Wednesday, 29 November 2006

Let’s call the whole thing off

Eether/eyether, neether/nyether and tomahto/tomayto are fine, but the song gets silly because nobody ever says potahto. Someone will probably write pointing out that this is exactly the way the word has been pronounced for centuries in Adare, Co. Limerick, or Townsville, Queensland, but they needn’t bother because I shan’t believe them; Ira Gershwin must have searched desperately for another pair of words but in the end just gave up and hoped no-one would notice. And, of course, who cared about the lyrics when Fred and Ginger were doing their stuff?

There’s only one way of saying potato, unless you count spuds, tatties and so on. But the word banal, which has been around for a long time (though the OED can’t find it in print in its usual sense before 1837), has yet to acquire a standard pronunciation accepted by all. Sixty years ago, H.W. Fowler recommended rhyming it with panel, but hardly anyone does today. I’ve always said b’narl, but according to the American Heritage Dictionary only 14% (mostly English) do this, while 38% say baynal and 46% rhyme it with canal.

But none of this matters, since this attractive word is best in print, used to describe such things as politicians’ speeches, or the content of most blogs; it’s quicker than writing "devoid of freshness or originality; drearily commonplace and predictable; hackneyed; trite".


Grumio said...

In the world of famous but very forced lyrics, potayto/potahto competes with:
Wherever I may roam,
O'er land
Or sea
Or foam...

Foam? Foam? Who roams over foam? If you mean the foam on the waves, well you already did that bit in the line above. If you
didn't, what foam precisely?

Tony said...

Indeed it seems silly.
On the other hand, it is a drinking song, so it could mean the foam on top of the glass.

Jim Jay said...

I'm with you - b'narl

Tony said...

Well, bully for you, jim jay. Let's say that's the Received Pronunciation, shall we?

Anonymous said...

I say Carmeena
You say Car-mye-na,
I say Burahna
You Bur-ay-na.

Let's Carl the whole thing Orff.

Tony said...

Thank you very much indeed, Anon, that was new to me.
Do I know you?

Anonymous said...

Yes sorry it's me, Grumio. It was 5.50am, I couldn't sleep and neither could I summon the energy to enter my details.

Sorry about that.

Anonymous said...

Another time just sign it, you foolish person.


Grumio said...

Brilliant! Of course, I wish I had thought of it. WIll do so from now on.