Joel of Far Outliers has been reading American Missionaries, Christian Oyatoi, and Japan 1859–73, by Hamish Ion, and as usual he shares with the rest of us particularly appetizing snippets; I was particularly interested in Legacies of Hepburn’s First Dictionary of Japanese, 1867:

Although Hepburn was discounting the early work of his friend Brown in claiming his was the first dictionary, it was an immense achievement, far surpassing any nineteenth-century rival. … Even though Hepburn’s dictionary might have been more suited for those using colloquial speech than wanting to acquire the written language, it remains Hepburn’s greatest contribution to opening Japan, not only to missionaries but also to the English-speaking world. … In September 1872, the Japan Weekly Mail noted that the second edition of the dictionary “is a fresh encouragement to foreigners in this country to pursue the study of the Japanese language, and to the Japanese it will afford invaluable assistance in the study of ours.” The newspaper predicted that its print run of three thousand would be quickly sold out. It was close to a century later – in the early 1960s with the publication of the Nelson dictionary – before another American missionary produced a dictionary that would have a similar profound impact on those learning Japanese. The Hepburn system of romanization of Japanese, which the earlier dictionary first introduced and the Nelson dictionary used, remains the standard system of romanization.

I wish all of my readers a happy new year, and I personally hope it’s considerably better than the one now ending.


  1. HNY, hat.
    Where I grew up “Hepburn” was a local name, said with the ‘p’ silent. (as in ….)
    I am still surprised when I hear that ‘p’ pronounced, just as with the second ‘k’ in “Kirkby”.

  2. dearieme,
    Do you mean that Hepburn was a local people-name, or a local place-name? I never knew about the silent p in Hepburn. Like cupboard and clapboard.

  3. I didn’t either, and now that I look it up I see that Daniel Jones gives /’hebə(:)n/ with /’hepbə(:)n/ in the Brackets of Disfavorment, and the BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names gives only the former. But I would be surprised if more than a few Americans were even aware of the p-less pronunciation, so I conclude that this is one of those Atlantic divides, like Davies /’deyvi:z/ (US) vs. /’deyvis/ (UK)/.

  4. And it turns out the -p- is as unetymological as the -c- in Connecticut; the family name is from the place name Hepburn in Northumberland, which is from an earlier Hybberndune, probably identical in origin with Hebburn (Tyne and Wear), which is OE. hēah + byrgen ‘high burial place.’ The things you learn around here!

  5. Clapboard with a silent p? Cla-bord?
    I always assumed with was clap-bord …

  6. Happy New Year, lh,and to all your correspondents too!
    Hepburn pronounced without the ‘p’ is news to me too, but North America is rife with spelling pronounciations: my favourite is McKay, which should be pronounced ‘-aye’, not ‘-ay’.

  7. I wasn’t aware of the p-less pronunciation either. I had assumed that the Japanese pronunciation (hebon-shiki) was a reduction.
    Regarding the non-intuitive pronunciation of names, I was reading a book with a character named MacIan (which I thought was /m@ki@n/) and was startled to come across this line: “And a song, consisting of an unimaginable number of verses, in which his name was rhymed with flat iron, the British Lion, sly’un, dandelion, Spion (with Kop in the next line), was sung to crowded houses every night.”
    Is my pronunciation (unintuitive for an English name, but based on a familiar pronunciation of Ian) wrong and the other correct, or is it a dialect difference? Or was the author himself playing with pronunciation differences (mocking popular mispronunciation of a family name)?

  8. I assume your pronunciation is correct, though since it’s a very rare name, none of my references have it and I can’t be sure. Your quote comes from Chesterton’s The Ball and the Cross, and the song is sung in London music halls, so I assume Chesterton is representing what he supposes a plebeian London (i.e., decidedly non-Scots) pronunciation of the name would be.

  9. Compare the traditional pronunciation of Lyons as “Lions.”

  10. Mitch Hepburn was premier of Canada’s Ontario province . . . well, before my time.
    Hyman Solomon, a wonderful editor whom I had the good fortune to work under for a year, had as a young reporter covered one, or perhaps more, of Hepburn’s election campaigns. I distinctly remember Solomon pronouncing the ‘p’ in the name.

  11. It was a local people-name, and I must say that the ” /’hebə(:)n/ with /’hepbə(:)n/” is utter tosh. Not (:) but rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

  12. Does this mean your moniker should be pronounced /dearrrieme/ ? Or does the roll appear more in final-position “r”, perhaps followed by a clutch of consonants (Robert /Burrrns/) ?

  13. “pronounced /dearrrieme/ ?” Aye.
    And Heh’burrrrn.
    “Kirkby” comes out as something between Kirrrby and Kuhrrrby. Hat probably knows how to write that in a scholarly way.
    I used to know a chap from the East Midlands who insisted that his surname be pronounced KirKby, even when I pointed out that someone wih an old-fashioned Public School drawl would then pronounce it Cack-by.

  14. Oh dear; I’ve just checked Google and find “cack” under “List of British words not widely used in the United States …”. My sally may therefore be lost on some of you. Apols.

  15. an old-fashioned Public School drawl
    I don’t suppose many people actually speak like that now ? I’ve always wanted to hear the real thing, not just what I have been able to reconstruct in my imagination. Are there any extended audio clips of this ?
    Am I right in my belief that the “wittle boy” lisp (is this associated with “non-rhotic” ?) is a decayed nobility thing, distinct from Public School ? I actually heard this recently on Radio 4, but I can’t remember who was speaking.

  16. And does anyone know of a good serious history of British snobbery & class distinctions (i.e. written by a historian, not by Nancy Mitford or someone like that)?

  17. Let’s not forget Cockburn (/koburrrn/).
    Grumbly, I think that the “w”-ish “r” is associated with a region rather than a class. Terry Jones of Monty Python has it. Is it a Welsh thing?

  18. “I don’t suppose many people actually speak like that now?” Gey few.
    The most prominent fellow to deploy the “wittle boy” lisp in my lifetime was Roy Jenkins, a leading Labour politician. He was accordingly referred to as “Woy”. Backbench Conservatives in the Commons at one point had a jolly game where they would enquire whether “he felt any rancour about….” hoping that Woy, especially if well-oiled, might reply “I feel no wancour….”. But I suspect that that joke too might need explanation under the category “List of British words not widely used in the United States …”.

  19. You’re right about Terry Jones, but it’s not a regional thing (and anyway does he really come from Wales?). It’s often upper-class, but when I was at school it was considered more to be a “speech impediment”. I’m not sure such things are still classified that way.

  20. “I feel no wancour….”
    I’m neck-and-neck with you on that one, dearie. Americans abroad know a thing or two that would draw blanks in Baltimore.

  21. when I was at school it was considered more to be a “speech impediment”. I’m not sure such things are still classified that way.
    You mean that they have fallen prey to PC, i.e. been decreed out of existence ?

  22. Any This is Spinal Tap fan knows “wanker”.
    Wiki says
    Jones was born in Colwyn Bay, North Wales. He was educated at the Royal Grammar School in Guildford (now an independent school, it formerly was true to its name), where he was head boy in the academic year 1960–1; he graduated in English at St Edmund Hall, Oxford

  23. Grumbly,
    Thy are more often called speech disorders today, for example by those whose job is to diagnose and treat them. I doubt that this change in terminology was (like so many other such changes) driven by PC or euphemistic considerations.

  24. Is “disorder” an improvement over “impediment” in any way ?

  25. “would draw blanks in Baltimore”: and now I’m just wondering whether that’s a subtle double entendre.

  26. I’m just wondering whether that’s a subtle double entendre.
    That was my feeling too when I wrote it, although I couldn’t figure out exactly what the two meanings were. Sometimes one just has to rely on intuition.

  27. I was thinking of “blank stares” and (but here I’m not sure) “drawing a blank” in the sense of a non-winning lottery ticket.

  28. Is “disorder” an improvement over “impediment” in any way ?
    Possibly “impediment” was eliminated as a counter-measure to the falling literacy rate in America. One less word to learn !

  29. An impediment is something designed by an imarchitect.

  30. Dearieme: Is it true that ‘Dalhousie’ is pronounced ‘D’loozie’?

  31. Is “disorder” an improvement over “impediment” in any way ?
    One slight advantage: “Disorder” is a word used in medicine. Calling something a disorder suggests the possibility that it is treatable.

  32. I just learned that the d in pediment is not etymological, and that the d in pedestal is not etymologically part of the first syllable.

  33. Yes, his accent is much more Guildford (London stockbroker-belt suburb) than Colwyn Bay.
    That’s a wonderful Woy Jenkins story, dearie. He was working-class Welsh. But he developed a middle-class accent — maybe at Oxford, I’m not sure.
    It’s hard to believe pediment is related to pyramid. The interesting thing about a pyramid is that it’s triangular three-dimensionally, whereas a pediment isn’t. That’s always been an important distinction in buildings, the difference between a hipped and a gabled roof, for example.

  34. But for Wodehouse I wouldn’t have known that Fotheringay was pronounced “Fungie”, and why is it anyway? Who decided these things?

  35. “Disorder” is a word used in medicine. Calling something a disorder suggests the possibility that it is treatable.
    I’m not convinced. “Speech impediment” used to be a neutral term used by speech therapists as well as the general public. An impediment is something that interferes with progress, because it is in the way. That suggests the possibility that it can be moved out of the way.
    There may be a different reason for preferring “disorder” over “impediment”, though, as I find after doing a little internet research. “Disorder” is more general, and covers both psychological and motoric dysfunction. “Impediment” suggests to me a motoric dysfunction.
    According to the German WiPe, there are technical distinctions between Sprachbehinderung, Sprechbehinderung, Sprachstörung and Sprechstörung. They can occur in combination:

    Eine Sprachstörung oder ein Sprachfehler ist eine Störung der gedanklichen Erzeugung von Sprache. Sprachaufbau und Sprachvermögen sind beeinträchtigt. Im Gegensatz dazu ist bei der Sprechstörung primär die motorische Erzeugung von Lauten betroffen. Sprach- und Sprechstörung können auch gemeinsam auftreten.

    I can tell you right now that the common people (including common intellectuals such as myself) are completely ignernt of such distinctions signalled by a single vowel difference in the terms (a/e). Here Sprach- is said to be restricted to “mental speech-forming processes”, while Sprech- refers to “articulatory motorics”.

  36. Of course it’s clear what the Sprach- / Sprech- distinction is based on. Sprache is “language”, while sprechen is “speak”. It’s just that, in everyday speech, say in referring to Stottern [stuttering] as a Sprechbehinderung, you would be in a bit of a puzzle if someone replied: Das ist keine Sprechbehinderung, sondern eine Sprachbehinderung.

  37. The WiPe on speech disorder begins thus:

    Speech disorders or speech impediments are a type of communication disorders where ‘normal’ speech is disrupted.

  38. are a type of communication disorders
    What gives with the plural “disorders”, instead of “a type of communication disorder”, or “types of communication disorder” ? Hat, would you strike that down with your red pencil ? Or is there no hope in Gilead ?

  39. disorders where ‘normal’ speech is disrupted.
    If we’re really going to be grumbly, I object to those quotations around the word “normal”, as if the writer, like, despised the concept. If such speech weren’t abnormal, there would be no need to treat it as an impediment or disorder.

  40. Is it true that ‘Dalhousie’ is pronounced ‘D’loozie’. YES.
    And “Claverhouse” is “Clavers”. “Auchinleck” is either pronounced as spelled or is “Affleck”. (Johnson’s Boswell was “of Auchinleck”, wasn’t he?) “Marjoribanks” is said “Marshbanks”, “Menzies” is “Mingiss” and, as someone said above, “Cockburn” is “Coeburn”. I’d enquire of a McIvor whether he likes “Mac Eye Vohr” or “Mac Ee Vohr”.
    I answer to AJP, you learn these things at school from the surnames of your fellows or from history lessons. You learn their English equivalents from … dunno. Parents?

  41. I suspect that the quotation marks represent something less emotionally charged than that. The same article says
    Classifying speech into normal and disordered is more problematic than it first seems.
    Meaning just that one has to decide where to draw the line if one is using some scale of measurement.
    And, yes, the article begins by introducing “speech impediment” as a synonym for “speech disorder”, never makes any objection to the latter, but mostly uses the former.
    A speech disorder can be (or be due to) a neurological disorder or a psychological disorder or a developmental disorder.
    It makes sense to me that, in an era when there has been lots of research into the classification and treatment of these difficulties, people in the field might move away from an older that term that is associated with older ways of understanding or not understanding them.
    To me, calling it an impediment emphasizes how difficult it is for the person who has it, while calling it a disorder emphasizes the clinical or scientific viewpoint.
    Possibly the Sprach-/Sprech- is a translation of the distinction between language disorder and speech disorder in English.

  42. On second thoughts, for ‘Dalhousie’ I’ve also heard ‘D’loossie’.

  43. On third thoughts “You learn their English equivalents from … ” the British edition of Readers’ Digest?

  44. On fourth thought, I’ve never seen Readers’ Digest mentioned when people talk about what they read as teenagers, but it was, in its time, about the right level for teenagers.

  45. You misunderstood me, dearie. What I mean is why? Who decided that a name should be spelt one way and pronounced a completely different way? What was wrong with spelling it “Chumley”?

  46. The trouble with spelling it Chumley is that you’d be spelling it wrong — unless you got a whole lot of other people to go along with you.

  47. There’s a famous English case, AJP, where someone changed his name as required to receive a bequest, but then insisted that the new name be pronounced identically to his old. It’s so famous that I can’t remember the detail.
    Menzies is a well-known case; the “z” is just the letter adopted as an approximation to the appearance of the Danish/Norwegian letter that was originaly there. “Yoch”, was it? Hat will know.
    My guess is that often the prounciation is older than the spelling, so you have to know/guess why the particular spelling was adopted. Or why, perhaps, one spelling out of several became the modern standard. Some spellings presumably come from a different tongue: I take it that the spelling “Macleod” makes sense in Gaelic. Though, mind you, a friend of mine who’s the son of a Gaelic speaker claims that his father told him that Gaelic spelling became pretty fanciful under the influence of a sort of Romantic movement in the 19th century.

  48. The 19th Century Gaelic romantics are discussed at length in a terrific essay on the subject by …eeek!… Hugh Trevor-Roper.
    The Australian Menzies pronounced it as spelt. You won’t catch Australians being messed about like that.

  49. I see that Prof. Elmencowmperstonty has written a new post.

  50. That’s all very well, AJP, but that’s also just the dear Aussies being hignorant. We once visited Buchan’s Point in Queensland, which amused us no end as we’d been promised a visit to Bew Kan’s Point.

  51. Oh dearie me, ain’t Google wonderful?

  52. So how is Buchan pronouncd for real? As a child I guessed wrong about former US president Buchanan (BUCK-n-n, should have been byoo-KAN-n, but is byoo-KAN-n wrong in the old country?).

  53. aqilluqqaaq says

    I take it that the spelling “Macleod” makes sense in Gaelic.
    English MacLeod /məˈklaʊd/ is spelled MacLeòid in Scottish Gaelic and pronounced /ˌmaxkˈʎɔːʰtʲ/. The only phoneme the two have in common is initial /m/.

  54. I know a Buchan (a granddaughter of John) who’s “Bucken” and a British (though not lately Scottish) Buchanan family who are B’you-Cannon.

  55. Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, is commonly referred to as “Dal” in Canada. The full name is pronounced D’luzie, with the accent on the long U, and occasionally D’lowzy, with the “ow” pronounced as in “Ow, I just cut my finger.”
    Another well-known Canadian place of learning is the venerable Bishop Strachan School, established in 1867. That’s Strachan as in Strawn. It’s named after Toronto’s first Anglican bishop, John Strachan.

  56. J.W. Brewer says

    Far be it from me to question the authority of Wodehouse-via-Crown, but is “Fotheringay” really pronounced that way non-fictionally? Indeed, is it attested as a non-fictional surname as opposed to toponym? I’ve only ever heard the toponym pronounced as sung by the late Sandy Denny, who rhymes it with “away.” (She may not be totally reliable but at least she was a Brit and didn’t, at least in her singing, exhibit an obvious non-prestige accent/dialect.)

  57. byoo-KAN-n is correct. But Buchan is Buh Chan, with the “ch” as in “loch”, not as in Charlie.
    Macleod: thank you, aqill.
    Strachan: I have heard both the Strawn pronunciation and the obvious one. Just as you hear Lamont pronounced LAHm’nt, and occasionally (usually in England) l’MONT.
    As for silent “p”s, there’s one in Campbell too.

  58. J.W., my guess is that there are people who go around calling themselves “Fungy”, but I can’t prove it. All I could find was a running dispute about whether the H is pronounced in “Fotheringhay” (alternate spelling of the Castle location), and there’s a huge Wikipedia argument about whether Wodehouse was English, British, UKian or USian.

  59. Marjoribanks for Marchbanks is an odd one. And then there’s Mainwaring for Mannering and Beauchamp for Beecham. Another Scottish one is Buccleuch for B’clue, and one my grandmother taught me: Abercorn is supposed to be pronounced “Avercorn”, but I have very little occasion to use it (okay none, except here).

  60. What about England for Ingland, and Britain for Britten?

  61. Let us not forget Hyacinth Bucket of the BBC sitcom Keeping Up Appearances, who pronounces her last “Bouquet.”

  62. What about England for Ingland, and Britain for Britten?
    tain for ten isn’t like Marjori for March. There’s no relation between the spelling and the pronunciation in the latter. Not that I’d care, if it weren’t for the snobbery that accompanies it — in England, anyway. Mrs Bucket is a good example of that, though it’s the reverse (an English spelling and a French pronunciation) of the others.

  63. tain for ten isn’t like Marjori for March
    No, but it’s almost like ainwar for anner.

  64. You’ll have to explain that one, Ø.

  65. Mainwaring for Mannering

  66. Oh, I thought it must be something German. Yes.

  67. Dalziel. Milngavie. Mouswald. Kingussie. Culross, Culzean, Ruthven, Redpath, Kirkcudbright,
    The list is endless. Or endlessish.

  68. They’ve left out Dalziel.

  69. No they haven’t. You’ve got to look under the “Surnames” part, lower down.

  70. duh, silly me

  71. There has been a Dalziel family here on Haida Gwai (one wrote a local history). I don’t recall if I’ve heard it as Dalzel or Dalzeel, but I’m reading McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street at the moment, and he has the name Dalyell.

  72. “Dalziel” is pronounced Dee Ell, with the emphasis on the second syllable. So’s “Dalyell”.

  73. I work with a Canadian whose surname – presumably Quebecois – is Beaulieu, and while I’m pretty certain he doesn’t pronounce it, like the stately home in Hampshire, “Bewley”, I have yet to find any co-workers who know for sure how he DOES pronounce it.
    I was once saved from great embarrassment in the ticket office queue in Glasgow railway station, waiting to buy a ticket to Milngavie, because the Scot in front of me was buying a ticket to the same place.

  74. For the non-Glaswegians out there, it’s pronounced “Mill-GUY.”

  75. The Wikipedia list omitted the Purgatoire “Picketwire” River in Colorado, so I added it.
    AJP: None of these names is any stranger than one being pronounced “wun” or “won”, rather than in the way still preserved in the derivatives alone ‘all one’ and only ‘one-ly’, but we are so used to this that we no longer feel its oddity. In all cases, they are the result either of ordinary sound changes, or of misunderstood or mispronounced foreign names. (The Scottish names are in a different language, though no longer / not yet a foreign one.)
    Paul Ogden: Hyacinthe’s husband, whose name it originally is, actually does pronounce it Bucket.

  76. I think that’s the point, John: a word like “one”, despite its spelling, is known to everyone; but few people are likely to know that Featherstonhaugh is “supposed” to be pronounced “Splat” or whatever it is, so Splat/F’haugh becomes a shibboleth for British snobs. That’s my only objection.
    Actually, I don’t think Featherstonhaugh could be a mispronounced foreign name or “Fanshaw” a sound change, so there must be another explanation.

  77. Another part of the world with special pronunciations is the state of Washington, where only the locals know that Sequim is pronounced “Skwim” and where to put the accent in Puyallup.

  78. A bit more widely known, but still odd, is the way Spokane is spoken.

  79. Actually, I don’t think Featherstonhaugh could be a mispronounced foreign name or “Fanshaw” a sound change
    No, Fanshaw is definitely a sound change. You underestimate the close shave given to words by the razor of time.

  80. That’s an interesting metaphor, I don’t think I’ve heard it before

  81. Croon: In an earlier stage still preserved in some families, it’s pronounced “Freestonhugh”.

Speak Your Mind