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WAS Irish writer Frank O’Connor jokingly teasing James Joyce when he rebuked the great writer’s question about the name for a penny in Cork (Stephen Romei’s A Pair of Ragged Claws column, May 18-19)? ‘‘We call it a lop,’’ he insisted, not the ‘‘lob’’ Joyce had wondered about. The opportunity to score off Joyce must have been too tempting for the Cork man O’Connor. But wait — might both have been right? There is great fluidity in spelling and pronunciation of many cognate words in different languages (think of Habsburg, pronounced in German as if spelled with a ‘‘p’’, and accordingly misspelled by many English speakers). So differences of dialect in County Cork may well have existed. But how might Joyce know that? Recently, in
a Londoner journalist who described Joyce’s accent as ‘‘Dublin’’ was corrected by an Irish correspondent who insisted Joyce’s accent — like that of his father and grandfather, indeed — came from northeast County Cork. O’Connor may very well have recognised what he heard in Joyce’s accent — something that escaped the later English writer. Someone sharply said once that whereas the English have virtually no ear for music, they have a fearsome ear for accents. Unless, perhaps, they come from beyond their Sceptred Isle.