I told my wife a joke my Sanskrit professor was very fond of and she just about fell out of her chair laughing, so I thought I’d pass it along to you, since it has aspects of clear linguistic interest. After all, my posts have been on the serious side lately, and we all deserve a break. But I have to warn you, although this joke contains no dirty words, it is likely to offend the easily offended. If you are among that group, I beg you not to click on the “Continue reading…” link. If not, continue reading!

The host of a party sees a new guest looking around uncertainly, and being a good host, he immediately goes up and introduces himself. She responds in kind, telling him that her name is Hermione Fluck. He tries to keep the shock off his face, realizing that the poor woman has doubtless had to bear a lifetime’s worth of crude jokes, and simply says “It’s nice to meet you, Hermione.” Wanting to make sure she doesn’t feel left out, he takes her over to a group chatting in the corner and says “Hey, everybody, I’d like you to meet someone. Her name is Hermione Crunt.”


  1. FYI:
    I’m not sure if you are asking how “Hermione” was actually pronounced by ordinary people who lived in the seventeenth century, or how it was pronounced in Shakespeare’s “A Winter’s Tale”. If it is the former, then I have no idea (and I’m not sure if anyone alive today really knows). English in those days was pronouced (and actually often spelled) very differently then than it is today both in England and in other English speaking countries.
    However, if you are asking how it is pronounced in Shakespeare’s plays, that’s another question. Much of the pronunciation in Shakespeare’s plays is determined by the way it scans into his iambic pentameter of his verse.
    The excellent book, “ALL THE WORDS ON STAGE, A Complete Pronunciation Dictionary for the plays of William Shakespeare” by Louis Scheeder and Shane Ann Younts lists the name “Hermione” (normally pronounced just as you said) as scanning to… Her-MEYE-nee (or as you wrote it… Her MY-knee). In other words, making the two last syllables into one quick syllable.

    From Urban Dictionary:
    Hermione is Harry Potter’s and Ron Weasley’s best friend in the Harry Potter book and movie series. She is incredibly intelligent and a remarkable student. Sometimes bossy and a Goody-Two-Shoes…She’s also only a FICTIONAL character so some of these lame defintions are retarded…Only people with no lives obssess about how she “annoys” them…weirdos…
    “Hermione got all A’s in her classes at Hogwarts.”

    From AllRefer Encyclopedia:
    Hermione[hurmI´unE] Pronunciation Key, in Greek mythology, the only daughter of Helen and Menelaus. When Helen eloped with Paris, Hermione was abandoned to the care of Clytemnestra. She later married Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles. In Euripides’ Andromache, she is carried off by Orestes who marries her after he has contrived the murder of Neoptolemus at Delphi.

  2. The German translator of Harry Potter changed Hermione into Hermine, rather oddly. In a later volume a Hermine came up in the English, but I don’t know what he did then.

  3. You know, some of my posts have attracted odd comments, but this one definitely takes the cake. (I actually used “Mary Fluck” when I told it to my wife, but I thought Hermione was a funnier name. I say herMYanee.)
    *wanders off scratching his head*

  4. (sheepishly) um… I don’t quite get it, I think. Is the joke just that the host misremembered which scatological word his guest’s name sounded like? (à la Jerry Seinfeld misremembering his girlfriend Dolores’ name) — Or is there more to it than that?

  5. Yeah, it’s sort of a demostration of the way our minds work — the poor guy is concentrating so hard on not saying “fuck” that he demonstrates his obsession with it by disguising a parallel obscenity in a parallel way. The interesting thing linguistically is that the -l- is replaced by an -r- after the guttural consonant.

  6. This is, or was represented as, a true story.
    Sometime in the mid-90s, one of the Russian universities had a professor by the exotic name of Farinotti. At the same time, a movie called “Farinelli the Castrato”, a story of an Italian castrato singer, was big on the silver screen. One of the graduate students needed to ask Prof. Farinotti a favor, but bearing in mind his stuffiness, and general lack of a sense of humor, was very worried about accidentally calling the professor Farinelli. A friend issued dire warnings, describing what was about to happen if the unfortunate grad student were to slip up.
    So, to make a long story short, the grad student comes back livid. “Did you call him Farinelli?” asks his friend. “No, worse.” “What can be worse?” “I came in and said ‘Hello, Professor Castratti.'”

  7. I’m glad you said something, Jeremy — I was scratching my head and summoning the guts to ask the same thing. The markedness of ‘Hermione’ made me think it had to be part of the joke, somehow…I kept looking for a way to make a pun out of it (Her My Own Knee?).
    I think it’s the fourth Harry Potter in which Hermione has a Russian boyfriend who can’t pronounce her name — there’s a great scene in which they go back and forth: “Herm-own-ninny?” “No, Her-MY-0-nee.” I always assumed it was Rowling’s reaction to varied pronunciations of her character’s name by the reading public.
    And now that we’ve all ruined your joke by dissecting it into scholarly oblivion, LanguageHat, here’s an apropos companion joke (this version borrowed from
    A famous writer who was visiting Japan was invited to have a lecture at a university to a large group of students. As most of them could not understand spoken English, he had to have an interpreter.
    During his lecture he told an amusing story which went on for rather a long time. At last he stopped to allow the interpreter to translate it into Japanese, and was very surprised when the man did this in a few seconds, after which all the students laughed loudly.
    After the lecture, the writer thanked the interpreter for his good work and then said to him, “Now please tell me how you translated that long story of mine into such a short Japanese one.”
    “I didn’t tell the story at all,” the interpreter answered. “I just said, “The honourable lecturer has just told a funny story. You will all laugh, please.”
    Carry on, honorable LanguageHat.

  8. Hi! ((waves)) It’s me! And I’ll answer your email any decade now!
    ((reads joke))
    I have to admit I was not expecting a Harry Potter bit in response to that.

  9. Am I the only person here who sniggered?

  10. The late British actress Diana Dors was originally named Diana Fluck, and this story was told about her on more than one occasion.

  11. Really?? *googles* Holy shrit, you’re right! Poor Diana — there’s a Hollywood name change I can’t disapprove of! It’s odd that there’s no mention of the story on the internet; before posting I googled “fluck” and “crunt” and got only a couple of irrelevant pages. You’d think with the internet’s love of sex, jokes, and celebrities, it would have been up in multiple versions long ago. Ah well, for the time being I have a corner on the fluck/crunt market! *rubs hands*
    MoI: Hi! I wasn’t trying to get you to answer e-mail, just show up and say hello. I missed you!

  12. I liked the joke. Then again, I like dirty jokes.
    But yes, as a couple of people have mentioned, the “Hermione” was drawing attention to itself as if it were part of the joke. “I’m here on a fluck”? “I’m here on a crunt”?
    Anyhow, there’s a joke I can’t remember (but the google bugs can no doubt find it) about the Jean Harlow and the silent “t” in her last name.
    Was it Margot Fonteyn who was asked by JH whether the “t” in Margot was silent, and she replied “Yes, just like the “t” in Harlowe”? Something like that…
    You will all laugh please.

  13. Few would criticize Judy Garland’s name change from Frances Gumm either. I doubt she’d be quite the icon she is with a name like that.
    Bobby Zimmerman’s name change also meets general approval, I would guess, except among serious Dylan Thomas people. Almost nobody realizes, though, that the two grew up only about twenty years and fifty miles apart. To me, Garland is prehistoric and before I was born, whereas Dylan was the Ideal Me, or at least the Ideal Me of most people I knew in my youth.
    Continuing the local history a little more too far, James Gatz, immortalized by F. Scott Fitzgerald, was born a hundred miles or so further west. Incidentally, as far as I know the part about Gatsby collecting oysters in Lake Superior is bogus, though Google isn’t helping much.
    Finally Bobby Vee, actually Robert Veline, came from Fargo, ND which was quite nearby. His career break came when Buddy Holly was killed and a local fill-in was needed. He was Italian enough to fit in with the Philadelphia style represented by Fabian, Dion, et al. Dylan played with him a couple of times.

  14. Thank goodness I’m not a linguist and can therefore easily enjoy the simple pleasures of such a joke without assuming I’m missing something.
    Reminds me (albeit tangentially) of a newsreader friend who, unfamiliar with the politics of Zimbabwe, asked for advice about the pronounciation of Ndabaningi Sithole.
    Our coaching session produced confident locution but unfortunately on air it all fell apart. The “Ndabaningi” part went ok but, to the embarassment of all, his family name became Shit-Hole.
    I now know never to tell someone in such a situation what the pronounciation definitely isn’t.

  15. I always thought Ben Grimm should change his name to Rocky Balboa.

  16. terwilliger says

    I think you get the linguistics of the joke wrong. The Diana Dors version is quicker to get to the point, and leaves no profound mysteries of interpretation. Stop cudgeling your brains for hidden meanings, guys!
    D. comes back to her home town for a reception in her honor. At the gathering a new young minister has been selected to make the introductory remarks. Saying how proud everyone is of this small=town girl going away to become famous, he allows that “Of course I did not know Diana in those early days, she left our little village before I came to serve God here, but all of you remember her as DIANA KLUNT!”

  17. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    Ndabaningi Sithole

    Now that this thread has been revived, I remember that Private Eye used to refer to Ndabaningi Sithole as Rubber Dinghy Arsehole

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