England prides itself on its class system and old ways of speaking. . . and sometimes in ways much more subtly than you'd at first imagine. Knowing how to pronounce a place name like a local is not just about getting correct directions and not looking stupid. It can also send non-visual messages to the Brits about your levels of education, knowledge and familiarity with their country. So learning a bit more about some of the trickier places to pronounce in London and the UK is no bad thing if you're planning a trip to the British Isles in the near future.
Berkeley Square, London — Photo courtesy of Ewan-MFirst up is Berkeley Square in West London. Many Americans, because it is spelt in the same way as the famous Ivy League college in California pronounce it Berk-Ley, Berk rhymes with smirk. But, if you want to go and see it in London, it's best to say Barclay like the bank, because that's how the square's upper class residents like to say it.
Leicester Square — Photo courtesy of Ewan-M Then of course, most famous of all is Leicester Square in the heart of London's West End. It's a huge tourist trap, surrounded by cinemas, nightclubs and all the hustle and bustle of the capital's centre. It's spelt strangely, that's true, but it's also the name of a city in the British Midlands and, it's pronounced Lester, to rhyme with jester. Other 'cester' words also are pronounced differently from their spelling, so Gloucester is Gloster, and Bicester is Bister. Only Cirencester in the South West is pronounced as it's spelt - Siren-sester.
Magdalen College, Oxford, UK — Photo courtesy of Martin LopatkaOver to the West of London, nestled amongst Oxford University's dreaming spires, is a college spelt Magdalen, easy you think, like Magdalena, or Mary Magdalen. Oh no, oh no, say the denizens of Oxford, it's pronounced Maud-Lin. Not knowing that in educated circles is a huge faux pas, and one best avoided.
If you meet someone with the name Mr Cholmondley-Warner, you might be forgiven for thinking that they were called Choll-Mon-delly-Warner. But no, wrong again, it's Mr Chumbley-Warner, a character from an early 20th century tv show.
Southwark Station, London — Photo courtesy of fredcaminoGreenwich along the river in the South of the city is pronounced Gren-itch, so no W there, even though it's spelt with one. Similarly, Southwark, just near Waterloo station, and lending its name to a bridge and a station on the Jubilee line is pronounced Suth-uk, NOT South-Wark.
Bournemouth, a city on the South Coast, and home to some of the UK's most expensive real estate is not pronounced with a mouth at the end, even though, it being by the sea it's at the mouth of a river but Bourne-muth.
Sometimes the snobbery inverts itself, so Beaulieu, a French word meaning beautiful place, is pronounced Bewley and is the name of a town in the UK. Plaistow in East London is pronounced Plar-Stow by its mostly cockney residents, not Play-stow as you might expect with the I in the word. And Berwick on Tweed again drops the W becoming Ber-ick on Tweed.
I'm sure you'll come across many more, but at least if you master these ones first, you can sail around the UK happily without a care in the world, showing off that you know exactly how to pronounce places as the locals do. And why is British English pronounced so differently from the way it's spelt ? There are many theories on that. Probably because the language has evolved over time, absorbing many foreign words and adapting them along the way. But most of all, probably because of the British obsession with their class system. The way you speak denotes your class, and therefore your place in society, so getting these right goes a long way to faking it until you make it, class wise at least.