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Every time I go to downtown Boston, I’m reminded of one of my dorkier moments.
“New England is known for its tricky names; ‘Worcester’ shrinks down to ‘Wistah‘, ‘Leominster’ becomes ‘Leminstah‘, and ‘ ‘Hartford’ becomes ‘the tahn in Connecticut that’s a pahking laht in rush houah‘.”
(Actually, depending on the specific area of Boston, I might be reminded of several of my dorkier moments. In my defense, I didn’t have my contacts in that one night, and if that chick in the boots was a cop, she should have told me. That’s the rule.
Also, I’m sure lots of people pee on that statue. I can’t possibly be the only one.)
Anyway, my possibly incarceratible transgressions in the heart of the Hub aren’t the point. I have a more innocuous — though no less embarrassing — episode in mind. It happened several years ago, back when the wife and I were new to the Boston area…
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One of the most famous and well-traveled areas of Boston proper is Faneuil Hall. It hosts restaurants, shops, and even a comedy club (where I would later perform).
But in the first few days I lived in Boston, a chief concern was pronouncing the name of the downtown shopping area. New England is known for its tricky names; ‘Worcester’ shrinks down to ‘Wistah‘, ‘Leominster’ becomes ‘Leminstah‘, and ‘ ‘Hartford’ becomes ‘the tahn in Connecticut that’s a pahking laht in rush houah‘.
But none of this prepares the newcomer for ‘Faneuil Hall’. It’s properly pronounced FAN-yuhl Hall, but there’s no easy way to sound that out from the letters provided. The established rules of grammar are sadly silent on matters concerning noises to be derived from ‘euil’ letter combinations.
The ambiguity wasn’t an issue for my first few days in Boston. But then, some friends of the missus offered to accompany us downtown, to ‘show us the ropes’. They’d lived here considerably longer than our two weeks in town, and we trusted them to take us to Boston’s finest areas. They made a veritable beeline for Faneuil Hall, with us in tow.
Looking to score some points, I read the name from a sign and asked:
‘So, do you guys often come down to Fan-YOO-uh-weel Hall?‘
‘Do we do what, where now?‘
‘Do you come here often, down to FAIN-ah-ooh-uhl Hall‘
‘Um… sure, sometimes. But it’s pronounced FAN-yuhl.‘
I didn’t miss a beat. My desperate need to save face knows no bounds:
‘Oh. Well, I’ve heard it pronounced both ways.‘
I nodded confidently as I made this ridiculous claim, as though it had any basis in fact whatsoever. No one in three hundred years ever called it FAIN-ah-ooh-uhl Hall, with the possible exception of Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr.
(Come on, that’s an easy one. It’s spelled just like it sounds. Simple.)
Still I claimed I’d heard it, with a straight face and steady voice. Our friends, who clearly knew better, just let it go. Remarkably, neither of them called me on the ruse. At any moment, I expected them to ask,
‘Sorry, is this FAIN-ah-ooh-uhl Hall, or was that FIN-ya-hoo-eel? We ask merely so that we may mingle in with the natives as easily as yourself.‘
But they never did. So I spent the rest of the day butchering the name at will — FARN-yurl, fen-YOO-ill, fin-ah-ee-yuh-UHL, you name it. Partly it was to see whether they’d finally correct me. Partly it was because I’m a raging, incorrigible smartass.
But mostly it was because I kept seeing the stupid word, and I could not, for the life of me, remember how to say the stupid thing correctly. So I dorked it up for a full afternoon, and claimed ‘I’ve heard it both ways’ any time it seemed to be an issue.
Looking back — holy god, that’s embarrassing. I hope nobody besides my wife’s friends heard me being an idiot that day. It’s bad enough knowing I’ve been a jackass; what if some impressionable young kid heard me calling the place FRANCHY-hoo-hah Hall? And then repeated it, and then said, truthfully:
‘Yeah, but I’ve heard it pronounced that way before.‘
Ouch, baby. Very ouch.Permalink | 3 Comments
I had a similar experience with Tchoupitoulas Street in New Orleans. If you could get rid of the beginning T and the first U, it might make sense. It is pronounced chop-a-TOO-luss. Add a thick Nawlins accent to it and I’ll be damned if I could connect what I was hearing to what I was reading on the street sign.
Have a great Thanksgiving, Charlie!
roflmao! this reminds me of when i worked as a temp. receptionist at a company that had something to do with isotopes or something. the parent company was located in japan and they would call constantly wanting to speak to the president of this company, who also happened to be japanese. oh what fun! i hated when they called because not only did i have a hard time understanding them, but i hated having to page (because i always seemed to have to page) the person they were looking for. i was always sure i was butchering, beyond recognition, the name because i am most horrid at pronouncing foreign words. but do you know that the president of the company came down one day and told me that he was very impressed with my pronunciation? i was so surprised.
now i just need to learn how to say llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch and i’ll make my husband very happy.
Loved story. Found it while searching for pronunciation of “Faneuil” myself. I’ve read it so often w/o knowing, I just had to know. But now I’m going to go crazy trying to figure out the sound of the Welsh phrase posted by Kerry in the comments section. How can I find THAT ?