More on 1880s pronunciation


Most of the pronunciations given in the Dictionary of Blunders are what one would expect for 1880, and show that the arguments about what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’ are very much the same as today:

ab-do’-men, not ab’-dŏm-ěn (OED1 agrees with this, but OED2 gives initial stress before second syllable stress, although many medical people use ab-do’-men, which corresponds to the Latin quantities)

a-kū’-men, not ak’-ŭ-men (OED2 gives second syllable stress before initial stress, which corresponds to the Latin quantities)

al-bu’-men not al’-bum-en (OED2 does not recognise initial stress, although I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone British say /ælˈbjuːmən/)

bĭtu’men not bĭt’-u-men (OED2 gives second syllable stress before initial stress, which corresponds to the Latin quantities, but current British pronunciation dictionaries all indicate second syllable stress as American)

CHIVALRIC is pronounced shiv’-ǎl-rik not chiv-ǎl’-rik (OED1 and OED2 have second syllable stress first, and also allow initial /tʃ/)

CONTRIBUTE is pronounced kon-trĭb’-ute, not kon’-trĭb-ute. (Interesting that the initial stress was being heard even then)

DECADE is pronounced dĕk’-āde, not dēk’-ade (OED1 gives only /ˈdekəd/ – as the BBC Advisory Committee was also recommending nearly 50 years later)

LAMENTABLE. The accent in this word is on the first syllable, lăm’-ĕnt-able. (Clearly, he was hearing second syllable stress )

LIBRARY. This word is often mispronounced li’-bar-ay, instead of li’-bra-ry. (No change today)

MISCHIEVOUS is pronounced mĭs’-chĕ-vŭs, not mis-chē’-vŭs, nor mis-che’-vě-us. (No change today)

Two which I can find no other ‘authority’ for are:

CAESURA is pronounced sez’-ū-rǎ (not even OED1 allows /e/ in the first syllable, nor stress on that syllable)

GLAMOUR is pronounced glā’-moor not glă’-mur. (I wonder where he got this from?)


  1. Thanks for this. It’s the sort of thing I need to help my clients open their minds about “correctness” or “propriety” of speech. I have six or seven editions of Daniel Jones’s English Pronouncing Dictionary through the years, starting with the first, and ending with the latest Cambridge edition. It’s very interesting to track the RP pronunciations of words such as controversy through the years.

    “ab-do’-men, not ab’-dŏm-ěn” calls to mind Ira Gershwin’s eye-dialect lyrics for “It Ain’t Necessarily So”:

    Oh Jonah, he lived in de whale,
    Oh Jonah, he lived in de whale,
    Fo’ he made his home in
    Dat fish’s abdomen.
    Oh Jonah, he lived in de whale.

  2. Wow, I was just about to weigh in with “Ain’t Necessarily So” but got beat to the punch!

  3. sorry… premature enter…

    As I was saying… I always assumed that Ira Gershwin was stretching a little for a rhyme in that (home in/abdo’men) line, the same way. Goliath/dieth is obviously a stretch…

    Li’l David was small but oh my
    Li’l David was small but oh my
    He fought big Goliath who lay down and dieth
    Li’l David was small but oh my

  4. Graham,

    does the dict. happen to contain the word fracas?

  5. Was it peculiar to aristocrasy in the 1800’s to pronounce r like w? I just watched “Wives and Daughters” and have heard it in other “period” pieces.

  6. @Carol:

    If you mean pronouncing /r/ as a labiodental approximant, I don’t know about the 1800s but it is pretty common now in Britain. I grew up doing it myself until I got teased about it in university and decided to change.

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