Sunday, July 16, 2006

Things I learned this week

1. That the 'K' in Knopf (as in the celebrated New York publishing house Alfred A. Knopf) is pronounced. Thanks to Laura Linney in The Squid and the Whale for that one. It has helped avoid a future embarrassing moment with a member of the Manhattan literati. But I wonder are there other pitfalls waiting out there? As an Irish person, I know how many Irish names are mispronounced by foreign Anglophones (Cahill as 'kay-hill', Mahoney as 'ma-HO-nee', O'Shaughnessy as O'SHAW-nessy, Gallagher with that second 'G' erroneously pronounced). There is an appendix in Debrett's, the snob's bible, that gives a guide to pronouncing all the arcane, obscure aristocratic names that litter British high society. Maybe there could be one made for the riff-raff of the world.

2. (Again, thanks to The Squid and the Whale - this time the French subtitles.) That the French for 'philistine' is 'béotien', attributive of the Boeotians, rather dull and backward provincials in ancient Greece, and citizens, perhaps now more cultured, of modern Greece. I always wondered why my use of the word "philistine", inflected to sound French, always flummoxed French people I spoke to. According to my Petit Larousse, 'philistin' (or 'philistine' for feminine nouns) does exist in French but is considered 'literary' and 'rare'. So there you go... Are there any other uncultured peoples throughout the ages that have become synonymous with Fianna Fáil councillors, readers of The Sun and New Labour Prime Ministers?