Duck for cover spitting in Spanish
Pronunciation is a tricky old thing and we can easily be deceived. It is The Maldives, to rhyme with eaves, for example, and not The Maldives, as in hives, which could seem more logical with coral and clownfish in your sights. Hirosh-ima is one error that gets perpetuated, perhaps thanks to the Americans, who make it their business to interfere with linguistics. Stayed in a rye-o-karn, by any chance?
Japanese is a clear and phonetic language and it is Hi-ro-shi-ma and ry-o-kan. Simple, really. As for emphasis and elongation, been to Mel-bawn lately or glimpsed the cathedral of Noter-dame in Paris? Nonetheless, it amuses me how I can go to great lengths to learn the correct way to say various names in places I am visiting and then either forget entirely when I am back on home turf or become embarrassed and revert to the obvious. Plonk me in Spanish-speaking countries and my tongue and palate perform small gymnastic miracles changing the “s” to “the” and spitting madly. But somehow when you are back at base camp in Sydney’s Surry Hills and you order “tapath” at the local bodega you sound not like a riveting global adventurer who knows Bar-the-lona backwards but a plain old ponce.
I lived in Hawaii for a while and there was little I couldn’t do with the likes of King Kamehameha or Kalakaua Avenue. How about Hanakanaea Bay or Waianapanapa State Park? Aloha, on my way. Once home, I was instantly flummoxed and reverted to confused stammering when telling friends about my island travels. Errors can be perpetuated in names, too, such as our propensity to say Himalayas, not Himalaya, when the latter is actually right and, by the way, it is Him-ar-lay-a. Then in the next breath we may well correct someone’s use of Kimberleys to the Kimberley, and feel superior in doing so.
Before visiting Mumbai some years ago I decided I would hone up on all the new names, even the streets. I practised saying Chhatrapati Shivaji Marg and Jamnadas Mehta Road over and over, only to find the roadways were still widely known as Apollo Pier and Harkness. One person I asked for directions told me the new names were just for the map-makers and pen-pushers.
Funnily, even using the name Mumbai made me feel like a goose as all around it was (and is) still widely known as Bombay. Ditto for the leap to Chennai from Madras and shades of Ho Chi Minh City and old but not gone Saigon. Sometimes, such sticking to the original names is about food, such as Bombay duck, Madras curry and Peking duck. Not that Bombay duck is actually a feathered paddler, but a fish
Safari hands talk of Zim, Zam and Bots (Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana) and while that is very clubby and nice when you’re on a game-viewing drive, it marks you as a right prat anywhere else. Brisvegas? That is OK if you live there, apparently, but outsiders should beware of getting too cosy with the pejorative term. And in a stroke of fishy marketing business, the Gold Coast became the GC when some of us weren’t looking. It pays to stay alert at all times, I reckon, and be prepared to be out for a duck.