I’ve long been a fan of Adam Gopnik’s, and I greatly enjoyed his A Point of View: The curse of a ridiculous name, in which he laments his surname and worries about its effect on his afterlife:

Are there any big modern writers who have really funny names? Only Kipling, I think, and that is an accident of the participle.
More to the point, are there good writers who are now forgotten, as I am pretty sure I shall be, because their names are so funny?
Yes, I have to say with dread, there are – for instance, the 20th Century American poet WD Snodgrass. Snodgrass was a truly great poet, the originator, if anyone was, of the style we now call “confessional poetry”, a hero to Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath and the rest. But he had that funny Pickwickian name, and he knew it. He used to make fun of his own name: “Snodgrass is walking through the universe!” one poem reads (I, too, make fun of my surname, in the hopes of keeping off the name-demons).

It even has a Russian aspect:

A gopnik in Russian, and in Russia, is now a drunken hooligan, a small-time lout, a criminal without even the sinister glamour of courage. When Russian people hear my last name, they can barely conceal a snigger of distaste and disgusted laughter. Those thugs who clashed with Polish fans at Euro 2012? All gopniks – small G. And I’m told that it derives from an acronym for public housing, rather than from our family’s Jewish roots, but no difference.

(Thanks, Eric!)


  1. Who would not want to be named Anthony Trollope?
    Anyone who knows what trollop means.

  2. marie-lucie says

    An enjoyable article, but I am puzzled by this sentence:
    Only Kipling, I think, and that is an accident of the participle.
    Does the author think that Kipling is the participle of a verb to kiple? Isn’t it more likely to include the suffix -ling as in yearling, duckling, gosling, stripling, foundling, nursling, changeling and a few others, built on a base kip (perhaps with a different vowel) which has been forgotten?

  3. He means that it is only the fact that Kipling sounds like a past participle that makes it a funny name. It is not, so to speak, intrinsically funny.

  4. He’s referring to the well-known joke
    Q: “Do you like Kipling?”
    A: “I don’t know, I’ve never kippled.”

  5. Snodgrass has been affected by his name, for me, at least. For some reason I assumed he was British.

  6. I think this is the -ing of a clan name, and that the Kiplings are most likely the clan of Cyppel or something close to that. (Not Cippel, or it would be Chipling.) But it’s also possible that kippered (i.e. salted and smoked) herring has something to do with it.

  7. Kipling has never struck me as funny, but maybe because it’s one of those names you know from early childhood. I do snigger at the name Gopnik though.

  8. The first time I heard reference to Snodgrass (I’d nine or ten years?) it was in jest, and I thought it was a generic term for snobby, yet bookish, English gentlemen with awkwardly shaped noses.

  9. Wilkes is talking about the lost office of the city poet, and says: “The last was Elkanah Settle…”
    London’s city poet, though a poet, doesn’t seem to have been employed to write poetry. It seems to have been a Restoration post and I can only find one other besides Settle, someone called Matthew Taubman:

    (d. 1690?), poet and satirist, of whose early life nothing is known, worked as laureate for the lord mayor of London’s inauguration from 1685 until 1690. His earliest printed texts, The Courtier’s Health (1682?) and An heroick poem to his royal highness the duke of York on his return from Scotland … with some choice songs and medleyes on the times (1682), betray a close observation of recent political events. The latter sought to legitimize the royal succession with repeated references to the duke’s heritage and achievements:

    You, Sir, are both the heavn’s and Oceans care,
    Whose Gods in your protection claim a share;
    Who from devouring Deeps, as him before,
    Did in your life, our lives and hopes restore.
    (ll. 5–8)

    Written in the fragile aftermath of the Popish Plot when the stability of social order was threatened by the actions of dissenters and cabals, Taubman’s collection of Loyal Poems and Satyrs upon the Times, since the Beginning of the Salamanca Plot (1685) is punctuated by familiar themes of parentage and inheritance. Acting as an editor, he dedicates the verses to the gentlemen of the ‘Loyal Club at the Dog in Drury Lane’, implying that his earlier works had received an unenthusiastic literary reception (sig. A2v).
    Following the death of Thomas Jordan later in the same year, Taubman became responsible for producing a series of annual civic festivities to mark the mayoralities of Sir Robert Jefferys (London’s Annual Triumph, 1685, for which he received a payment of £10 out of a total budget of expenditure of £473), Sir John Peake (London’s Yearly Jubilee, 1686), Sir John Shorter (London’s Triumph, or, The Goldsmiths Jubilee, 1687), Sir John Chapman (London’s Anniversary Festival, 1688), and Sir Thomas Pilkington (London’s Great Jubilee, 1689). J. G. Nichols speculated that Taubman’s apprenticeship for this post could be traced back to a broadside dated 1659 and initialled ‘M. T.’ (The Cities New Poet’s Mock Show, now held in the British Library), which attacked the previous year’s pageant conceived in honour of Sir John Ireton (Nichols, 107–8, 115).

    (from the Taubman Oxford DNB article.)
    The much more vivid & interesting DNB article on Settle, by Abigail Williams, describes what the city poet did:

    In 1691 Settle took up a position as city poet, following the death of the previous incumbent, Matthew Taubman. His role in this capacity was to devise the annual pageants for the lord mayor’s show, a task for which he was well qualified both through his experience in producing spectacular effects in the theatre, and in co-ordinating the pope-burning pageants of the exclusion crisis. It is uncertain for how long he held the post: he produced pageants in 1691–5, 1698–1702, and 1708, and though he wrote no pageants after 1708, he continued to be referred to as ‘city poet’ by contemporaries. He was also involved in the popular entertainments at Bartholomew fair. Printed attacks on Settle from 1683 onwards had associated him with the fair, but his first recorded presentation for the venue was The Siege of Troy, an adaptation of his earlier play The Virgin Prophetess (1701). It was performed at Bartholomew fair in 1707 and at Southwark fair in 1715 and 1716, and the preface to later editions of the play asserts that Settle was employed by the show-woman Mrs Mynn during this time. He is also said to have acted at Mrs Mynn’s booth at Bartholomew fair, reputedly dressing up in a costume of green leather to play the dragon in a droll entitled ‘St George for England’, a performance which earned him the mockery of many of his adversaries.

    I can’t get at our copy of Boswell’s Life to see whether Wilkes named any more city poets. I think the title, and with the same function, should be reintroduced.
    Settle (who started as a Whig but changed political sides every time a new regime came in) seems to have been a buffoon or at least a figure of ridicule during his lifetime. Abigail Williams says at the end:

    Elkanah Settle’s literary reputation has been dominated by his contemporary opponents’ attacks on him. In the second part of Absalom and Achitophel (1682) Dryden described his writing as:

    free from all meaning, whether good or bad,
    And, in one word, heroically mad.
    (ll. 416–17)

    while in Alexander Pope’s Dunciad he is satirized for his changes of political allegiance and for his performance in costume at Bartholomew fair, ‘reduc’d at last to hiss in my own dragon’ (A. Pope, The Dunciad, 1743, 3.286). Yet although these writers have presented an influential image of the writer as a talentless hack, it is clear that much of Settle’s drama was very popular in its own time, as the quarrel with Dryden over the success of The Empress of Morocco reveals. Settle was undoubtedly a central figure in the Restoration theatre, his talent for producing spectacular and elaborately staged plays being particularly well suited to the contemporary vogue for heroic and operatic drama.

    There’s something more about him here, but since Williams doesn’t mention the Athenian Society at all I’m wondering whether it’s as significant as the blogger implies.

  10. mollymooly says

    Hilda Doolittle, Edward Cummings, and William Williams all took corrective measures.

  11. Could be worse. He could be named Katz and live in Italy.
    On the literary front, Donald Westlake regretted naming his noir tough guy anti-hero Parker because it made writing “Parker parked the car” too ridiculous for words.

  12. marie-lucie says

    Agatha Christie once had a detective called Parker Pyne, who did not last. It helps to say the name aloud.

  13. How about Tolstoy, the Fat One, Solzhenitsyn, the Lying One, or Pasternak, the Parsnip, not to mention Petrov-Vodkin?
    I like Adam Gopnik’s columns too and I did see sniggering tweets by Russian listeners.

  14. Rodger C says

    What a shame that Gopnik, who after all wasn’t raised Protestant, should settle on Elkanah Settle and skip over Augustus Toplady.
    Ø, you mean a present participle I think.
    And the way I’ve heard that joke is: “Which do you like better, Browning or Kipling?” “I don’t know, I’ve never kippled.” Ahem.

  15. Yes, of course. Forget my own name next.
    The Kipling jokes remind me dimly of a gag from the works of P. G. Wodehouse. Bertie Wooster talking to Madeline Bassett:
    I remembered something Jeeves had once called Gussie. “A sensitive plant, what?”
    Madeline: “Exactly. You know your Shelley, Bertie.”
    Bertie: “Oh, am I?”

  16. I vaguely recall Parker Pyne, but I don’t think I see the problem.
    Park or pine? It doesn’t sound like a natural parallel to me, so I had to struggle even to come up with it.

  17. marie-lucie says

    What a shame that Gopnik, who after all wasn’t raised Protestant, should settle on Elkanah Settle and skip over Augustus Toplady.
    I had never heard of either of them and looked them up, but they could have exchanged their names: Toplady would seem to be a good name for the “show-woman” Mrs. Mynn, who commissioned some of Elkanah Settle’s work for the plays she put up at several Bartholomew’s Fairs. The hymn “Rock of Ages” by Toplady has endured, but Settle’s plays, though ephemeral, seem to have been a lot of fun to watch.
    Elkanah: I suppose this is one of the many Bible names beloved of Puritans, which Settle obviously was not.
    Toplady is mentioned and pictured on “Theopedia”, a “Christian” counterpart to Wikipedia. On his page is an ad for a “Puritan Hard Drive” for use with both PC and Mac.

  18. marie-lucie says

    Sili: Parker Pyne : read it as one word, not two.

  19. Parker Pyne’s
    A Stachelschwein,
    And his nick
    Is “porc-épic“.

  20. Reminds me of that scene in Robin Hood: Men in Tights (a truly stunning classical masterpiece of modern cinema, for those of you who have not seen it, you really must) where King John is having his fortune read by the witch in the tower, whose name is “Latrine”, and the subject of her name comes up:
    “Such an unusual name, ‘Latrine’. How did your family come by it?”
    “We changed it in the 9th Century.”
    “…You mean you changed it to ‘Latrine’?”
    “Yeah! Used to be ‘Shithouse’.”
    “It’s a good change, it’s a good change.”
    The scene in question 🙂
    @John Cowan
    ‘Trollop’ is a good one, I’ve always personally had a great deal of affection for the word “strumpet”.

  21. Of course, it occurs to me the day after that Gopnik may have meant his question about Trollope ironically. That’s the trouble with po-mo faux-ignorance: it’s so easy to confuse with, y’know, actual ignorance.
    I find from the WP article on “Rock of Ages” the following gem:

    “When my eyes shall close in death” was originally written as “When my eye-strings break in death”.

    And thanks to Wikipedia and Wikisource, I also found this Latin version, by no less than Willam Ewart Gladstone:

    Jesus, pro me perforatus,
    Condar intra tuum latus:
    Tu, per lympham profluentem,
    Tu, per sanguinem tepentem,
    In peccata mî redunda,
    Tolle culpam, sordes munda.

    It sings well to the traditional tune, whose name is apparently “Toplady” — who assigns the names of hymn tunes?

  22. Sir JCass says

    There was an Elzabethan poet called Thomas Bastard. Not often anthologised.

  23. Sir JCass says

    Andy Warhol’s name sounds funny in Polish. It has almost the same associations “Gopnik” does in Russian. Warchoł means “hothead, brawler, bruiser”.

  24. John Emerson says

    Off topic: I need an circumflexed schwa for aomthing I’m doing. Soes anyone have one to spare? Can’t find one anywhere.
    Second question: is there something weird about circumflexing a schwa?

  25. marie-lucie says

    JC: the traditional tune, whose name is apparently “Toplady”
    Usually, the name of a hymn is the first line of words, but words have often been written for existing tunes, in which case the tune is referred to by the name of the original song. In hymn books you often find the note “sung to the tune of ‘XYZ'” where ‘XYZ’ is an older or more familiar song.
    In this case, Augustus Toplady’s work was the poem, and the tune is by Thomas Hastings, an American. It think it is likely that A.M. Toplady did not give a title to his poem, “Rock of Ages” being just the first words, used in the hymn version. But “not published” does not necessarily mean “not circulated”. So Hastings may have had a manuscript version of the poem with the word “Toplady” included but without an explanation. This of course meant that Toplady was the poet’s name, but someone else may have misunderstood the word as the name of the tune (Hastings himself might have used the word as the name for his tune in familiar speech since there was no other title at the time). I can’t think of another explanation for a religious tune called “Toplady”.
    The Latin version looks a little strange, but I am not proficient enough to fix it.
    As for the vocabulary, the English words are conventional but not gruesome, unlike so many Victorian stanzas with “washed in the blood of the Lord” and similar gory metaphors. The Latin stanza (composed by one of the most prominent Victorians) which mentions “lympham” as well as “sanguinem” I find repellent.

  26. marie-lucie says

    Sir JCass: … in Polish … Warchoł means “hothead, brawler, bruiser”.
    I found a nice children’s book about Andy Warhol and his family, written and illustrated by one of his nephews. It explains that the original name was Warhola and was (I think) Czech rather than Polish. Andy is the one who dropped the final a on his way to fame.

  27. John, I can make you one as a photoshop jpeg image (obviously it won’t work as html).

  28. Wasn’t Warhol Ruthenian (Ukrainian-speaking Uniate)? The spelling probably comes from whatever power (Austria?) was in charge in the Ruthenian areas in the 19th century

  29. dearieme says

    Cricketers have good names e.g. Arnie Sidebottom.

  30. dearieme says

    WKPD: “Arnie Sidebottom now … coaches cricket to young cricketers at Thongsbridge Cricket Club.”

  31. There was a Donald Robert Overall-Hatswell (1898-1976) who was, naturally, a costume researcher on John Ford movies.

  32. Garrigus Carraig says

    The Warholas were Carpatho-Rusyns (a subgroup of the Ruthenians? I can never keep the terms straight.)

  33. There was a Donald Robert Overall-Hatswell
    My late friend Len Coates had a dog named Mahatma.

  34. My former postdoc had a dog named Genghis whom he brought to work. When we organized a seminar that was sort of modeled on the MIT topologists’ long-running Kan seminar, I called it the Genghis seminar.

  35. J.W. Brewer says

    I’m not sure I quite follow marie-lucie’s scale of comparative goriness-of-metaphor, but on a more purely linguistic note from “Rock of Ages,” should we suppose that “blood” and “flowed” actually rhymed in Toplady’s variety of 18th c. English, or is this just a close-enough-for-government-work slant rhyme?

  36. John E: There is no single schwa-with-circumflex character, but you can create one with the sequence of Unicode characters U+0259 followed by U+0302. In HTML, that is “ə̂”, which will produce ə̂. ə̂. How that looks to you depends on your fonts, your browser, and your operating system. As far as I know, no language uses this particular combination: in IPA it would mean a non-syllabic schwa vowel, since in IPA it makes no difference whether a diacritic appears above or below. (If you actually wanted a schwa with circumflex below, you would use U+0259 followed by U+032D, or HTML “ə̭” to produce ə̂.)
    Marie-Lucie: It’s true that “the water” in the original poem probably refers to lymph emerging from Jesus’s side (implying that he was not dead: the dead do not bleed), but the Latin lympha just means ‘(pure) water, spring water’, not ‘lymph’ specifically.

  37. marie-lucie says

    Garrigus: The Warholas were Carpatho-Rusyns
    … and the sentence continues “from the eastern part of Slovakia”.
    http:// www. warhola. com/ uncleandys. html
    (the page about the book I was referring to – with other relevant links contributed by the family)

  38. marie-lucie says

    JC: thank you for setting me straight on “lympha”. Still, those physiological details in the hymns turn me off!

  39. There are two famous (and very beautiful) Russian ladies – Olympic champion figure skater Irina Slutskaya and businesswoman and celebrity Olga Slutsker.
    Must have hard time being taken seriously by any English speaker who’ve seen their names spelled…

  40. As well as being a very nice and modest man Robert Slutzky was a colour theorist who wrote the great and influential essay Transparency: Literal & Phenomenal, with Colin Rowe. It’s not the easiest reading but it’s useful if you want to understand Cubism.

  41. SFReader says

    All these names derive, of course, from wonderfully named medieval town of Slutsk in Belarus (I pity unfortunate ladies who have to write their place of birth in English documents)
    Slutsk takes its name from river Sluch (etymology unknown, possibly related to Old Slavic sluti “to be renowned”)
    Now, I don’t wish to speculate what exactly the female inhabitants of that river’s banks were renowned of, but one wonders…

  42. Slutsk –
    There is also a good Russian poet Boris Slutsky.
    But I can assure you that it sounds a bit weird in Russian too because the word is phonetically close to случка/n. – sluchka, случать/ся/v. – couple, mate.
    Slutsk, I think, comes from лука, излучина – a bend in the river. So Slutsk is a town on where the river bends.
    There has been a debate among the Slutsk people on how to call themselves. The emerging consensus seems to be that it should be Случчына in Belorussian and Слутчина in Russian.

  43. Anyone who has studied PhD-level microeconomics in the US is probably familiar with the Slutsky equation. “Slutsky” may be derived from the name of the river, not necessarily the town.

  44. SFReader says

    —Случчына in Belorussian and Слутчина in Russian.
    That’s the name of the region, I assume, but how you call people from Slutsk?
    Sluchchanin, sluchchane and sluchchanka, I suppose.

  45. SFReader says

    BTW, sluchchanka (female inhabitant of Slutsk) sounds in Russian uncomfortably close to female who engages in sluchka (coupling, mating)

  46. SFReader says

    Another possible connection of sluchchanka is to sluchai (chance, accident, occasion) and its derivative sluchaino (by chance, accidentally)
    Sluchchanka – chance girl!

  47. I didn’t know about случка and its corresponding verb. Does the identity in form between случиться ‘to couple’ and случиться ‘to happen’ create jokes/misunderstandings?

  48. SFReader says

    Full range of meanings in Dal’s dictionary
    муж. (со-лучать) быть или быль, приключение, происшествие, притча, дело, что сталось, случилось, сбылось; обстоятельство, встреча; все нежданное, не предвиденное, внезапное, нечаянное. У нас был неслыханный случай: мужик в ведре утонул; стала пить в наклон, а перевясло закинулось на затылок, и захлебнулся! Всякое дело до случая. Не скучай в нынешний случай (приб. время переходчиво).
    | Случай, случайное или удобное, спопутное к чему время, пора, обстоятельство; нечаянное совпадение, либо встреча чего. Не найду случая. Не упускай случая. Купил коня по случаю. При случае исполню это. В случае, если, когда бы, коль скоро, буде. Возьми, про случай, топор с собою.
    | Случай или случайность, безотчетное и беспричинное начало, в которое веруют отвергающие провидение. Все на свете случай, все случайность. Это не случай, а умысел, нарок. Случайность, нечаянность, нежданный случай.
    | Случай, урал.-казач. женщины произноят слуцый, сговор, помолвка, обручение, свадьба наготове.
    | Случай, ·стар. и случаи, дела или приключения служебные, кои вносились в послужной список, также называемый случаями; служебные награды такого рода, кои входили в рассчет по местничеству. После свадьбы… в случаи не ставить, кто кого в чину выше ни был, Котошихин. Указал государь у… Вяземского взять случаи. По тем случаям я, Мирон Вельяминов, больше (выше) князя Ивана Вяземского. Случайный, о деле, нечаянный, недуманный, случившийся, приключившийся собой, без чьего-либо умысла, намерения, старания. Удачная покупка дома дело случайное, по заказу не найдешь. Я случайно слышал об этом.
    | О времени или обстоятельстве, удобный, сподручный, досужный, свободный. Не случайная ныне пора, неудобная для чего. Не случайно мне было зайти, недосужно или неспопутно. Когда случайно будет, сделаю, при удобном случае.
    | О человеке, кто в милости у начальства, в силе; любимец, наперсник, временщик. Случайные люди недолговечны. Случать, случить кого с кем, соединять в одно место или вообще сближать. Что Бог случил, того человек не разлучает. Нас судьба случила, знакомство сдружило. Случать гончих, собак, охот. скликать, сзывать.
    | Припускать для приплода жеребца, быка. -ся, быть случаему.
    | Делаться, твориться или сбываться, происходить, приключиться, статься. Что у вас дома случилось? доспелось. Беда случилась. Всяко случается, и пироги едим, и без хлеба сидим. Случалось ли тебе видеть пасолнца? При мне (со мной) денег не случилось. Не мути водой, случится черпать. Не плюй в колодец, случится напиться. Что ни случатся, все переварится. Случение, действие по гл. случать. Слука, пск. случай.
    | архан. любовь или дружба, привязаность, приверженость; склонность.
    | Птица слука, боровой кулик, вальдшнеп. Случка жен. припуск домашних животных, для приплода. Случная конюшня, случной жеребец, ко случке относящийся
    | Случка, пермяц. случай, происшествие. Случатель, случник, кто случает, либо наблюдает за случкою.
    Note wonderfully archaic 18th century meaning – to be favored by boss…

  49. John Emerson—
    I’ve had this problem myself (Schuessler, right?), & I’ve found this website to be the easiest way to type circumflex-schwas:
    Just click on the schwa icon & then the circumflex tone-contour mark (at the bottom right). They display correctly for me, unlike John Cowan’s above, but this may be a wordpress issue rather than anything else – let’s see if this one comes through ok: ɘ̂.

  50. Oops, I mean ə̂.

  51. Well, just like John Cowan’s version, that doesn’t display correctly for me, unlike the circumflexed high-mid central unrounded vowel I accidentally typed. Oh well… it works fine for me in other venues (like Word, etc.), though. I’ll stop talking about it now.

  52. there is a surname Случанинов, so Slutsky – Sluchanin could be right.

  53. Lithuanian town of Trakai (Troki in Russian and Belarussian) also produced several surnames, most famous of them being Trotsky
    Anyway, people of Troki are called in Russian Trochane.

  54. Halldór Laxness, a writer (and a Nobel prize winner).
    Not exactly a funny surname but I’m sure it must sound a bit peculiar to English speakers.
    The name comes from the farm where he grew up, Laxnes.
    Lax means salmon and the ‘nes’ bit refers to the bend in the river nearby. The farmland juts into this body of water, so to speak.

  55. I see. So it’s a pork/park thing. Very hard for me to make that merger.

  56. Sili: It’s the NORTH=START merger, but pork (unlike fork, e.g.) happens to belong to FORCE rather than NORTH, so there is no pork/park merger.

  57. marie-lucie says

    pork, fork, force, North: What are you people taking about? I think that Canadians say all these words with the same vowel (which is not that of park or start).

  58. Matt, it came out fine for me on the screen as ə̂, a schwa with a circumflex. But when I pasted it into a word document, the circumflex was off to the side (displaced towords the right, actually).

  59. I second m-l’s comment.

  60. I third it (though I’m not Canadian so I don’t count).
    John Cowan, do you have a terrifically good ear for accents? Do people from the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan have different accents, nowadays? Did they ever, or was it more a class-related difference than anything about borough geography?

  61. Thanks, Bathrobe. That’s quite strange, though, because, to me, it’s displaced to the right in Firefox but displays perfectly in Word. Oh well, I guess it depends on a lot of things.

  62. @JC: Tell us more about the distinction between the vowels of FORCE and NORTH, please.

  63. Bathrobe says

    Well, I tried it in four browsers. Only in Chrome does it come out correctly. In Safari and Firefox, the circumflex is displaced to the right. In Opera, it appears as a box directly to the right of ə. So it depends on your browser, for a start.
    As to Word, I’m using a Mac, which might have something to do with it.

  64. Empty:
    Historically there were two different o-like vowels before /r/, namely the THOUGHT and GOAT vowels, generating the NORTH and FORCE lexical sets respectively. These merged in many accents both rhotic and non-rhotic. Here’s the first paragraph of the Wikipedia description, with my annotations in double square brackets:

    The horse–hoarse merger is the merger of the vowels /ɔ/ and /o/ before historic /r/, making pairs of words like horse/hoarse, for/four, war/wore, or/oar, morning/mourning homophones. This merger occurs in most varieties of English [[or at any rate the varieties spoken by most people]]. In accents that have the merger horse and hoarse are both pronounced [hɔː(ɹ)s], but in accents that do not have the merger hoarse is pronounced differently, usually [hoɹs] in rhotic and [hoəs] or the like in non-rhotic accents. Non-merging accents include Scottish English, Hiberno-English, the Boston accent, [[some kinds of]] Southern American English, African American Vernacular English, most varieties of Caribbean English, and Indian English.

    FORCE words are considerably fewer than NORTH words. Some orthographic rules and specific words are listed at Wikipedia, but the authoritative way to find out which is which is to look at AHD4. Words which have two pronunciations given, as “pork (pôrk, pōrk)” are FORCE, whereas when only one pronunciation appears, as in “fork (fôrk)”, the word belongs to NORTH.
    Hat: Is this still true in AHD5?
    In the NORTH=START (“born in a barn”) merger, the vowel of NORTH moved down to merge with START, rather than the vowel of FORCE moving down to merge with NORTH. This merger also happens in both rhotic and non-rhotic accents, but is even more marginal nowadays. Wikipedia, from the same page:

    The card–cord merger is a merger of Early Modern English [ɑr] with [ɒr], resulting in homophony of pairs like card/cord, barn/born and far/for. It is roughly similar to the father–bother merger, but before r. The merger is found in some Caribbean English accents, in some versions of the West Country accent in England, and in some Southern and Western U.S. accents. Areas where the merger occurs includes central Texas, Utah, and St. Louis. Dialects with the card–cord merger don’t have the horse–hoarse merger. The merger is disappearing in the United States, being replaced by the more common horse–hoarse merger that other regions have.

    In my own accent the NORTH=FORCE merger is complete but the vowel is raised, so I pronounce both horse and hoarse as [hoɹs].

  65. I have a tolerable ability to both hear and pronounce these various vowels in isolated words, but not so much in running speech. All the experts say there are no regional variants within NYC speech, but all the locals swear they can pin someone down by speech to within a couple of blocks (20 blocks = 1 mile, 12 blocks = 1 km, very roughly.) I’m neither, so what do I know?
    Varying degrees of residential segregation, of course, may make the locals’ claim more plausible, given that location can be a proxy for both class and ethnic origin (which may involve substrate effects). It’s also the case, however, that New Yorkers raise the class level of their speech in more formal situations.
    M-L, Iakon: You’ll note that Canadian English is not listed among the unmerged accents.

  66. marie-lucie says

    JC: Canadian English is not listed among the unmerged accents
    Indeed, but since more than one merger is discussed, it is not completely clear which unmerging is referred to. Also, not everyone speaks the same in English Canada. I don’t know anyone who would pronounce for and far (and similar pairs) the same, but bother has the same vowel as father. And all the or and oar words have a rather high vowel (as in more).

  67. marie-lucie says

    (or words) I don’t mean the word word itself, which does not rhyme with ford.

  68. Halldór Laxness: If it were pronounced /ˈlæksnǝs/ I think it might sound funny, but I usually pronounce it /læksˈnes/, which doesn’t sound funny at all.

  69. Specifically, then, CanE has the NORTH=FORCE (fork-pork, or-oar-more) and the PALM=LOT (father-bother) mergers, like most of North America now. It also has the LOT=THOUGHT (cot-caught) merger, which is also found in the Western U.S. It does not have the NORTH=START (born-barn) merger, which as I noted is incompatible with NORTH=FORCE.
    The Wikipedia article “Phonological history of English”, together with the articles linked by “Main article” and “See Also” sections, constitutes a fully detailed monograph perhaps 120 pages (paper, not Web) long, providing a worldwide view of the subject. Yet it requires very little technical knowledge: the IPA, an understanding of < as “comes from” and > as “becomes”, and the convention of italicizing words used as words, and that’s about it.

  70. By coincidence after this thread started I’ve been reading Paul Muldoon’s wonderful The End of The Poem , the only book I’ve ever come across that’s interested (among many other things) in the influence on poets of their own names: frostiness in Frost, fens and obsessive Moorish geometry in Marianne Moore.
    Basil Bunting’s name seemed not so far from Snodgrass’s, but Edwin Morgan’s elegy makes it quite different. (In this post it’s after the introduction. There’s also a comment on Morgan’s impressive aluminium wallpaper, and a page of Buntings.)

  71. Thanks, John.
    It’s probably something like “LUXness”, although I don’t normally do Icelandic.

  72. [hɐtltour lɐxsnɛs], as best I can make out.

  73. Thanks,JC.

  74. Words which have two pronunciations given, as “pork (pôrk, pōrk)” are FORCE, whereas when only one pronunciation appears, as in “fork (fôrk)”, the word belongs to NORTH. Hat: Is this still true in AHD5?
    AHD5 has only “pork (pôrk).”

  75. Bummer.
    I guess it’s time to capture that data from AHD4 before it becomes electronically inaccessible.

  76. And it is done!
    I grabbed the words in CAAPR, the Combined Anglo-American Pronunciation Reference, that appeared to be in either the NORTH or the FORCE lexical set (CAAPR does not distinguish them) and verified its pronunciation in AHD4 electronically. I weeded out obvious derivative forms and compounds first, and got the following results:
    NORTH words:
    abhor abort absorb accord accordion amorphous amortize aorta assorted award
    border born
    California cantor Capricorn cavort centaur chortle churchwarden concord condor conquistador contort cordial cordite cordon corduroy corgi cork corm cormorant corn cornea corner cornet corporal corporate corpse corpulent corpus corpuscle corridor corsage corsair corset cortege cortex corvette
    decor dinosaur discord distort dormant dormer dormouse dorsal drawer dwarf
    endorse escort exhort exorbitant extort
    for force forceps forfeit fork forlorn formaldehyde formalin formation former Formica formless fornicate forsythia fortify fortnight fortress fortunate fortune forty forward
    George Gordon gorge gorgeous gormless gorse guarantor
    headquarters horn hornet horse horticulture
    immortal importunate
    lessor lord lorgnette lovelorn
    matador morbid mordant morgue Mormon morn morning morpheme morphine morphology morsel mortal mortar mortgage mortician mortify mortise
    nor Nordic Norman Norse north Norway
    or orb orbit orchard orchestra orchid ordeal ordnance ordure organ organize orgasm orgy Orkney ornery orphan orthodox orthography
    perform popcorn porcine porcupine pornography porphyry porpoise
    quart quarter quartet
    record remorse resort retort reward
    scorch scorn short snorkel snort sorbet sorcerer sordid sorghum sort sortie stork storm sward swarm swarthy sword
    thorn thwart tor torch toreador torment torpid torpor torque tort tortilla tortoise torture
    war warble ward warfare warm warn warp wart wharf
    FORCE words:
    abnormal aboard acorn adore adorn afford aforesaid airborne anymore apportion ashore
    before boar board Boer bore borne
    carnivore chloroform chord chore coarse cohort commodore comport concourse conform consort consortium coordinate cord core cornice corporeal corps course court cuspidor
    davenport deplore deport discourse disport divorce door dormitory
    encore enforce enormous explore export
    fjord floor forbear forbore ford fore forebode forecast foreclose forecourt forefather forefinger forefoot forefront foregather forego foreground forehand foreleg forelock foreman foremast foremost forename forenoon forerunner foresee foreshadow foreshore foreshorten foresight foreskin forestall foretaste foretell forethought foretold forewarn foreword forgather forge forgo form format formidable formula forswear fort forte forth forthright fortissimo fortitude fortuitous four
    galore gore
    harpsichord hoard hoarse horde hormone
    ignore implore import inordinate intercourse
    mentor metamorphose more mortuary mourn
    norm normal
    oar ordain order ordinal ordinance ordinary ore ormolu ornament ornate
    pianoforte picador pinafore platform porcelain porch pore pork porn port portend porter porterhouse portfolio portico portion portly portmanteau portrait portray Portugal postmortem pour primordial proportion
    quarto quartz
    rapport recourse reform report resource restore roar Roquefort
    score Scorpio scorpion seaborne semaphore shore shorn smorgasbord snore soar sophomore sore source spore sport stevedore store suborn support swore sycamore
    therefore tore torn tornado torpedo torsion torso tortuous toward troubadour
    unicorn uniform
    wardrobe wherefore whore wore
    yore your
    I’d appreciate it if Hattics from Scotland, Ireland, Eastern New England, the American South, or the Caribbean (or who speak AAVE) could look at these words and see if any are obviously in the wrong group. If fork and pork rhyme for you, you probably can’t help with this one, unless you are John Wells (who has had a mild stroke, for those who haven’t heard; he’s cognitively unimpaired, fortunately).

  77. marie-lucie says

    whore: I learned that the classical pronunciation was as if spelled “hoor”. In one British novel I read a long time ago (I think one of Graham Greene’s) a girl says to her boyfriend or potential boyfriend “I am your whore” or “I want to be your whore” or something to that effect, and the omniscient author says she pronounces it “hore” (probably with the vowel of”more”) because she is uneducated and does not know the “correct” pronunciation, something which bothers the boyfriend. Someone here must know the current situation.

  78. marie-lucie says

    p.s. (hoor rhyming with poor, not with door)

  79. I think that some people pronounce poor to rhyme with door.

  80. whore: I learned that the classical pronunciation was as if spelled “hoor”.
    When I first learned the word, in a Toronto junior high school, it was pronounced “hoor.” We knew the correct spelling and also knew from the dictionary (but never heard) the “hore” pronunciation.

  81. “whore: I learned that the classical pronunciation was as if spelled “hoor”.”
    i remember our english teacher taught us whore should be pronounced hwore, cz all wh words would sound so, for what is correct to say hwat, while hoor would sound [o:r]
    so no any confusion for me there

  82. who, whom, whose

  83. —i remember our english teacher taught us whore should be pronounced hwore
    The English word “whore” is actually a cognate of Mongolian “hair” (love)
    Eurasiatic: *ḳV(jV)
    Meaning: to wish, like
    Indo-European: *kā- (cf. also *ḱey- 1499)
    Proto-IE: *kā-, *kā-r-
    Nostratic etymology: Nostratic etymology
    Meaning: dear; lover
    Tokharian: śār- ‘köstlich, angenehm’, A krant, B krent ‘gut’
    Old Indian: kā́yamāna- ‘gern habend’, cā́ru- `agreeable, beloved, endeared’, cāyú- ‘begehrend’
    Avestan: kā- ‘wonach verlangen’
    Baltic: *kā̂r-a- (1) adj., *kar̂- vb. intr.
    Germanic: *xṓr-ōn- f., *xṓr-a- m., n, *xōr-iō(n-) f.; *xar-ig-ō f.
    Proto-Germanic: *xṓrōn, *xṓra-z, *xṓra-n, *xōriō(n); *xarigō
    Meaning: whore, adultery
    IE etymology: IE etymology
    Gothic: hōr-s m. (a) `fornicator, adulterer’
    Old Norse: hōra f. `Hure’; hōr-r m. `Hurer’; hōr n. `Ehebruch’
    Norwegian: hora; hor
    Swedish: hora; hor
    Danish: hore; hor
    Old English: hōre, -an f. `whore, harlot’, { hōr n. `overspel, echtbreuk’ }
    English: whore
    Old Frisian: hōr n. `overspel, echtbreuk’
    Middle Dutch: hoere `Hure’, huerre `id.’
    Dutch: hoer f. `Hure’
    Middle Low German: hōre `Hure’, horre `id.’, herge, herie `Dirne’
    Old High German: huora (9.Jh.) `Hure’, huorra `id.’; (9.Jh.) huor n. `overspel, echtbreuk’
    Middle High German: huore wk. f. ‘hure’; huor st. n., m. ‘ausserehelicher beischlaf, ehebruch, hurerei’, huore st. f. ‘ds.’
    German: Hure; (older) Herge
    Latin: cārus, -a `lieb, teuer, wert, hoch im Preise’
    Celtic: OIr caraim ‘liebe’, cara(t) ‘Freund’
    Russ. meaning: любимый; любовник
    References: WP I 325 f
    Altaic: *kaje ( ~ k`-)
    Proto-Altaic: *kaje ( ~ k`-)
    Nostratic: Nostratic
    Meaning: to love, covet
    Russian meaning: искать, домогаться
    Turkic: *Kɨj-
    Mongolian: *kaji-
    Proto-Mongolian: *kaji-
    Altaic etymology: Altaic etymology
    Meaning: 1 to seek, investigate 2 love, compassion
    Russian meaning: 1 искать, исследовать 2 любовь, сострадание
    Written Mongolian: qaji- 1 (L 911), qajira 2 (L 913)
    Middle Mongolian: qairala-, qaijirala- ‘to love, treat kindly’ (HYt), qajirala- ‘сострадать’ (MA)
    Khalkha: xaj- 1, xajr 2
    Buriat: xaj- 1, xajra 2
    Kalmuck: xǟrṇ 2
    Ordos: xǟra, xǟram 2
    Dagur: xairan 2 (Тод. Даг. 172)
    Shary-Yoghur: χair 2
    Monguor: xǝ̄ran 2; xǝ̄rla- ‘cher, chéri; aimer, gratifier’ (SM 167), xairGan 2
    Comments: KW 180, MGCD 317. Mong. > Man. xaira- etc., see Rozycki 98.
    Comments: A Turk.-Mong. isogloss.

  84. i don’t know,SFR, you say something really doubtful sounding to me
    how two so different meaning words could be conflated into cognate something is beyond me of course as always

  85. marie-lucie says

    SFReader, you present all those lists as if every Proto-whatever had been reconstructed. They have NOT. For closely related languages (eg Germanic, Turkic), OK (although the details of the reconstructions may not have been definitely established). Many other classifications are still highly speculative (eg “Altaic”, “Eurasiatic”) and “reconstructions” based on those classifications should not be presented as generally accepted. To say that Mongolian and English words are “cognate” is at best premature, and in any case very misleading.
    My English teacher said the word whould be pronounced …
    Not all English teachers (or second-language teachers in general) are or were equally competent in the language they teach or taught.

  86. marie-lucie says

    Oops! I meant … the word Should be pronounced …

  87. SFReader says

    —how two so different meaning words could be conflated into cognate something is beyond me of course as always
    I thought the divergence pretty pretty obvious.
    Original meaning ‘love’, ‘dear’ (expensive) and from then on just one leap required (‘expensive lover’)….
    BTW, its Latin cognate cārus has produced many Romance variants some of which entered English (caress, cherish, charity, etc)

  88. SFReader says

    —you present all those lists as if every Proto-whatever had been reconstructed. They have NOT.
    I can get a reference for every single Proto- reconstruction if you want.
    Most long-range etymologies used this dictionary as I understand:

    Aharon Dolgopolsky is today the leading authority on the Nostratic macrofamily. His ‘Nostratic Dictionary’ presented here is, of course, something very much more than a dictionary. It is the most thorough and extensive demonstration and documentation so far of what may be termed the â Nostratic hypothesisâ : that several of the worldâ s best-known language families are related in their origin, their grammar and their lexicon, and that they belong together in a larger unit, of earlier origin, the Nostratic macrofamily. It should at once be noted that several elements of this enterprise are controversial. For while the Nostratic hypothesis has many supporters, it has been criticized on rather fundamental grounds by a number of distinguished linguists. The matter was reviewed some years ago in a symposium held at the McDonald Institute, and positions remain very much polarized. It was a result of that meeting that the decision was taken to invite Aharon Dolgopolsky to publish his Dictionary â a much more substantial treatise than any work hitherto undertaken on the subject â at the McDonald Institute. For it became clear that the diversities of view expressed at that symposium were not likely to be resolved by further polemical exchanges. Instead, a substantial body of data was required, whose examination and evaluation could subsequently lead to more mature judgments. Those data are presented here, and that more mature evaluation can now proceed.

  89. marie-lucie says

    SF Reader, I am sure you can produce references and that those reconstructions are not your own. That does not mean that they are all done right. Your quotation on Nostratic does not inspire confidence in the quality of the reconstructions either: even those who are partial to the hypothesis do not agree on the details. So, as I wrote above, quoting the classifications and reconstructions as if they are all equally accepted by the majority of linguists in the field is very misleading.
    On the other hand, not everyone agrees on the finer points of PIE, even though work on that family has been going on for 200+ years, so it is not surprising that a) “Nostratic” is still hotly debated, and b) the details of “Proto-Nostratic”, even if it ever existed, are far from being established.

  90. hair-ai-cārus-care sounds like as if plausible though (to me)

  91. i don’t know,SFR, you say something really doubtful sounding to me
    To me as well! I agree with marie-lucie; Nostratic is highly debatable.

  92. It’s precisely because of the pronunciation /hur/ (“hoor”) that whore lost its /w/; the change /hwu/ > /hu/ also gives us “hoo” for who. The same process also accounts for how, which was originally closely tied to who. All this happened before /hw/ words became /w/ in most dialects, triggering the whine-wine merger.

  93. “hoor rhyming with poor, not with door”
    Um – m-l, for me, South of England, “poor” DOES rhyme with “door”. Are you pronouncing “hoor” and “poor” like German “nur”?

  94. Zythophile: Yes, more or less. Historically, the relatively small CURE lexical set was so pronounced (and in my accent still is), but many accents have merged CURE with FORCE (as well as with NORTH in dialects that merge those two). Typical CURE words are boor, poor, tour, endure, lure, pure, gourmet, assurance, mural, plural, curious, fury, lurid, purity, Europe. In many cases, including cure itself, a /j/ precedes, but not always.

  95. marie-lucie says

    SFReader: whore : Original meaning ‘love’, ‘dear’ (expensive) and from then on just one leap required (‘expensive lover’)….
    The evolution is a lot more complex. See for instance (among other sources) the several paragraphs dedicated to this word in the Online Etymological Dictionary (see the right column under “language resources”).
    While you are at it, look up the etymology of care (separate entries for noun and verb), which is not a borrowing from Latin but has cognates in the other Germanic languages, with meanings quite different from love, etc.
    If care was a true cognate of latin carus, it would be “*hare”, or the Latin word would be “*garus”, according to the normal consonant correspondences between Latin and Germanic.

  96. “Whore” is an interesting one. In parts of northern England (such as where I live), there is a broad pronunciation hu:@ (using SAMPA). Many years ago, I remember listening to the band Type O Negative and hearing this pronunciation. This made me wonder where they came from. It turned out that they were from Brooklyn.

  97. SFReader says

    –The evolution is a lot more complex. See for instance (among other sources) the several paragraphs dedicated to this word in the Online Etymological Dictionary (see the right column under “language resources”).
    You mean this?
    “whore (n.) Look up whore at Dictionary.com
    O.E. hore “prostitute, harlot,” from P.Gmc. *khoraz (fem. *khoron-) “one who desires” (cf. O.N. hora “adulteress,” Dan. hore, Swed. hora, Du. hoer, O.H.G. huora “whore;” in Gothic only in the masc. hors “adulterer, fornicator,” also as a verb, horinon “commit adultery”), from PIE *qar-, a base that has produced words in other languages for “lover” (cf. L. carus “dear;” O.Ir. cara “friend;” O.Pers. kama “desire;” Skt. Kama, name of the Hindu god of love, kamah “love, desire,” the first element in Kama Sutra).
    Whore itself is perhaps a Germanic euphemism for a word that has not survived. ”

  98. marie-lucie says

    Yes. So English whore is related to Latin car- as in carus ‘dear [friend, etc], beloved’, but Eng care is not (look up that word, as both noun and verb).

  99. From this NY Times article (archived) on the (fairly bizarre) wedding of Nadya Tolokonnikova and John Caldwell:

    The dress code was “gopnik,” a word that encapsulates a style of dress, music and art reflecting the working class in the former Soviet states in the 1980s and 1990s.

  100. >whore: I learned that the classical pronunciation was as if spelled “hoor”. In one British novel I read a long time ago (I think one of Graham Greene’s) a girl says to her boyfriend or potential boyfriend “I am your whore” or “I want to be your whore” or something to that effect, and the omniscient author says she pronounces it “hore” (probably with the vowel of “more”) because she is uneducated and does not know the “correct” pronunciation, something which bothers the boyfriend. Someone here must know the current situation.

    I assume that’s meant to be funny. It’s a little different, but reminds me of:

    >Don’t say stinkin’. It’s vulgar. Say reekin’.
    – Zosh to Frankie, in Algren’s Man with the Golden Arm.

    It says a lot more about the guy than his girlfriend – he didn’t notice his girlfriend was a little plebeian till she called herself a whore, but then noticed because she called herself a whore the wrong way? I wouldn’t count on his pronunciation as being educated just because hers is called out here for being uneducated.

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