikipedia says Him-ALL-ya is the proper Sanskrit pronuciation. (
    I must simply have heard it once pronounced this way by an Englishman, and thereby permitted myself to conclude this was the common pronunciation in England! (It may have been Sir Edmund Hillary, on television?)

  46. I’m Scottish born, Cambridge educated and gleefully pedantic enough to have been brought up with ‘trayt’ and still crack a small smile when I hear someone say it. I wouldn’t go so far as to think it worth correcting, but I wouldn’t pronounce the ‘t’. I’d venture to say that most linguistically-aware people in the UK know that the ‘t’ *ought* to be silent, but realise that it’s rather late to start complaining about the shift . . .

  47. Incidentally, regarding ‘alumin(i)um’
    (I hope I’m not breaking any rules of etiquette by posting such a long piece, but I found it quite interesting…)
    ‘The metal was named by the English chemist Sir Humphry Davy (who, you may recall, “abominated gravy, and lived in the odium of having discovered sodium”), even though he was unable to isolate it: that took another two decades’ work by others. He derived the name from the mineral called alumina, which itself had only been named in English by the chemist Joseph Black in 1790. Black took it from the French, who had based it on alum, a white mineral that had been used since ancient times for dyeing and tanning, among other things. Chemically, this is potassium aluminium sulphate (a name which gives me two further opportunities to parade my British spellings of chemical names).
    ‘Sir Humphry made a bit of a mess of naming this new element, at first spelling it alumium (this was in 1807) then changing it to aluminum, and finally settling on aluminium in 1812. His classically educated scientific colleagues preferred aluminium right from the start, because it had more of a classical ring, and chimed harmoniously with many other elements whose names ended in –ium, like potassium, sodium, and magnesium, all of which had been named by Davy.
    ‘The spelling in –um continued in occasional use in Britain for a while, though that in –ium soon predominated. In the USA—perhaps oddly in view of its later history—the standard spelling was aluminium right from the start. This is the only form given in Noah Webster’s Dictionary of 1828, and seems to have been standard among US chemists throughout most of the nineteenth century; it was the preferred version in The Century Dictionary of 1889 and is the only spelling given in the Webster Unabridged Dictionary of 1913. However, there is evidence that the spelling without the final i was used in various trades and professions in the US from the 1830s onwards . . .’

  48. Fascinating — thanks for the history! (And please don’t worry about long comments; as long as they’re saying something interesting, they can be as long as you like.)
    Looks like I heard an idiosyncratic pronunciation of Prague, but I’m still convinced the vowel of “cat” is often used in the UK where we in the US use ah. I’ll try to think of another example.

  49. LH:
    it predictably gives its wretched Oxford equivalent of /æ/ for every occurrence of “a”
    But that is, is it not, how Brits talk?
    Alas, it is indeed the way many from the Old Country talk. Certainly on TV cooking shows that we suffer in Ozlandia, /pæsta/ seems de rigueur.
    But all of that is a separate matter from how the SOED gives its foreign pronunciations. This is what I explicitly discussed, in the post you comment on, LH. The /æ/ of “cat” may be used, among consenting adults, for at least the first two instances of “a” in acciaccatura (though probably not the third, and certainly not the last); but it is plain wrong to use four instances of /æ/ in representing the original, “foreign” Italian, pronunciation of the word. This is what SOED does, and it does it with a symbol it explains as marking the /æ/ sound in cat. J’accuse!
    Collins and Webster’s 3rd do much better, marking such a foreign “a” as like the /a/ in “father”.
    Surely in this case the dictionary is doing its proper job of reflecting common usage.
    No, as explained.
    (The only dictionary I know that consistently includes the foreign pronunciation is Daniel Jones’s Everyman.)
    It doesn’t do so consistently. It does not, for example, give anything other than an anglicised pronunciation for acciaccatura.

  50. Michael Farris says:

    “I’m still convinced the vowel of “cat” is often used in the UK where we in the US use ah.”
    ‘maffia’, there are some others I’ve heard, but I can’t remember them right this second.

  51. I seem to recall that it is the case in most dialects of English that many words have fluctuating pronunciations between the sound in “cat” and the sound in “Saab”. Certainly in British and Australian English. In Australia these variations are often claimed as proof of class accent or regional dialect, but studies show they are not settled enough to categorise such ways. In American English I was pretty sure variations existed as well but perhaps in that case they are along regional dialect lines.
    As for my own pronunciations of some topical words; “acciaccatura” is not in my vocabulary at all, garage is /”g{rA:dZ/ (GARR-ahj), “envelope” is either /”env@l@Up/ (EN-va-lope) or /”Qnv@l@Up/ (ON-va-lope), but never /”Q~v@l@Up/ (ONG-va-lope), “pasta” is /”pA:st@/, and I use “serviette” /”s3:vi%jet/ and “napkin” /”n{pk@n/ interchangeably but seem to prefer the former at the moment.
    I left out the ad-hoc pronunciations for “pasta” because I don’t know how to do it unambiguously, “serviette” because I don’t know how to show /3:/ without implying rhoticity, and “napkin” because it’s too bloody obvious (-:
    On SOED pronunciations, mine is from about 1991 when they were their own pre-IPA system which was complicated but allowed for more flexibility and subtlety. The current SOED does use IPA. I get the impression that people on this list are not aware that there are two styles of SOED pronunciation. Which are you talking about here?
    For Noetica, thankyou for shattering my illusions as regards the Macquarie. I’ll not trust it as much any more but I shall still use it. It was the one place I could find the Australianism “light globe” but it let me down when I was looking for “doovermalacky”. The other two good sized Australian dictionaries are the Oxford Australian English dictionary and the Collins Australian English dictionary. Is any one better? Are these other two actually developed in Australia? And where can I find out more about the true origins and history of the MQD? Specifically, which “third-rate American dictionary from the ’40s” is it cheaply adapted from?
    Now it’s my turn to apologize for a long post!

  52. I use the Oxford Australian, which has “light globe” but not “doovermalacky” (it does, however, have “doover,” defined as “any object when one does not know or cannot remember what it is called; a thingummyjig,” which is an admirable definition — I assume “doovermalacky” is an expanded version).

  53. Andrew:
    The current SOED does use IPA. I get the impression that people on this list are not aware that there are two styles of SOED pronunciation. Which are you talking about here?
    Myself, I mainly use a CD-ROM version of SOED, dated 1997. It uses IPA. Actually, I am negotiating to swap my 1993 print version for a 1970s one, because much that was good is now omitted. (Why on earth have they retained “itacist” but dropped its fellow, “etacist”?)
    The other two good sized Australian dictionaries are the Oxford Australian English dictionary and the Collins Australian English dictionary. Is any one better? Are these other two actually developed in Australia?
    I can’t say anything about the Oxford offering, other than to give my opinion that the smaller Oxfords have declined over the years. I only use the SOED and the OED.
    The Collins is excellent, both as a general resource (I really like its extensive proper-name entries, with pronunciations) and for specifically Australian usages. As I understand it, the Collins is substantially the UK version, with Australian and NZ additions. In my opinion it does an excellent job of looking after the Australian reader. (I own two.)
    And where can I find out more about the true origins and history of the MQD? Specifically, which “third-rate American dictionary from the ’40s” is it cheaply adapted from?
    For a partisan but adequate history, you can look here:
    “All the editors had been involved in major studies of the phonological patterns of Australian English across the community. So, contrary to general practice except in learner’s dictionaries, they decided to supply an Australian pronunciation, with variants, for every headword entry, using a suitable version of the International Phonetic Alphabet. The transcription symbols were to be phonemic, each accommodating within a single symbol the whole spectrum of variation found among Australian speakers. Thus not one of the three major categories of Australian pronunciation, Broad, General and Cultivated, would be favoured over the others, and every user could interpret the transcription in terms of their own position in the spectrum (Mitchell and Delbridge 1965).”
    “As with so many projects which come to fill if not dominate the lives of those who participate, this one began with a fairly casual offer from a publisher. It came, late in 1969, from Brian Clouston, the head of the Jacaranda Press, Brisbane, a publishing house dealing principally with educational books. It was casual in the sense that he did not consult his board before making an offer, and the offer did not include a contract. Made to Arthur Delbridge, who was the foundation professor of linguistics in Macquarie University, it proposed the writing of “an aggressively Australian dictionary”, to be finished and ready for publication in two years’ time, with funds enough to encourage the participation of a small group of academic editors, a support staff, and office accommodation off campus. The university itself was not involved in the initial arrangement, though clearly it needed to give permission to its own academic staff who became involved. More importantly, the offer included the use of a dictionary of suitable size, the Encyclopedic World Dictionary (EWD), as a base on which the new work could be developed. This dictionary had itself been based on the American College Dictionary (ACD) (1947–1967), with Patrick Hanks as editor and the Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd as publisher. It was published in London in 1971. The ACD was never on sale within Australia, and the subsequent work on the proposed Jacaranda Dictionary (to give the Macquarie Dictionary its first intended name) ignored it completely in favour of EWD. EWD itself had been available to Australian users only through a successful mail-order campaign of short duration in 1972. It was a revision of an American dictionary by a British lexicographer whose first concern was “to describe the vocabulary common to all or most brands of English in the fullest and clearest possible form” (Hanks 1971: Introduction). It was not in any sense a national dictionary, but it proved to be Australia’s indispensable base dictionary.”
    As far as I’m concerned, for “indispensable” read “dispensable”. They would have done better to take their time, and start from a better base.
    I am familiar with “dooverwacky”, but not the variant you give, Andrew.

  54. Since this thread has degenerated into a discussion on the merits of Australian dictionaries, I have a question that has been burning at me for the past 30 years.
    When I was brought up in Queensland, the word ‘ocker’ was a pejorative term that was used for Asians (normally Chinese, Vietnamese, etc.) I know it was used at the University and I know that it was used in the general community (I heard one gentleman at the post office commenting that the Chinaman should get off the line of our telex machine — the reason being that it said OCC, meaning, of course, ‘occupied’).
    There is another meaning of the word ‘ocker’ which is ‘true-blue and down-to-earth Australian’, with rural or working class undertones.
    This is the meaning that is listed in all those Australian dictonaries. I have looked in vain for the meaning ‘Asian’. Not a single dictionary or Internet source mentions it! Is this a purely Queensland provincialism (possibly already extinct)? And if it is, why don’t the so-called Australian dictionaries list it?
    Any comments from our educated Australian readership?

  55. When I was brought up in Queensland, the word ‘ocker’ was a pejorative term that was used for Asians (normally Chinese, Vietnamese, etc.)
    I have never heard that one. The scholarly and comprehensive but under-used Australian National Dictionary (AND; Oxford, 1988 [Ockersford?]) gives three related senses for “ocker”, with copious citation of sources. It also has the abbreviation “ock”, “ockerdom”, “ockerism”, and “ockerina” (a female ocker). None of them has anything like the sense you mention.
    I speculate that the word used in that other sense is a typical Oz contraction, of “octoroon” (cf. “ocky”, also in AND, for “octopus”), ignorantly and locally applied to East Asiatics instead of “A person of one-eighth Aboriginal descent” (AND).

  56. tray. But I’ve probably not used the word for 30 years.

  57. I’m American (my speech is mostly a mishmash of Midwestern and mid-Atlantic dialects) and I say “transMITTer”. “TRANSmitter” sounds more like Southern US dialect to me. But I was a bookish kid and, like many bookish kids, came up with strange nonstandard pronunciations for many words as a result of first seeing them in print, so this might not mean much.
    I have never heard “trait” pronounced with a silent final t except in French.

  58. …And the way I pronounce “garage” ends more “ahdge” than “ahzh”. The vowels are pretty much as in the French, though.

  59. Well, “TRANSmitter” comes from Noetica’s report of how young Australians tend to say the word; like you, I’ve never heard an actual American say it, so it may be hyper-Americanization on the part of Aussies.

  60. That surprises me, LH. I am close to 100% certain that I have often heard “TRANSmitter” in the days when I was able to tolerate American trash television, with which Oz is of course flooded. It may be that a split by level of education is involved, as with very many words. This might explain the lack of testimony for “TRANSmitter” here. Alternatively, I could simply be mistaken (but then, what would induce me to make it up?).
    Anyway, how about “CIGarette”? This has no place in traditional Oz pronunciation, but is given as a pronunciation in American dictionaries. It has long been increasing in use here, in the speech of younger persons.
    Consider also “ADult”, “INquiry”, “EXcess”, “REcess”, “ADDress”, “MUStache”, “REsearch”, “ROmance”, “LABoratory”, all noted by Mencken (in The American Language, abridged and annotated by Raven McDavid, pp. 416-8) as examples of the “stronger American tendency to throw the accent forward”. Noticeable also are “CREmate”, “ADvertisement”, along with innumerable other throwings-forward one notes, but which are not mentioned by Mencken. Relevant to my “TRANSmitter” case may be this observation by McDavid (in a footnote to Mencken): “An unfashionable initial stress often appears in individual words in the speech of prominent Americans; e.g., ée-ficiency was often said by President Eisenhower.” (And I add, if in the speech of prominent Americans, why not in the speech of innumerable scarcely noted obscure Americans?) On the “garage” controversy Mencken has something useful to contribute, too: “Running against the current, barráge and garáge survive in the United States against the British bárrage and gárage.”
    In all of the cases cited above, Oz and British usage traditionally have the stress later in the word. But in many cases we now often follow the American stressing; and even I have unwittingly succumbed, with some.
    Placing of stress, in words and also in larger elements (see my discussion of the vicissitudes of “ice cream”, elsewhere) remains a relatively unexplored area, partly because stress is not marked in written English as it is (with glorious regularity) in Spanish. Many otherwise astute observers are deaf to its ways and changes, in my meta-observation.

  61. Well, the tendency Mencken noted is certainly real, and all the other words you cite are initial-stressed in my usage (though I vacillate with “inquiry”); it’s possible that I’ve heard TRANSmitter and simply not noted it, and of course it’s possible it’s used in places I haven’t been. All I can say for sure is that it’s not standard American.

  62. For me that’s actually useful information. Thanks, LH. Anyway, I’ll keep my antennae tuned for TRANSmitters when I hear American speech, and I’ll report anything of interest that I pick up from non-standard varieties.

  63. I’ve come late to this thread, so fwiw: I say trait without the T (because I was told it was “better” and who was I to argue); “garage” rhymes with “carriage”. Northern English.
    Sorry for butting in on all your curi-Ozzities.

  64. John Cowan says:

    I speak one of the more conservative kinds of American (off Tangier Island, anyway), and for me the stresses are transMITter, cigarETTE, adULT (noun), ADult (adjective), INquiry, EXcess (noun), exCESS (adjective), REcess, adDRESS (all parts of speech), MUStache, REsearch (noun), reSEARCH (verb), roMANCE (all parts of speech), LAB’ratory.

    My grandson (who is now five) has coined the verb cigarette ‘smoke a cigarette’; I heard him say the other day “They’re cigaretting in there!”, referring to a particular room in someone’s house, with some distress. This verb had initial stress, and if I adopted it, I’d give it initial stress too. (He knows the verb smoke but doesn’t use it in this connection.)

  65. I was taught in Teachers’ college in the 70′s that the word “trait” was pronounced “tray.” I have since used it that way. I am Canadian. I also like to be correct in the way I speak.

  66. ” trait”, in my Australian experience, rhymes with “bouquet”.
    What of “less” and “fewer”? Why do non-Americans pronounce “furore” without the final “”e”?

  67. Stress: Horrifyingly, Australian Basketball commentators have begun to pronounce “defence” with the accent on the first syllable!

  68. Why do non-Americans pronounce “furore” without the final “”e”?

    I presume you mean Americans, not non-Americans, and the answer is twofold: 1) We don’t have a word “furore,” we have a word “furor,” and we pronounce it as spelled. 2) By “without the final ‘e’” you mean like in “more,” “score,” “shore,” etc.?

  69. marie-lucie says:


    I have seen the word written but I am not sure if I have heard it spoken (I probably did but without particularly noticing), and I don’t think I have had occasion to pronounce it. If I had to (reading aloud, for instance) I would probably pronounce the final t. But in both speaking and writing English I prefer to use “feature”, which is the most common meaning of French trait.


    My sister and I practiced violin and piano respectively for years (and still do), our father played violin and viola and had a very good overall musical culture, but I had never run into acciaccatura or a French adaptation of the word. It can’t be too rare in music since many of you know the word, but I have no idea what it means.

  70. “They’re cigaretting in there!”, referring to a particular room in someone’s house, with some distress. This verb had initial stress, and if I adopted it, I’d give it initial stress too.”

    I am sure you are aware of our tendency to stress noun-verb homophones differently with first syllable stress on the verb and second for the noun, like REport (verb), rePORT (noun). I can’t think of any 3-syllable examples at the moment. In any event, I (SoAmE) stress the noun ‘cigarette’ on the first syllable and would do the same if I were to verb it. This may be more of a Southern tendency.

  71. Hat: lists both furor (< Fr fureur, 15C) and furore (< It furore, mid-19C, but earlier in connection with opera singers) as current in AmE. The OED1 agrees, but there are no current updates for either word yet. It’s true that furore in three syllables appears to be the dominant form in BrE, and that AmE pronounces furore the same as furor. Of course, both varieties use the Latin furor in such phrases as furor academicus, furor biographicus, furor papisticus, furor poeticus, furor scribendi, furor teutonicus, all per the OED. This furor gets anglicized as fury (< Late Latin furia, 14C), as in From the fury of the Northmen [furore Normannorum], Lord, deliver us, the old prayer of the English against vikings, later applied to Normans as well.

    GeorgeW: Southern AmE does have initial stress in many words where other English varieties don’t. Wikipedia lists police, cement, Detroit, Thanksgiving, insurance, behind, display, hotel, motel, recycle, TV, guitar, July, umbrella, which are all stressed on the second syllable in non-Southern varieties; presumably report the verb is one of these. This must be a secondary change rather than the preservation of older initial stress: Byron rhymed July with newly and truly, but I don’t hear any vowel reduction in my wife’s pronunciation of this word (she’s from North Carolina).

    m-l: An acciacatura is a grace-note found chiefly in Renaissance and Baroque music, consisting of playing a very short note one whole tone or semitone either higher or lower than the main note. It may be performed either just before or right on the beat. It is notated by writing the grace-note as an eighth-note, but with a smaller head and putting a slash through the vertical stem of the note. For what it’s worth, my piano teacher was a native Italian with a thick Italian accent, and he definitely said accacciatura /akkattʃaˈtura/, the pronunciation described by Noetica-2005 as “illiterate and confused”. My teacher was neither; he was, in addition to being a pianist, a Dantist of some note. (I wouldn’t swear to the gemination after almost fifty years, though; he might have used a degeminated accent of Italian.)

  72. My NZ-born and raised grandparents drummed “tray” into me as a child in the 70s, but I abandoned it in my late teens because its rarity here made it sound distractingly pretentious. I don’ recall ever having heard another native NZE speaker using it.

  73. marie-lucie says:

    JC: An acciacatura is a grace-note found chiefly in Renaissance and Baroque music, consisting of playing a very short note …..

    Thank you for the precise definition: I know exactly what you mean, but it is known in French as une appoggiature, from the Italian appoggiatura. Is that word not used in English then?

  74. It is indeed, and is much more common — I’m familiar with appoggiatura, but couldn’t have told you what an acciacatura was. Frankly, I’m not sure how to distinguish them.

  75. marie-lucie says:

    LH, could it be that each word is used in a different context? with different instruments? with voice vs instruments? etc

  76. An appoggiatura is essentially (and is sometimes called) a long acciacatura, occupying half the time of the main note, or nearly, whereas an acciacatura is ultra-short. In addition, on the piano the acciacatura is often held down while the main note is struck, hence the etymology < schiacciare ‘squash, crush’. This is not the case for the appoggiatura, which is played legato with the main note but not simultaneously with it. A written appoggiatura has no slash through it.

    Etymology of schiacciare, unfortunately as an image; the first etymon given is Latin *excutiare.

  77. By the way, it appears to be acciaccatura (with four c‘s), not acciacatura.

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