John Maidment's Blog

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Wednesday 31 October, 2007


From the archive: speech errors

While clearing out my room in college before I retired, I came across a long-forgotten folder containing a small collection of speech errors.  I collected these for fun, rather than for any serious research purposes, but I did encourage my students to report to me, in transcription of course, any that they came across.  Here is a selection of these, mostly spoonerisms.  I list them anonymously to spare anyone any blushes.

  • Mini spunner (for money spinner)

  • Highburn Lowbury (for Holborn Library)

  • Marks and Drenser's spess (for Marks and Spencer's dress)

  • a deech spefect (for a speech defect)

  • The best footballish poler of the year (for Polish footballer)

  • Praucer's chonunciation (for Chaucer's pronunciation)

  • I was sleeping sleeves.......sweeping leaves

  • Ploth his tredge (for plight his troth!)

  • Glaph protting (for graph plotting)

  • Prod an and porn...(for cod and prawn)

  • Bop and mucket (for mop and bucket)

But my absolute favourite has to be:  Gatport Airwick for Gatwick Airport.

Tuesday 30 October, 2007

Yours truly at Lanhydrock





Today I took a trip to the National Trust property at Lanhydrock near Bodmin.  It is a beautiful house restored in the Victorian era after a terrible fire destroyed a good deal of the building, though parts of the 17th century structure survive unaltered.  It was the home of the Robartes family.  I thought the most impressive parts of the house were the kitchens and associated scullery, bakehouse, dairy and the like.  It's worth a visit if you have the chance.  Lanhydrock means "The church of (St) Hydroc".  As with most Cornish saints, no-one other than the Cornish has ever heard of St Hydroc..

Sunday 28 October, 2007

St Michael's Mount




St Michael's Mount

One of the best sights in the world, I think,  is one I see every time I drive to the supermarket.  Coming down the hill towards the waterfront in Penzance you get a wide view of Mount's Bay which is dominated by St Michael's Mount.  This is essentially an island a few hundred yards off the coast at the town of Marazion.  At low water, it is connected to the mainland by a causeway, and at high water can be reached by ferry.  An old Cornish name for the Mount means "The Grey Rock in the Wood", which seems a rather odd thing to call an island.  However, it appears that not all that long ago, in geological time at least, the whole of the bay was dry land.  Across the other side of the bay, there is an area of sea called Gwavas Lake and maybe that too is an indication of the time before the sea took over.

The Mount was , it is thought, a trading post for copper and tin ore in prehistoric times. The building on the Mount started life as a Benedictine Priory.  It then became a fortified castle whose cannon were used in anger during the English Civil War.  The cannon are still there.  For centuries the Mount has been the home of the St Aubyn family.

St Michael's Mount is well worth a visit. It certainly makes my trips to the supermarket less of a chore.

Saturday 27 October, 2007





Cats again

Look you were warned, weren't you?  If you are not a cat person, tough.  This is a story that John Fisher told me many years ago. Way back then he was living in London in a flat.  He was allowed to co-habit with a cat.  Said puss insisted on exiting and entering through a cat-flap in the kitchen door.  One night there was a violent thunderstorm.  John F was woken by lashings of rain, flashings of lightning, and thuds of thunder.  Eventually, he decided he had better wrench himself from his rest and see if the boss was OK.

When he arrived in the kitchen and switched on the light, he was greeted by the sight of a selection of the neighbourhood cats -- one on the fridge, one on the kitchen table, one on the draining board, one on the floor, two on top of a cupboard......

Cats are stars.

John F was a star too.

Friday 26 October, 2007

John Fisher




John Fisher

I was going to do a down-memory-lane entry today about my early experiences in the Department of Phonetics and Linguistics at UCL, and especially about my introduction to the world of computers.  I did a Google search to try to find a picture of the first computer that I used way back in 1973.  In the course of the search, I came across some very sad news.  My former colleague, John Fisher, died suddenly on 27 September this year.

John F was the computer expert in the department when I first arrived there.  He was a marvellous teacher and an untiringly helpful computer consultant.  I used to say that what anyone needed to learn to program a computer was: (1) A computer (2) A manual (3) John F.  He wrote from scratch the first word-processing software any of us had used.  He even wrote the first computer game I (and I suspect anyone else in the department) had ever wasted their time on.

Although I haven't seen John F for many years now, I am really sad to hear of his death at the age of 62.  I am sure that other members of the department who remember him will feel the same way.

A tribute from his colleagues at EPCC in Edinburgh can be found here and a book of condolences can be signed here.

Thursday 25 October, 2007





Things don't happen quickly in this part of Cornwall.  Life goes at a pleasantly slow pace. Dreckly is the Cornish English for "directly", but it actually means something like "some time in the next three months if I feel like it."

I recently saw a car bumper sticker which said:

Cornishmen do it dreckly
But Cornish women want it done now

I will leave it up to the reader to decide what "it" refers to.

Wednesday 24 October, 2007

Andrew Boorde




Cornish Speech

In 1542,  in his book The Fyrst Boke of the Introduction of Knowledge Andrew Boorde made the following observation:

In Cornwall is two speches; the one is naughty Englyshe, and the other Cornishe speche.

I suppose by 'naughty' he meant bad, or difficult to understand.  While I do not think the English in Cornwall is in any sense bad, I suppose that it still can sometimes be hard to understand for first time visitors.

Way back in the 1970's we were on holiday down here and went for a long walk.  We decided to take a bus back to Penzance.  We were the only two people on the bus for quite a while, except for two old men sitting at the back.  They held a long and lively conversation, of which we only understood the word 'rabbit'.

As another illustration of this, a friend of mine stayed in our cottage for a couple of weeks.  One day my friend was nobbled by the old farmer next door, sadly no longer alive.  The farmer began telling a long, involved story, of which my friend understood about one word in ten. He kept smiling and nodding.  Finally, the story came to an end and my friend was rather at a loss as to what to say.  He took a deep breath and said, "Ah well, that was nice."

The farmer glared at him and said, "Nice? Nice? It damn near killed me!"

Tuesday 23 October, 2007




The Cinnamon Trust

When you retire, almost everyone who hears about it naturally asks: "What are you going to do with your time"?  Well, here is one thing I intend to do.  The Cinnamon Trust is a nationwide charity, whose headquarters happen to be in Hayle (about 15 minutes' drive from where I live).

The aim of the trust is provide support for elderly or terminally ill pet owners.  I have just downloaded and printed the volunteer registration form and will post it off later this afternoon.  More news about this in the future....

Monday 22 October, 2007

Cormorants near Porthgwarra




Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside

Yesterday I indulged in one of my favourite activities  -- sitting on a cliff doing not very much.  I'm thinking of taking a post-graduate degree in this subject

The wildlife yesterday was limited to various sorts of gull, the cormorants you see to the left and some very noisy and quarrelsome rooks.  The latter seem to have developed a really clever way of landing when it is breezy, which it was yesterday.  They overshoot their landing spot just a little, spread their wings wide and let the breeze carry them backwards to where they want to be.  They then fold their wings and descend gracefully.

In the past, I have seen dolphins and seals in the area. I was once surprised while having picnic there, when a mink sauntered out of a cleft in the rock I was using as a backrest and trotted off.

Porthgwarra is only a short distance from Land's End.

Saturday 20 October, 2007






A terrible affliction.  The only treatment is constant cat-smooching.  All of the cats that have graciously given their permission for us to live with them have had names taken from Maori.  Nui (see below) means big and Iti (see left) means small.  Our first cat was called Tiki, after a Maori good luck amulet made of wood or greenstone.  He was followed by brother and sister, Maui and Rua.  Maui is a Maori demigod who fished New Zealand out of the sea and Rua means Two.

Iti and Nui are sister and brother.  They are six years old.  They rule.

The two cardinal rules for ailourophiliacs are:

1 Remember that cats know what they want
2 You had better know what they want

Thursday 18 October, 2007

Tang Shi
(Tang period poetry)




Bogus scholarship

This is a rant.  In John Wells's phonetic blog for Monday 15 October and in  more detail in Geoff Pullum's Language Log for 14 October there are reports of a prime example of what I like to call BS.  This is the indiscriminate slinging of technical terms in order to sound erudite.

One example of this which has rankled for many years occurs in the novel The Magus by John Fowles.  One of the characters is showing the narrator his collection of artefacts, one of which was made in China in the T'ang period.  The narrator comments that his host pronounced the name "with the precious glottal stop".

BS alert!

Even if it were correct, it would be a sick-bag moment.  However, it is utterly incorrect.  The apostrophe does not represent a glottal stop, and any native Chinese speaker pronouncing the word with glottal stop would probably be whisked off to a laryngologist immediately.  The apostrophe after the letters p t or k or after the digraph ch is used in the Wade-Giles system of transliteration (now largely obsolete) to indicate aspiration, not to indicate a glottal stop.

There.  I feel be'er now.

Wednesday 17 October, 2007

St Piran's Flag

(St Piran is the patron saint of Cornwall)



Cornish place-names

I am now living in Cornwall  -- well, nearly.  I am actually in London at the moment, whence I have to move all my books.  Sigh.

One of my long-held ambitions is to compile a pronouncing dictionary of the place-names of West Penwith.  That is the area at the extreme west of the peninsula around the town of Penzance, which is where my home is.  I have a dictionary of place-names for the area and this says airily that the pronunciation is self-evident from the spelling.  Tosh, is what I say to that!

If you have ever been that far west in Cornwall, you can't have failed to notice that the names of places are, to say the least, a little different from those in the rest of England.  Here are a few of my favourites:

  • Chysauster (Sylvester's house)tʃaɪˈzɔːstə or tʃaɪˈzɔɪstə]

  • Crows an Wra (witches cross) [ˈkraʊz ən ˈreɪ]

  • Ludgvan (probably a saint's name) [ˈlʌdʒən]

  • Marazion (ultimately from the Cornish marghas yow meaning Thursday market)[ˌmrəˈzaɪən]

  • Mousehole (????) [ˈmaʊzl]

  • Nanjizal (low valley) [nnˈdʒɪzl]

  • Penzance (holy headland) [pənˈzns, pen- , -zaːns, -zɑːns]

  • Perranzabuloe (St Piran's (church) on the sand) [ˌperənˈzbələʊ]

  • Zennor (probably from the name St Senara) [ˈzenə]

I don't think most of those have a "self-evident" pronunciation and, as far as I am aware, there is no dictionary which gives reliable indications of the pronunciation of these and hundreds of other names.  Watch this space for developments.


Tuesday 16 October, 2007






I retired from my post as Lecturer in Phonetics at UCL on 30 September.  My retirement party took place on 8 October. I would like to thank everyone who came to the party and for all their good wishes.  My thanks also go to those who, although they could not be there, took the time to send messages.  I'll try to contact you all over the next few weeks to thank you personally.  However, it may take some time, because I had not realised that retiring is a full-time job!  My advice to all who are approaching retirement: start getting rid of stuff now, if not sooner.

My especial thanks go to Molly Bennett and Michael Ashby for organising the party.

This blog will cover all sorts of things, not only phonetics.  I can't hope to emulate John Wells's phonetic blog, but no doubt the odd observation on pronunciation, as well as other aspects of language, will creep in from time to time.

So in future entries be prepared for almost anything:  Buddhism, cats, cooking, Cornish, Cornwall, gardening, Irish, Italian, raccoons, surrealism, vegetarianism....

Oh, and did I mention cats?