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September 25, 2011

Watching Doctor Who Confidential last night, I noticed one of the people interviewed repeatedly used the word ‘lingerie’ and pronounced it as though (bearing in mind it’s a French word) it was spelt ‘longeret’. I’ve heard this mispronunciation many times now – indeed I’ve even heard it on a TV advert which was actually FOR lingerie – and it both annoys and intrigues me. What’s going on, I think, is an instance of ‘hyper-correction’.  People know that French vowels are different from English vowels, so they know that ‘lin-‘ doesn’t rhyme with ‘sin’. They can’t remember enough French from their schooldays to know that it should be pronounced (approximately) ‘lang’ – ‘but ‘long’ sounds Frenchified, so they go with that. (I remember observing that in the film Moulin Rouge, many of the characters pronounced it as MouLON Rouge, and I still can’t understand why the director did not correct them. Perhaps he thought they were right. But then some of the other characters pronounce it correctly, so why didn’t he ‘correct’ THEM?)

As for the ending of ‘lingerie’, lots of French words end with an ‘et’ or ‘ais’ sound (ballet, croquet, Calais, palais) – I’d do an e with an acute accent here as well, if I knew how to make this keyboard do accents –  so that sounds like a good bet too. Once a few people have pronounced it this way, of course, others start to copy them.

Pronouncing foreign words is always a ticklish business. If one pronounces ‘Paris’ as ‘Parree” that sounds jarringly pretentious. Still, I think one ought to attempt to get the vowels right. Either that, or don’t bother and completely anglicise it.  I’d prefer it if people pronounced ‘lingerie’ to rhyme’ with ‘gingery’ – then at least they’d get the last syllable right.

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One Comment
  1. C. Robshaw permalink

    Have you been talking to ma mère?

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