Athenaeum – pronunciation and plural

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Dr Jonathan Foyle, presenting a BBC 4 TV programme on the public buildings of the north of England, repeatedly pronounced the Athenaeum in Liverpool as /æθəˈneɪəm/, although his interviewees, members of the club, used the more anglicized /æθəˈniːəm/. I attributed this to a knowledge of Latin, but wondered whether he also pronounced aesthetic with /eɪ/, or treated stressed and unstressed occurrences of ae differently. Would he also pronounce Julius Caesar as /ˈseɪzə/? However, he then had to talk about other buildings with the same name being erected in other northern cities, and used a plural /æθəˈneɪaɪ/. Has my knowledge of Latin been totally lost, or should the Latin plural of Athenaeum not be Athenaea? And what is wrong with Athenaeums?  If I am right, then Dr Foyle’s pronunciation of the singular is not based on a true knowledge of Latin, but on a pseudo-knowledge which also demonstrates a shaky understanding of the usual development in English of the Latin ae.

One Comment

  1. I suppose one should be grateful for small mercies. At least he didn’t say /əˈθiːneɪəm/.

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