Oct 152014

Marc Leavitt just sent me this delightful poem he’s written. Brilliant! This Victoria is extremely amused. Thanks so much, Marc!

To read more from Marc – there’s lots more great stuff where this came from – check out his blog here, which is aptly titled, Marc Leavitt’s Blog!

The Queen’s English
The language of Her Majesty,
Well-said, a verbal tapestry,
Is right for her in every way,
Although unpopular today.

Her dialect is very posh,
So upper-class, and oh, my gosh,
One people sometimes emulate,
In place of other types that grate.

Her Oxbridge accent leaves no place
For other accents we’d embrace;
You can assume it, but take heed,
It’s quite unlike the average breed.

Let’s hear a speaker on his rounds,
To find out how the accent sounds:
He makes a visit to your “hice”;
(That’s “house” to you; please say it twice).

And most important, this by far,
You must always drop your “R.”
It’s never far, but always “fah,”
When you take a trip by “cah.”

If you chance to utter “very,”
You must know it rhymes with “Teddy,”
One more point; the upper “clahsses”
Sound their A’s like “O’s in “flosses”;

These three tips are just a “staht,”
You must learn all rules by “hot.”
If you slip up, and say, my “house,”
You might as well go catch a mouse.

 Posted by at 3:32 am
Aug 302013

Here’s a video we’ve made contrasting some of the US-UK pronunciation differences we’ve noticed. Obviously Fred and Ginger had already given the ultimate performance, but I thought folks might enjoy hearing some other words that are pronounced differently. So here it is:


It was a bit of a challenge for us to make. After listening to one another for many years, we kept getting muddled up.

If you’re a teacher reading this, check my teaching blog  because I’ve written about how you can use it to teach IPA there. And please subscribe to us on YouTube if you haven’t already.

If you liked that video you might also enjoy  another one we made.


 Posted by at 3:54 pm
Aug 152013

I threw Jay for a loop this week when I told him my khakis were in the wash. Why would I be washing my car keys, he thought. Well, for me khakis are the sort of trousers (pants) I like to wear when I’m at leisure (and that rhymes with pleasure).

So pronunciation continues to befuddle our household, but the good news is I’ve noticed he’s not trying to correct me so much. When I pronounced something differently, he used to repeat it in ‘merican, rather like you would remodel an utterance for a child.  He’s always claimed he was just doing it to check he understood me, but I’ve had my doubts. Might he secretly harbour a wish that one day I’ll learn to speak clearly?

Pronunciation has hindered transatlantic romance before and I just adore the old Gershwin song about it.

Of course some of the pronunciation differences in the song are not actually real differences, but why would anyone care? They make terrific lyrics and it’s a humdinger of a song. And isn’t it actually funnier that potatoes – potahtoes aren’t pronounced that way? So why has there always been this teensy-weensy part of me that wishes it were correct, linguistically speaking? Ah dear – how sad is that?

But no more – my pedantic qualms are over. I’ve been working on making a video about BrE and AmE pronunciation differences and in the process I’ve been discovering why Gershwin had to do it like he did. When you’re looking for patterns in the differences, stress patterns feature a lot. He couldn’t feature them – they would have thrown his song off beat. Stretching those rhymes was the way to go. Win!

So I’ll get back to work on my video and tell you all about it when it’s ready. And in the meantime, I’m wondering. We’ve spoken before about some of the misunderstandings that have arisen from vocabulary differences, but has anyone got any stories to share about confusions caused by transatlantic pronunciation differences?

 Posted by at 3:54 pm
Jul 022011

My British accent is an asset in the US, or so people tell me. My ‘merican husband swears it lets me get away with things I shouldn’t. I think that most folks here are curious and friendly and I think my accent might inspire more of that. But isn’t curiosity and friendliness the human condition anyway?

What’s rarely understood is a British accent is a barrier in some contexts here. I maintain that it can stop communication dead. Try going into the Philadelphia Parking Authority to buy a residents’ parking permit with a British accent and you’ll see eyes glaze over as soon as you open your mouth. You can almost hear the clerk thinking: ‘I’m not going to understand you – I need to stall you and send you away’. So when they tell you to go home to get more documents that you know you don’t need, you ask, ‘But do you understand?’. They shake their head.

Something that happened today: I’m applying for medical insurance from a company called Blue Cross and they wanted my last three blood pressure readings. As a patient, I’m entitled to this information but Blue Cross is not. So I needed to contact my doctor’s surgery. I filled in a consent form. I sent them a cheque. I called (many times) and waited on the phone (often being cut off). I needed to come into the surgery, they couldn’t tell me over the phone, they didn’t have the records, it would take two weeks, they’d mail me (sometime) …

Today Betsy from Blue Cross kindly agreed to conference call them with me. She had no right to the information but Betsy has a lovely midwest accent. She only got cut off once before we got put through. And then she just had to ask for the readings and they told her right away. Ha! I couldn’t believe my ears!

I think there might have been an element of collegiality operating here – one health care professional talking to another. But I also think her accent was crucial. Betsy sounded familiar and trustworthy. I want an accent like Betsy’s!

And all this has been a rather long introduction to a video on Americans’ views of British accents. (Thanks for passing it along Sabrina – So glad to see your excellent blog ) expanding. More! more!

So any thoughts on what British accents mean to Americans – or vice versa?

 Posted by at 5:59 am
Aug 062010

There are times when I really wish I could put on a good American accent here. Like at the Philadelphia Parking Authority the other day – I’m pretty sure the woman could have understood what I wanted if she’d just been a little more patient. But some kind of invisible wall descended between us when she heard my accent.

When my son was a toddler, he used to enjoy singing ‘Oh what a beautiful morning’ from the show Oklahoma. And the weird thing was, although he was British, he sang it with an American accent. How come?  So I was fascinated to read here that an ‘merican accent might be the default setting for singing.

Ha! Well who’d have thought! The next time I need guest parking permits, perhaps I just need to burst into song!

For an accent story that always makes me giggle, see Chris’ comment on buying paint in the US that he posted here.

 Posted by at 6:12 am