Trivia Teaser

The first name of which US President starts with the letter H?




By Miranda

No, I'm not growling. I'm considering the letter R and how we say it, or don't.  And why some phonetic-based cryptic clues don't always work.

In much of North America, the letter R is pronounced wherever it occurs. So BOTHER has an R sound at the end in a way that would not occur for many other English speakers - though those of us who omit the R sound for BOTHER usually put it back for the word BOTHERING. Even the word WORD is an instance in which the R sound may or may not be uttered.

Sometimes this doesn't matter. In most cases WORD and BIRD will still rhyme within the variety of English you speak. But while FOUGHT and FORT might be the same for those who omit it, those who do say R aren’t likely to agree. So, for cryptic crosswords, 'Fought loudly to get garrison' won't work everywhere but 'Cockney thought it was a garrison' just might.

And does it matter that there's a trend to the merging of vowels sounds so that MATTERED and MATTED may become as one, phonetically speaking, for those of the non-Rs who do not make huge distinctions in their vowel sounds.

I checked with our cryptic compilers who consider BATTED and BATTERED are a rhyming pair but I'm not certain that this would be the case for North American cryptic fans, nor those in Scotland.

So what's right? Well, none is wrong, in context. And it's difficult to assert that one has more historical validity than the other, either. It seems likely that the language of Shakespeare included more Rs than RSC members enunciate in today's performances but that doesn't mean that a modern US or Canadian accent is closer to the language of Shakespeare than a contemporary British one.

To R or not to R?


Congratulations to Theo Plakias, the winner of our Mother's Day competition!


13 Responses to


jagra said:
May 04, 2011 at 8:51 AM

The one which particularly makes me curl my toes is so-called educated English people on BBC pronouncing the W in drawing as R! Since when did W become R? Perhaps they are confused by their "drarling" intonations.

kragzy said:
May 04, 2011 at 11:13 AM

My father, who was English, used to say that English is spoken all over the world except in England. There are many variations within Britain itself. We have some variations in Australia too - if you grew up in SA you will probably say grarf for 'graph' and darnse for 'dance' whereas NSW folks generally say graff and danse. (Unless you went to a posh school). Long live the variations between Aussie, US, Pommie, Scottish, Kiwi, Canadian, etc! It's good fun. What about kiwi clipped vowels? Cryptic clue: sounds like three pairs of gender difference (3).

kragzy said:
May 04, 2011 at 11:16 AM

To answer Miranda's question, to R or not to R, I think we should stay true to our origins whatever they are - and accept that all nuances of pronunciation, provided they can be understood, are valid.

May 04, 2011 at 12:51 PM

I love the Kiwi accent. My dry-cleaning used to cost "sux-fufty", and I'd wait to hear it said with much enjoyment. If you live in South Australia, you'll hear people finish a word with a "w" instead of an "l". "Little people" becomes "littew peopew", going up the "hiw". Even some TV commentators avoid the "l" sound.

elmo7 said:
May 04, 2011 at 5:54 PM

I live in SA and heve never heard anyone using w instead of l. Hill is hill, little is little etc. etc.Also have never heard anyone here pronounce dance as darnse is pronounced dance(dans) here...but we do say grarf not graff. NSW tend to pronounce pool as pewl and school as scewl. Another debatable one is mall...we pronounce it maul others say mal, no-one calls a ball a bal so who is correct?

May 04, 2011 at 6:19 PM

I have a student from the northern area of England who pronounces words with a difference especially in vowels. Using a phonics based spelling chart with prompting pictures has proven to be a challenge as he pronounces the words missing the key sound. In cryptic clues I can see the challenge too but I regard them as a hint rather than an exact guide to pronunciation.

May 04, 2011 at 6:28 PM

P.S. Disappointed that yet another YP competition is actually only open to facebook members. It needs to be made clear in the banner and advertising.

kragzy said:
May 05, 2011 at 9:57 AM

elmo, there is no right or wrong - all are correct. The nuances of pronunciation add to the richness of the English language.

nanny24 said:
May 05, 2011 at 2:14 PM

I found the language interesting when visiting California in the early 90's. The vowels that we Australians tend to elongate in a word are shortened by the Americans , and the ones we shorten are elongated by them. An example is "parmesan" - the Americans elongate the "a" and "e"

vmw215 said:
May 06, 2011 at 3:42 AM

I was born & raised in Wiltshire in the West of England where the R sound is quite pronounced (pardon the pun). On moving to Australia, I discovered that Australians don't use the letter R - at least to my ear. Words like car & bar sounded like Kaa & Baa to me! Not only that, I had a problem initially distinguishing between the sounds 'a' as in ran & 'ai' as in rain. I had to get people to spell words at to work out what they were trying to say! I once noticed a wonderful mistake on a news item when England's "Barmy Army" first made its presence known here in Australia. I had a good chuckle when I saw a TV screen caption describe them as the "Balmy Army" Vive la différence!DHZNA

apozzi said:
May 07, 2011 at 11:00 AM

Interesting to hear of pronunciations in other parts of the world. Here in the USA, the rrrr sound that comes to me is from Boston. You will hear the r dropped there, bar being said as bah, but put on the end of some words. Famously JFK (remember him?) talking about the island where the Russians had missiles as Cuber. Isn't language fun?

Maiflower said:
May 09, 2011 at 4:31 PM

I have to agree with Beauregard. When I worked with children in Adelaide in the 1970s, I definitely noticed the replacement of the double L with a W, so that "will" was pronounced "wiw". This may have died out by now, so that Elmo7, too, may be correct when he says this idiosyncracy no longer exists. But it did in the 70s, as did "darnce" and "Frarnce" - very noticeable to a rooky teacher from NSW!

Jf said:
May 09, 2011 at 4:32 PM

Concerning 'w' and 'l', Bristol in the West of England was originally Bristow - the habit of ending words ending in 'o' sound with an 'l' became quite widespread. And as for gaining or dropping aitches (haitches to some): Hanway was "Anne's Way" and Ealing was "Healing"... etc