Every-day Pronunciation.

In trying to determine the pronunciation of the Belgian town of Popering(h)e, I discovered the wonderful Every-day Pronunciation, by Robert Palfrey Utter (Harper & Brothers, 1918). It had exactly what I wanted, even giving the anglicized pronunciation presumably used by the Tommies in World War I (the equivalent of “POPP-ering”):

But wandering through its pages, I discovered all sorts of delights:
pumpkin, pum’kin, pung’kin, pump’kin. Objections to the first two are pedantic.

sacrilegious, sakrelĭdẓ’us, sakrilēdẓ’us. The second is still the favorite of the lexicographers but they are beginning to recognize the fact that no one uses it.

scenario, shānă’riō. So in all dictionaries, but now, through the influence of the moving pictures, pretty well naturalized as sina’rio.

sem’inar, seminar’. The first is frowned upon by lexicographers, but in the United States it is the only pronunciation heard in academic circles where the word is current. British usage favors the second.

Xavier (Saint Francis), zăv’ier.

I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard anyone say “shay-NARio,” “semi-NAR,” or “ZAV-ier” (with short a, as in “have”); I’m guessing the last is still used by some but the first two have sunk into the dustbin of history. And of course I love “Objections to the first two are pedantic.” (I’ve provided images to show the complicated system of phonetic transcription, which I haven’t tried to reproduce; I hope you can see them.)

And while we’re doing lexicography: Grantland Dictionary: Pro Wrestling Edition.


  1. The Tommies may have said POPP-ering, but in Flemish the g(h)e is sounded, pronounced “uh” and the first syllable sounds like POPE not POPP. So, POPE-er-ing-uh, with very soft, not hard G.

  2. I have it on good authority that plenty of Americans say “Francis Eg-zay-vee-er”.

  3. I don’t object to the “pumkin” pronunciation, but I find it mystifying. It’s not a spelling pronunciation, and it’s harder to say than “pumpkin” (or “pungkin”), so where did it come from?

  4. marie-lucie says

    In Nova Scotia there is Saint Francis Xavier University in which the full name of the saint is pronounced “Francis∂gzaivier” but usually shortened as St FX in writing and “Sain ev-ex” (with stress on the “ex”) in pronunciation.

    Of course hardly anybody outside of perhaps Portugal realizes that the letter x was pronounced “sh” when the saint came to prominence.

  5. the “pumkin” pronunciation … It’s not a spelling pronunciation, and it’s harder to say than “pumpkin”

    Harder than “[country] bumkin” ? I’m sure I’ve heard “pumkin” frequently. It’s like “thum”, which is a common alternative to “thumB” (pretty rare, I bet, except among ESLs).

  6. I’m not claiming there’s a full-fledged [p] there, but it seems to require unnaturally careful pronunciation to avoid something p-like in the transition. Same with “Thomson” as opposed to “Thompson”, or “prince” as opposed to “prints”, or avoiding [k] in “strength”.

  7. marie-lucie says

    JC: “thum”, which is a common alternative to “thumB”

    What? Isn’t “thum” the common pronunciation of the word written thumb? Words ending in the written sequence mb normally end in the sound “m”, as in climb, comb, dumb, lamb, numb, plumb, tomb, womb, and more, and there is never a “b” sound, even in intervocalic position, as in climbing/climber, combing, dumbing/dumber, lambing, numbing, plumbing/plumber, etc. I think that there are a few exceptions such as Thumbelina, but I am not sure I have heard that name pronounced. Neiher have I heard iambic, but those exceptions (if that’s the case) concern relatively recent coinages or borrowings with spelling pronunciations.

    The English language’s conservative spelling has preserved the former final “b”, which has disappeared in German, as in Kamm ‘comb’, Lamm ‘lamb’, and others.

  8. @Keith Ivey I’m not claiming there’s a full-fledged [p] there, but it seems to require unnaturally careful pronunciation to avoid something p-like in the transition. Same with “Thomson” as opposed to “Thompson”, or “prince” as opposed to “prints”, or avoiding [k] in “strength”.

    I don’t agree. In a [m], the airflow is going through the nose while the lips block airflow through the mouth. To transition to a [k], three things need to change:

    1. The velum must rise to block airflow through the nose
    2. The tongue must rise to the velum to block airflow through the mouth
    3. Voicing must be turned off.

    Since it’s impossible to synchronize these three changes exactly. The possible orderings are:

    1-2-3 would result in [mbgk]
    1-3-2 would result in [mbpk]
    2-1-3 would result in [mgk]
    2-3-1 would result in [mm̥k]
    3-1-2 would result in [mm̥pk]
    3-2-1 would result in [mm̥gk]

    Of the six possible orderings, only two result in a [p] phone.

  9. Sorry: in my previous comment, the sequence 3-2-1 would result in [mm̥k], not the implausible [mm̥gk]. Still only 2 out of 6 possibilities with a transitional [p] sound.

  10. and there is never a “b” sound, even in intervocalic position, as in climbing/climber, combing, dumbing/dumber, lambing, numbing, plumbing/plumber, etc.

    I pronounce all those intervocalically positioned ‘b’s (except number/numbest/numbing), and also before the ‘-ed’ suffix, i.e., climbed and chimed don’t quite rhyme. I’ve always understood it to be a south west (England) thing though and definitely not standard pronunciation.

    Is limber from limb? I think everyone pronounces the ‘b’ in that.

  11. Stefan Holm says

    Like the Germans Scandinavians have rationalized the former spelling ’-mb-’ to ‘-mm-’ (or just ‘-m’). Knowing that Swedish words like lamm, dum, tumme, nummer, timmer should be transparent to an Anglophone. Also kam, lem (comb, limb) are close. Thumbelina is in H.C. Andersen’s Danish original Tommelise.

    Without first hand information I would still be surprised if in normal, fast speech sandbox, stand by or (Charles) Lindbergh weren’t pronounced as if spelled ‘sambox’, ‘stam by’ and ‘Limbergh’. A dental stop followed by a labial ditto without a syllabic in between seems doomed to be assimilated.

  12. XAV-ier with short a sounds OK to me. If I came across it as a first name that’s how I would instinctively pronounce it.
    SHENario and semiNAR sound very strange, though. SemiNAR is an unusual way to put the stress in a three-syllable word in English – actually, when you say it, it sounds like fake Spanish (“And thees ees my father, the mos’ nobble Don Starko Baluna de Bonanza y Seminar”).
    And pronouncing “sce” as “she” isn’t really common in English. It seems to be either “s” when followed by a soft vowel (scene, ascent, science) or “sk” followed by a hard vowel (scot, scum, cascade).

  13. English historic /mb/ has been simplified in final position only, hence numb ‘without sensation’ = /nʌm/ versus number ‘the mathematical concept’ = /nʌmbə(r)/. However, when an inflectional suffix is added to a word that has lost /b/, the /b/ is normally lost there too, hence number ‘more numb’ is [nʌmə(r)]. (Though apparently this is not true in Wessex, which has the unusual feature of being a non-standard dialect directly descended from a standard one.)

    Limber is a bit of a mystery. It first appears in the 1560s, so unless it was completely underground for a very long time, it cannot be related to limb, as that is far too late for the kind of m/mb alternation shown above. Skeat proposed a connection to limp, but that looks equally bad phonetically. There is a noun limber ‘detachable forepart of a gun carriage’, from the 1620s < ME lymer ‘cart-shaft’. Note the absence of /b/ in the latter, and in any case the noun in either sense refers to rigid objects, not flexible ones.

  14. Strangely, although “number” (more numb) and “dumber” have no /b/, “stronger” and “longer” and “younger” do have /g/ (though maybe “longer” meaning one who longs doesn’t).

  15. Limber: the way you tow a gun around is not by tying some horses to the end of the trail, because the horses can’t pull hard enough to keep the trail off the ground. You pick the trail up and attach it to the back of a two-wheel cart – the limber – and then you harness the horses to the front of the cart. Effectively you’ve turned the gun into a four-wheel cart, which is easier to pull.
    Limbering up is attaching the gun to the limber, and so came to mean “getting ready to move”. Unlimbering was the opposite – detaching the limber, lowering the trails to the ground and getting ready to fire. So an unlimbered gun is one which is not going to be very easy to shift. A limbered gun is mobile.

    I assume that’s where you get “limber” and “unlimber” from…

  16. Okay, so that accounts for the connection between the noun and the adjective, but it still leaves the etymology of the noun mysterious, and makes it even less likely to be related to limb in any way.

    The pintle, mentioned in that article as the part of the limber with which the trail links, turns out to be a diminutive of *pint ‘penis’, unknown in English but well-attested in several other Germanic languages. That is probably in turn related to pin, also pan-Germanic but < Latin pinna ‘feather’, post-classically ‘pin’.

  17. the authentic local pronunciation is “Sampencisco”. Although the local accent is dying out.

    Yes, I’ll buy that, although I could never have figured it out myself. But I remember, when I lived there, a man in his late 90s who lived across the street and he said it just like that. (That was in the 1970s.)

  18. marie-lucie says

    words ending in -mb

    Sorry, JC, I attributed to you something actually said by Stu Clayton.

  19. Stefan Holm says

    Swedish differs between lem, ’part of the body attached to the torso’, and led, ‘joint’ (c.f. Eng. lith), i.e. your leg is a ‘lem’ but your knee is a ‘led’. Thus manslem ‘man’s limb’ is an (uncontroversial) word for ‘penis’. But (figuratively) medlem (lit. ‘with’ + ‘limb’) is ‘member’. In German ‘member’ is Mitglied (‘with’ + ‘g’ + ‘joint’). The ‘g’ is from the prefix ‘ga-‘, whatever modification that gives to ‘lied’ – maybe changing it from lith to limb?

    In any case: the final ‘-b’ in limb very much looks like a levelling of some kind – I severely doubt it to be original.

  20. Re: thumb

    The spelling used today is unetymological. The Old English word was þūma (a weak masculine, pl. þūman). In Middle English spellings like þume or thoume predominated (though a final -b was occasionally added since at least the mid-13th c., when the merger of final /m/ and /mb/, and orthographic confusion caused by it, were already under way). In other words, this final -b in thumb has not been lost, since it was never there to begin with.

    It’s odd that the word has not evolved like other instances of OE ū before a labial, e.g. rūm ‘room’ (the Great Vowel shift was blocked in this environment, which is why room is not pronounced like German Raum).We should expect ModE **thoom. Perhaps the shortening of the root vowel and the parasitic b are due to the same cause, e.g. the influence of the related word þumel-tǭ ‘big toe’ (borrowed from Old Norse) > thumbletoo, where the epenthesis of /b/ next to a liquid was regular (as in ember, nimble, slumber, etc.)

  21. Stefan Holm says

    Yeah, Piotr, where does the ’-mb’ really come from? I checked the oldest (in Latin letters) oldest known Swedish document, the “Law of the West Geats” (from mid 13th c.). It says:

    Huggær madhær thumulfingær. af manni bötæ. IX. markær firi sær ok tolf öræ. firi læst.

    Lit. Hews man thumbfinger of man pay a fine (in optative) 9 marks for wound and twelwe pennies for loss.

    Then in the law follows a detailed description of the fine for each consecutive finger. :-) In modern Swedish a tendency to insert a ‘b’ has been observed as in the word kamrat (comrade), sometimes heard as kambrat.

  22. If you mean why a [b] tends to be inserted in /mr/ and /ml/ clusters, the reason is the same as in the case of /mt/ being pronounced as /mpt/ (the /p/ in empty, for example, is of epenthetic origin). It’s difficult to synchronise two or more articulatory gestures perfectly. When you say /m/, the lips are closed and the soft palate lowered (to let the air escape via the nasal cavity). To get from /m/ to a following liquid (/r/ or /l/) you should raise the soft palate and release the labial closure (ideally, at the same time); the front part of the tongue should immediately assume the position needed to articulate the liquid. The speaker may tend to prolong the closure of the lips to make sure that the tongue is already in the right position (otherwise an unwanted brief vowel pops up between the consonants, and Hamlet becomes Ham[ə]let). So if the closure is prolonged while the soft palate is already up, the final fragment of /m/ becomes denasalised and the listener may perceive it as an extra segment (voiced, bilabial, but non-nasal, that is, /b/). Individual languages may tolerate the extra vowel, or the extra consonant (depending on which is regarded as the lesser of two evils).

  23. Stefan Holm says

    No, my intention was far from suggesting a linguistic law. The pronounciation ‘kambrat’ instead of spelled ‘kamrat’ is really odd in Swedish. But when it comes to the occurrence of ‘mb’ vs ‘m’ in English – could it be connected to chamber from original Latin camera, ‘room’ (Germans and Scandinavians haven’t introduced a ‘b’ in their correspoding words)? Anyways the combination -mb- in English seems to indicate that something is rotten in the state of … well, whichever.

  24. David Marjanović says

    Left to my own devices, it wouldn’t ever have occurred to me that anyone might confuse prince and prints. But that’s because German has an unusually well-developed distinction between /s/ and the unitary phoneme /t͡s/… that’s not the case for /ʃ/ and the consonant cluster /tʃ/, so Mensch gets a [t] inserted more often than not.

    In German ‘member’ is Mitglied (‘with’ + ‘g’ + ‘joint’).

    Glied alone has come to mean “member” (link of a chain, body part, penis – and yes, unimpressive jokes about “with penis” exist), and the form without the g has died out without a trace, possibly due to competition from Lied “song” and its homophone Lid “eyelid”*. The Second Merseburg Charm has both forms in the same line. – There are other such cases, like Glaube “belief”. It may be relevant that Upper German has generally shortened ge- to /g/, opening the doors to dialect mixture and likely resulting in the currently existing pair Gleis ~ Geleise “rails”.

    * Never “toilet lid”; and even the earlids of crocodiles won’t be likely to be called Lider. – More often Augenlid, but Lid alone occurs and is unambiguous.

  25. marie-lucie says

    SH: Latin camera ‘room’ survives in Portuguese câmara and French chambre (the latter from the intermediate form *camra – the b was introduced after the loss of the unstressed middle vowel, as in a number of other words, as described by Piotr above). French le camarade (later borrowed into German, Swedish, English and perhaps others, with minimal adaptation) itself has to be an adaptation of a borrowed Portuguese or Spanish word. Etymologically the Iberian word camarada corresponds to French la chambrée, literally a ‘chamberful’, meaning the full complement of men sleeping in the same room, such as soldiers in barracks. So, the originally collective noun camarada meaning ‘men sleeping in the same room’ shifted (at least in the borrowing languages) to a singular ‘man sleeping in the same room as others, fellow-sleeper’, hence also ‘fellow-soldier, fellow-student, classmate, etc’.

  26. Lid “eyelid”*. (* Never “toilet lid”; and even the earlids of crocodiles won’t be likely to be called Lider.)

    The lid of a toilet is called Deckel in German, which is the general term for what is called in English the lid of any receptacle (such as a trunk or lunchbox).

    I find that crocodiles have “flaps” in ears and nostrils to shut out water during submergence. There are a few uses of Ohrenlider in the internet for the ear flaps, but mostly these are referred to as Hautklappen (skin flaps).

  27. David Marjanović says

    There are a few uses of Ohrenlider in the internet for the ear flaps

    That’s a bit like cranapple juice. 🙂

  28. @David Marjanović: Cf. Fresh Prince.

  29. Different languages have different ways of resolving the problem of out-of-sync articulations. In sequences like /Vns/ English tries to maintain a consonantal nasal with full oral obstruction, and the cost of that is the risk of confusing /Vns/ with /Vnts/, as in tense, mince = tents, mints (the obstruction lasts longer than the lowering of the soft palate). Other languages (Polish, for example) may do away with the obstruction altogether, and a nasal followed by a fricative turns into nasalisation of the preceding vowel (Polish sens ‘sense’ may be pronounced /sɛ̃s/, but never /sɛnts/).

    Epenthesis has produced one rather complicated example of Cockney rhyming slang: oliver ‘understand, get the drift’. Oliver is short for Oliver Cromwell. The older pronunciation of Cromwell was /ˈkrʌml̩/, and b-insertion made it homophonous with crumble, which in turn rhymes with tumble (to sth), in its informal meaning of ‘latch on to, realise’. There’s also an additional complication: oliver can also be Oliver Twist, standing for fist or pissed (= drunk).

  30. David: Left to my own devices, it wouldn’t ever have occurred to me that anyone might confuse prince and prints.

    Prints Hamblet?

  31. How Horvendile and Fongon were made Governours of the Province of Ditmarse, and how Horvendile marryed Geruth, the daughter to Rodorick, chief K. of Denmark, by whom he had Hamblet and how after his marriage his brother Fengon slew him traytorously, and marryed his brothers wife, and what followed.

    I feel I’ve been transported to an alternate universe.

  32. David Marjanović says

    You must understand, that long time before the kingdome of Denmark received the faith of Jesus Christ, and imbraced the doctrin of the Christians, that the common people in those dayes were barbarous and uncivill, and their princes quell, without faith or loyaltie, seeking nothing but murther, and de posing (or at the least) offending each other, either in honours, goods, or lives; not caring to ransome such as they tooke prisoners, but rather sacrificing them to the cruell vengeance naturally imprinted in their hearts: in such sort, that if ther were sometime a good prince or king among them, who beeing adorned with the most perfect gifts of nature, would edict himselfe to vertue, and use courtesie, although the people held him in admiration (as vertue is admirable to the most wicked) yet the envie of his neighbors was so great, that they never ceased untill that vertuous man were dispatched out of the world.

    Stefan, you Sweathlander.

    BTW, Dithmarschen is a real place.

  33. I tried to link the English WP article on the Ditmarsh, but it’s already linked to the German article on Kreis Dithmarschen. There is only one English article, and someone with more German than me should decide which German article it rightly ought to be linked to.

  34. Stefan Holm says

    The German article says nothing about the Hamlet legend. It mentions a Danish expatriated king Rorik (Rørik), the name of his alleged father. But the time span is all
    wrong. He was appointed the Kaiser’s governor in 860 A.D. but Saxo Grammaticus’ Amled is thought to have been a 400 c. prince (if he ever existed).

    Less flattering for Dithmarschen is, that it seems to have been a political stronghold for the Nazis. In the elections 1932/33 they according to the article got 60 per cent of the votes in the district.

    A brief background to the Hamlet story (as told by Saxo) can be found from Kronborg castle in Elsinore, where they every year in plays and other events make much ado about it being Hamlet’s castle (probably not true, since he lived in Jutland, according to Saxo):


    And Swethlander? Is that supposed to mean that we are sweet or sweaty?

  35. Shakespeare mentions a “Popp’ring pear” in R&J, act 2, scene 1 in the Complete Pelican Shakespeare. Other editions spell it differently, but the other spellings seem consistent with the pronunciation implied by the Pelican.

    (Some editions omit the line completely; it is part of a sexual metaphor in which the pear represents a penis.)

  36. Horvendile, Prince Hamblet’s father (see above), bears a famous name that involves a whole tangle of mythical and literary things. Its Proto-Germanic form is *auzi-wandilaz‘luminous wanderer’, presumably the planet Venus. In the form Aurvandill it turns up in the Prose Edda for a man who was carried home in a basket by Thor, but his toe stuck out of the basket, and Thor threw the frozen toe into the sky, where it became a star. In Old English poetry we hear of Earendel, brightest of angels, which was the spark for Tolkien’s whole mythology: his Earendil is a human mariner who brings the appeals of Elves and Men to the Powers (angels/gods) to rescue them from the physical power of the Evil One. On the French side, Horvendile is the unheroic hero of James Branch Cabell’s The Cream of the Jest, or rather of the book of the same name written by the author’s surrogate Felix Kennaston; he is a clerk who is in hopeless love with an unattainable ideal woman named Ettare, the literary ancestor of Heinlein’s character Star in Glory Road. Heinlein’s debt to Cabell is all over the place, notably in the subtitles of his late novels; Larry Niven owes him a lot too. Furthermore, says Wikipedia, there is a district named Orendelsall in Zweiflingen, Baden-Württemberg. Which last suggests by free association Wittenberg and its university, the intellectual home of Doktor Faustus — and Prince Hamlet.

  37. I meant to mention how Tolkien was a grammaticus too.

  38. m-l: Wikipedia s.v. “Tsimshian” notes that the spellings Tsimpshean and Tsimpshian have been used in the past, showing the same English phonological process at work.

  39. marie-lucie says

    JC: p-insertion

    Indeed this sort of process is quite common in languages, because of the articulatory details described by Piotr above.

  40. John Cowan says

    homophonous with crumble

    In Joyce’s “Ballad of Persse O’Reilly”, the first stanza reads (in the version printed in Finnegans Wake, at least):

    Have you heard of one Humpty Dumpty
    How he fell with a roll and a rumble
    And curled up like Lord Olofa Crumple
    By the butt of the Magazine Wall,
    (Chorus) Of the Magazine Wall,
    Hump, helmet and all?

    But now I wonder if “Crumple” isn’t a typo for “Crumble” after all. Note that while the name of the ballad looks Irish, it is in fact (or in addition) an English mispronunciation of perce-oreille ‘earwig’, linking it to the book’s hero, Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, or Hump for short.

  41. > prince and prints

    Dr. Seuss plays, knowingly or unknowingly, with this kind of confusion in “Fox in Socks” where the line “Ben’s bends” occurs:

    Ben bends Bim’s broom.
    Bim bends Ben’s broom.
    Bim’s bends.
    Ben’s bends.
    Ben’s bent broom breaks.
    Bim’s bent broom breaks.

    And now off to feel smug about having provided a literary reference, something I’m rarely well-read enough to do.

  42. January First-of-May says

    Left to my own devices, it wouldn’t ever have occurred to me that anyone might confuse prince and prints.

    In my idiolect, the two words would, theoretically, be a minimal pair for the affricate /t͡s/ (in prince, due to Russian принц, which is presumably < German Prinz) versus the cluster /ts/ (in prints).

    Practically they’re probably homophones.

  43. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    Left to my own devices, it wouldn’t ever have occurred to me that anyone might confuse prince and prints.

    When I was about ten my sister and I invented a silly game that involved a set of names of racehorses. She suggested Prince as one name, which I wrote down as Prints. 65 years later I still think of them as sounding the same.

  44. Lars (the original one) says

    Reproductions of cetacean art = British heir to the throne. Must be 40 years since I encountered that one.

  45. AJP Crown says

    ‘Cetacean art’ sounds like cave paintings done by whales. I’m not sure they’re intended as art. Cetacean reproductions is better.

    Tolkien was a grammaticus.
    There’s the BBC correspondent Damian Grammaticas who grew up in Kenya. I assume his ancestors are Grecians.

    Dithmarschen is a real place
    I used to live in Othmarschen, a very real place in the western suburbs of Hamburg. It may have been Danish in the 19C. It adjoins Altona, which was.

    65 years later
    Nearly as old as me, then.

    Incidentally, Sebastian KURZ, Chancellor of Austria (b. 1986), favours a very SHORT extension to the brexit thingy.

  46. David Marjanović says

    That’s because he’s a kurac.

  47. John Cowan says

    ‘Cetacean art’ sounds like cave paintings done by whales.

    I had much the same idea, but the art I immediately thought of was music.

  48. ‘prince’ and ‘prints’ would sound the same to me in ordinary spoken English.

  49. No one has mentioned the pun (now forgotten as one?) in “Fresh Prince of Bel Air.”

  50. A pun on “fresh prints”? I’m afraid I don’t get it, even with the nudge.

  51. I would have supposed it is.

  52. I don’t even think of “fresh prints” as a thing, except in the context of looking for animal tracks. Is this something anyone else associates with the TV show?

  53. Well, the Fresh Prince was a rapper before he had the show. So the pun stands on its own.

  54. I guess, it’s just that it seems an unlikely pun. Have you seen it mentioned elsewhere? There’s nothing about it in the relevant Wikipedia articles, and it seems to me a priori more likely that it’s just a combination of “fresh” (a longstanding adjective of approbation in Black use) and a royal title of the sort that has been a feature of Black music since “King” Oliver and doubtless long before (cf. Count Basie, Duke Ellington, etc. etc.).

  55. I’m not arguing, mind; it’s perfectly possible that it’s an obvious pun to everyone but me. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve missed something obvious. I’m just trying to find out if it’s your personal interpretation or something more widespread.

  56. J.W. Brewer says

    As admittedly something of an outsider to the relevant speech variety, I would have tended to assume that “fresh” in the relevant sense is one of those typical youth-slang terms that came into vogue, was heavily used, and then became hopelessly dated all within a decade or a decade-and-a-half, such that “Fresh Prince” (who might well have adopted that name right when the vogue for the lexeme was peaking) is now semantically opaque (and/or archaic-sounding) to young people in the relevant community. But maybe there’s lexicographic scholarship on this that I’m unaware of and my instincts-plus-vague-anecdotal-impressions are wrong?

  57. John Cowan says

    I assume his ancestors are Grecians.

    WP confirms that. GWB was mocked for referring to “our allies the Grecians”, but Thomas North’s 1579 translation of Plutarch was called Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, it’s in Shakespeare and Byron, and has a number of derived senses per the OED: ‘a Greek-speaking Jew [in ancient times]’, ‘a scholar of Greek’, and even (presumably obsolete now) ‘an Irishman’.

  58. J.W. Brewer says

    “Grecians” occurs multiple places in the King James Version, although I don’t know enough about the specific churches GWB has attended over the course of his life to know how much background/ambient exposure to the KJV versus more recent Bible translations he would be likely to have had. In at least some of those uses (e.g. Acts 6:1) it is taken to mean in context not “Greeks” but “culturally-Hellenized Jews” and is thus Englished in certain modern translations as e.g. “Hellenists,” which IMHO is hardly less opaque to the average modern reader than “Grecians.”

    Adjectival “Grecian” is often labeled in dictionaries as archaic and/or poetic, which seems generally right except for the persistence of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grecian_Formula, which I remember television ads for in my childhood and which is apparently still on the market.

  59. J.W. Brewer says

    Re the possibility of a pun in “Fresh Prince,” I tend to agree that the core sense in which one might talk about “fresh prints” is tracking game, and that that sense is unlikely to have frequently arisen in conversation in the West Philadelphia milieu in which the stage name arose. Go a hundred miles out of Philadelphia to the sort of rural Pa. county where not very many of the boys turn up to high school on the opening day of deer season (perhaps similarly to where Rodger C. grew up?) and it would be a different story.

  60. AJP Crown says

    I’d forgotten Grecian Formula. It’s hair coloring, isn’t it? I was alluding to Bush with Grecians but it’s really a much better, more upmarket word than Greeks.

    OED: ‘a Greek-speaking Jew [in ancient times]’
    Huh. Does this mean “in Classical Greece a Jewish speaker of Greek”? So you’ve got the Athenians, the Spartans, the Boeotians and… the Grecians? Was it intended to be pejorative like rootless cosmopolitans?

    He’s a kurac
    I figured. But a very young kurac. Thirty two. Of course Wm Pitt had been PM on and off for eight years by that age.

  61. J.W. Brewer says

    I think the OED sense is primarily to distinguish or contrast Greek-speaking (and/or more culturally-Hellenized, which overlaps but is not the same thing) Jews from non-Hellenized Jews, not so much to contrast them with other ethnic sorts of Greek-speakers. Whether it’s a pejorative probably depended on your factional perspective on the intra-Jewish conflict of the day over whether Hellenization was a Good Thing or a Bad Thing. But since the early Church hoped to spread the Gospel to both factions, I tend to assume the NT’s usage is intended non-pejoratively.

  62. John Cowan says

    It doesn’t refer to Greece-the-peninsula but rather to the Greek culture area, which still included large parts of Alexander’s empire. Alexandria (the one in Egypt, there were lots of them) was full of Jews, and the Septuagint (LXX) translation was made there in the -2C for Jews who didn’t understand Hebrew or Aramaic but only Greek.

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