Back tomorrow

I will be back Friday and,  I hope,  resume posting.  Thanks to Matthew and Greg (who has been ill with pneumonia) for filling in for me.  I have some tales and some swell holiday snaps.

In the meantime, what is all this about the proper pronounciation of “van Gogh”?”  None of us use the proper pronounciation for foreign names!  Do you say “Firenze” for “Florence,”  “Moskva” for “Moscow”, and “Par–ee” for “Paris”?   A Russian once told me the proper pronounciations of “Tolstoy” and “Dostoevsky,” which only slightly resemble how we Americans pronounce those names.  Let us not chastise one another for using the English/American pronounciations of foreign names, for none of us adhere strictly to that rule.  Let he who is without sin cast the first noun!

In the meantime, I have seen many Tintorettos, Giottos, Bellinis and the like. Rembrandt and van Gogh have them all beat.

Happy Thanksgiving (make mine pasta)!

Best American Painters

Winslow Homer

Thomas Eakin

Georgia O’Keefe

Edward Hopper

Jackson Pollock


  1. bric
    Posted November 26, 2009 at 2:06 am | Permalink

    In my idle musing about the pronunciation of ‘van Gough’ I wasn’t chastising anyone, just wondering where ‘Vango’ came from, as the rest of the English-speaking world says, with equal inauthenticity, ‘van Goff’. Not even BBC newsreaders pronounce Hiroshige, or just about any Chinese name authentically (that pinyin ‘Q’ always catches them out).
    And I have to add Mark Rothko to any list of American painters, he would be near the top of my all-time world-wide list.

  2. Posted November 26, 2009 at 2:13 am | Permalink

    I am not a famous painter, but when I hear my name pronounced by a German, I have to say “Pardon me?”

  3. J.J.E.
    Posted November 26, 2009 at 2:19 am | Permalink

    What really annoys me (you know the kind of thing Jerry is chastising us for :-p ) is when a people pronounce something wrong that is spelled pretty close to the way it would be pronounced by sounding it out.

    My biggest pet peeve is English speakers’ pronunciation of Beijing, which for some weird reason is pronounced something like Beige-ing or Bay-zhing. “Well, I’ve been painting all day. I spent the first half reddening the foyer and the second half beige-ing the study.”

    But simply insert a hyphen or a space, and most American speakers get it as perfectly as Americans ever do without special training: Bei-Jing or Bei Jing. I’ve conducted this experiment, and invariably the sound that comes out is something like “bay jing”, as it should be.

    I mean, when was the last time anyone sang “Zhingle Bells”?

    Paris makes sense. Its spelling is an unfortunate stumbling block given the way Americans are taught to pronounce words. But Beijing?

    • newenglandbob
      Posted November 26, 2009 at 7:27 am | Permalink

      You say minutiae (min-oo-shay) and I say minutiae (min-oo-shee)…

      …Let’s call the whole thing off.

      – with apologies to Louis Armstrong.

      • Posted November 26, 2009 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

        When in fact it should be min u tee eye. T isn’t sh in Latin; ti isn’t shi in Latin. And ae is neither ay nor ee but eye. Declining femina was my introduction to Latin in 8th grade, and I could do it in my sleep –


  4. J.J.E.
    Posted November 26, 2009 at 2:26 am | Permalink

    Oh, and “Ill with pneumonia”? Get well Greg!

  5. Frans
    Posted November 26, 2009 at 3:11 am | Permalink

    While we’re on that topic, is there *anybody* in the US who can pronounce Gouda (the cheese) even slightly properly?

    • Paul Claessen
      Posted November 26, 2009 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      Yes. I can. And I know quite a few more people here in the US who can say that. As well as ‘van Gogh’ for that matter. And Scheveningen.

      Bite me!

      ~ Paul
      Palm Bay, Florida

      • Frans
        Posted November 26, 2009 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

        Heh, well, your name gives it away, doesn’t it. 🙂

    • Posted November 26, 2009 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

      I can…but only because I listen carefully when I hear native speakers say it.

      I believe I can also do a pretty good version of Telegraph, because I listen to RN (English) and they mention it a lot and I like it. It’s gotten so that I pronounce the London one the same way in my head.

  6. Drosera
    Posted November 26, 2009 at 3:12 am | Permalink

    When American tourists in Amsterdam ask me where they can find the ‘Van Go’ museum I get so annoyed that I am inclined to send them to the sex museum instead. I am willing to accept Van Gock, but not Van Go, let alone Van Goff. Sorry.

    • J.J.E.
      Posted November 26, 2009 at 3:28 am | Permalink

      In that vein, I appreciated this parody:

      This seems a bit more credible (and similarly pronounced) but you couldn’t prove it by me. I’m a speaker of the “Van Go” variety:

      [audio src="" /]

      • Drosera
        Posted November 26, 2009 at 7:29 am | Permalink

        LOL. I would send this ‘Mister Pronunciation’ straight to the Sex Museum. And the so-called Dutch guy next to him is not really Dutch, although his pronunciation of Van Gogh is not bad.

    • Posted November 26, 2009 at 4:42 am | Permalink

      I guess I’ll follow Jerry’s advice and go on saying “van goff” like everyone else does in Australia (for whatever reason). Otherwise I’ll be thought of as up myself.

      • Drosera
        Posted November 26, 2009 at 7:30 am | Permalink

        Then don’t ask me for directions when you are in Amsterdam. 🙂

      • Posted November 26, 2009 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

        Yeah well see that’s the thing – you may not want to say it correctly to Anglophones – but it’s not so bad to say it correctly when you’re actually in Amsterdam!

        It’s not just the museum, either; sometimes one has to talk about Theo Van Gogh – the murdered one.

  7. Pete Cockerell
    Posted November 26, 2009 at 3:38 am | Permalink

    Agreed on the Beijing thing. It drove me nuts during the Olympics to hear the US announcers use that weird pronunciation. It irritated me more than it did my wife, who’s actually from Beijing 😀

  8. Ilari Sani
    Posted November 26, 2009 at 4:00 am | Permalink

    Florence and Moscow are not really examples of differing pronunciation. They are exonyms – place names that have been adapted to a different language.

    In the same way, English calls Sverige Sweden, Nederlanden the Netherlands and so forth.

    • Eric MacDonald
      Posted November 26, 2009 at 8:08 am | Permalink

      Never heard the word ‘exonym’ before. Thanks Ilari. But there are all sorts of names of places that are adapted to other languages. Confining myself to English, to begin with, we use Cologne, for example, instead of Köln, Munich instead of München, Florence instead of Firenze, Venice instead of Venizia, and so on. How many English speaking people use Bharat instead of India? And why should we not continue to use Peking, instead of trying to speak Chinese and say Beijing, however that is pronounced? Years ago I named my daughter ‘Kirsten’ because I was very fond of the Norwegian contralto Kirsten Flagstad, only to find that the Norwegians pronounce Kirsten so that it sounds, more or less, like Shirsten, with a strong accent on the first syllable, which sounds almost like ‘shush’, but with an ‘i’ in place of the ‘u’. No one, in English, is going to manage that. And the French say Londres in place of London, and Angleterre is England in French. And in Hindi, Urdu and, I think, Arabic, America is Amrika, with the accent on the first syllable. The only way to straighten all this out is to make sure that everyone speaks the same language, and that’s not going to happen anytime soon. As Kiwi Dave says, in the next note, people from different language backgrounds pronounce the same word differently. Who’da thunk it!

      • Eric MacDonald
        Posted November 26, 2009 at 8:09 am | Permalink

        Sorry, Amrika is accented on the second syllable.

      • J.J. E.
        Posted November 26, 2009 at 8:35 am | Permalink

        Peking actually has a much more interesting and nuanced history than simple translation into another language.

        The “Pe” in Peking and the “Pei” in Taipei in Taiwan are the same character 北 meaning “north” and are probably obeying the feature of Mandarin that distinguishes between p with a lot of air “P'” (or “P” in modern Pinyin) and p with no air “P” (or “B” in modern Pinyin).

        The “king” is a bit more complicated…

      • bric
        Posted November 26, 2009 at 10:40 am | Permalink

        Thanks J.J.E., I was told that ‘Peking’ was the Cantonese version by my partner, who is a Cantonese speaker; I noticed that in Taipei what they call the city is more like ‘Daibei’.

      • J.J. E.
        Posted November 26, 2009 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

        Basically the “t” is very close to the English “t”. And the “p” is an unvoiced English “b” (linguistic jargon: unvoiced, unaspirated, bilabial stop) most of the time, though it can vary sentence to sentence and speaker to speaker.

        Now the tones… That’s the difficulty…

  9. Kiwi Dave
    Posted November 26, 2009 at 5:54 am | Permalink

    So, people from different language backgrounds pronounce the same word differently. Who’da thunk it? Quelle horreur.

  10. Brian
    Posted November 26, 2009 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    What kind of madman leaves Whistler off his list of best American painters?

  11. Paul Claessen
    Posted November 26, 2009 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    I wonder how many Americans think that the actual and real given names of the four gospel writers are Mark, Luke, Matthew and John?

  12. JefFlyingV
    Posted November 26, 2009 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    Is the capital of South Dakota pronounced as Peer or Peyair? Semms only to matter to natives and effete intellectual snobs. Doesn’t seem enough to enjoy the art work…

  13. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted November 26, 2009 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Do you say “Firenze” for “Florence,” “Moskva” for “Moscow”,

    Nay to the first, aye to the second. In Swedish.

    But not as a Russian would say it.

    [I suspect it may be because of the many contacts we have had. One of our more historically bent authors once said that Sweden have been in war with Russia 5 times. (Repeating bad ideas: sign of a mad nation! :-o) We won twice, they won twice, and one was a draw…]

  14. Posted November 26, 2009 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    I know how to pronounce Kurt Wallander now – and it’s not the way it’s pronounced on the (boring) Ken Branagh version. Wallander kind of rhymes with philander except the ‘an’ is short – like ‘ahn.’

    I thought you’d like to know that.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted November 27, 2009 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

      Haven’t seen Branagh, but you are correct on the pronunciation. Funny, I wouldn’t think that would have been a problem.

      Torbjörn, now _that_ is a problem. 😀 Of sorts: as most English doesn’t have an “ö” sound, the best one not raised in a language with it can hear and produce is a rapid “oe”. Close enough for function, but no cigar.

      • Posted November 27, 2009 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

        I’ve been assuming it’s like the German ö, as in Göthe. No? (And I do assume it every time I see your name! I guess I’m not content just to read words, I have to sort of hear them too.)

  15. Posted November 26, 2009 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    Anyway, it’s all very well, this pronounce it the way your compatriots do approach, but that would have us saying Eye Rack, and I damn well won’t do it.

  16. Thanny
    Posted November 27, 2009 at 2:07 am | Permalink

    Not a single person alive today doesn’t pronounce words differently than their own cultural ancestors did.

    There’s no such thing as correct pronunciation of a domesticated foreign word.

    Picking on Americans particularly is pretty amusing, given that we are generally more true to the original pronunciation than a Briton (or, I suspect, an antipode). Consider ballet and fillet.

    England in general is the champion of altering pronunciation for convenience, as any comparison of spoken and written town names will demonstrate.

    • bric
      Posted November 28, 2009 at 2:19 am | Permalink

      Hmmm ‘fillet’ comes from latin fillum, meaning a thread and has a perfectly respectable history in English, pronounced as written, meaning a narrow strip and as a verb to remove the bone of a cut of meat or fish – and thus the meat so prepared. French has a similar word, but they write theirs ‘filet’. Pretentious restaurants may offer filet de boef, but in English it’s still beef fillet.
      Ballet on the other hand only exists in English as a comparatively recent French loan-word (diminutive of bal, a dance), so quite reasonably retains it’s original pronunciation.
      My favourite place-name change is where ‘Belvoir’ (beautiful view) is pronounced ‘beaver’. There may just be a joke in there.

  17. Posted November 27, 2009 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    O’Keefe is awful. Just awful. Give me Hyman Bloom or give me death.

  18. Posted November 27, 2009 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    Why didn’t Thomas Kinkade make the list of greatest American painters?

    Come on, now…

  19. Posted November 27, 2009 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    (No flames, please…I’m only kidding!)

  20. bad Jim
    Posted November 28, 2009 at 12:18 am | Permalink

    Let’s hear it for John Singer Sargent!

    Perhaps the funniest exonym is Leghorn for Livorno.

    The question of local pronunciation is especially acute in California, where many place names are Spanish and many residents are native Spanish speakers. Mostly it’s a matter of whether “a” is given the flat American or broad Spanish pronunciation, but there are difficult words like “Junipero” and especially “Angeles”, which is generally “an jell us” but correctly “on hell ehs”. My niece just moved to Paso Robles, for which the Anglo pronunciation is “Pass oh rowbulls” instead of “Paw so row blehs”.

    I also know two Londoners who use a broad “a” for everything except Spanish words.

%d bloggers like this: