What you can see in the picture is an instance, on the wall of the castle in Graz, of the personal motto of Friedrich III (1415-1493), Holy Roman Emperor from 1452 until his death. The A.E.I.O.U. sequence appears on many of the buildings commissioned by Friedrich and also on such things as his tableware. Its meaning remained his secret until shortly before his death, when he announced, it is said, that it stood for Alles Erdreich Ist Österreich Untertan, which means “All The World is Subject to Austria”. According to Wikipedia there are alternative meanings to the motto, but all have the same rather grandiose import.

I learned this curious fact from the first episode of a three-part BBC series on the history of Vienna and the Habsburg dynasty. I learned a good many other things from the programme, but I also suffered many bouts of aaaaaaaaaaargh. These were entirely due to the presenter, Simon Sebag Montefiore, who has appeared on this blog before. Honestly, the man is a menace. One would think he makes it a policy to cram as many ridiculous pronunciations of English and other languages into the shortest possible time. There were far too many for me to remember, but here are a few of the outstanding onesː

Österreich is pronounced ˈuːstəraɪk
Hohenfall, the title of Filip Fabricius, a survivor of the Second Defenestration of Prague, was pronounced ˈhəʊənfɔːl
The English word cadaver was pronounced ˈkædəvə

SSM was gracious enough to admit at one point that he was “no scholar of German”. To which the only possible response is “You don’t say!”

Photo credit: Andreas Praefcke. Used under this licence.

8 thoughts on “AEIOU

  1. John – It’s great to see you back. I hope that means the family health problems are being solved.
    As for Simon SM’s woeful pronunciation of just about anything, I’ve noticed it before, but perhaps haven’t written about it. My response to an admission of being “no scholar of German” is “In that case, get one of the researchers on the programme to find out for you!” This is a series on a BBC channel, which is supposed to be properly prepared. I blame the editors as much as SSM, as they ought to take more care. The Pronunciation Unit is now part of the Editorial Policy department, and I would have thought that part of editorial policy should be to enforce accuracy, and consistency.
    Just a thought. And a Happy Christmas to you!

  2. A happy Christmas to all, my last in Sweden as the Emerald Isle beckons and I should be a Cork resident by the summer….

  3. It’s great to be able to read your blog again, John, and hope that this finds you well!

    If I may be permitted the expression (despite the season that’s in it) of a certain amount of tetchiness on the subject of broadcast mispronunciations, I do so agree with what I take to be your implied criticism of the level to which production standards seem to have fallen in this regard at the BBC.

    We can all make mistakes, but surely the whole point of employing producers is to see that these don’t get past a second (or third) pair of ears before a recorded programme goes out.

    Are some presenters just too “prestigious” these days to be politely corrected when they make a blunder during the recording of their pieces? I heard a talk on Radio 4 about the city of Florence in which James Naughtie (you’d think that with a name like that he’d be super-sensitive about getting the pronunciation of proper names right!) not only spoke about the mɛ’ditʃi family (though I’d have been prepared to be generous with that one) but then went on to describe the ancient game of il calcio, which he unforgivably called… calico!

  4. P.S. Sorry, John. I’ve clearly forgotten how to do bold and italic in the replies. Could you make the necessary emendations for me (And perhaps remind us how these things ARE done!)

  5. Kevin,

    Thank you for the kind comments. You could well be right that some presenters are unwilling to be corrected. If that is so, they are arrogant _____. Fill in with a word of your choice.

    Bold= <strong>….</strong>
    Italic = <em>….</em>

  6. Kevin is perfectly correct. There was one well-known newsreader who told us in the Pronunciation Unit that he was a linguist, and didn’t need our help!

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