Saturday, 7 May 2011

Time for the lady to vanish

It was by turns an earthquake, a perfect storm, a tsunami, a landslide, and an avalanche.  The latter was heard to be uttered on BBC Radio Scotland (07-05-11 probably in the afternoon) by Annabel Goldie, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives.  What caught my attention was Ms. Goldie's pronunciation, 'avalanche' pronounced as 'avalaunch'.  Now perhaps I've led too sheltered a non-U life because other than Iris Henderson, the terribly U character played by Margaret Lockwood in In Alfred Hitchcock’s 1938 film The Lady Vanishes, I’d never actually heard anyone pronounce ‘avalanche’ the way Ms Goldie did.  I haven’t heard on radio reports I haven’t heard it from skiers and I haven’t heard it from hill-walkers.  Of course, it could just be me.

In The Lady Vanishes, Iris corrects the pronunciation of the harassed Central European hotel manager Boris (Emile Boreo),

Iris: What is it Boris?
Boris: It’s the avalanche
Iris: avalanche Boris, avalanche


Iris: What is it Boris?
Boris: It’s the @v{l@n‘
Iris: @v{la:n‘ Boris, @v{la:n‘

For those not up on their phonetics (and I’m no expert myself) Boris pronounces the third syllable, a-va-lanche, using the sound of the second ‘a’ in ‘attack’.  The way me and Boris speak this will mean that the third syllable of ‘avalanche’ rhymes with ‘branch’, rather than the way Iris and Annabel speak where it rhymes with ‘paunch’ or ‘staunch’.

Does it matter? Well of course it doesn’t, the OED records both pronunciations and if it didn't Ms Goldie and anyone else for that matter is more than entitled to pronounce their metaphors in any way that they want.  However I think symbolically it does matter, and until the Scottish Tories learn to speak the same language as the people of the new Scotland, they will, to borrow another meteorologicalesque metaphor, continue to be frozen out.



"avalanche, n.". OED Online. March 2011. Oxford University Press. 7 May 2011 <>.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

BBC reply

This is the BBC's reply to the critical analysis of Hislop's sexist language.  The first part is fair enough so I've printed the analysis off and I'll post it to them tomorrow.  The second part is the trite, ready-made response that was predictable

Thanks for contacting us regarding ‘Have I Got News For You’ from 22 April on BBC One.
I understand you were unhappy at some comments made by Ian Hislop on the programme, and that you’ve posted your complaint online on a blog.
We cannot comment or respond to what you’ve posted on your own blog, as this falls outside of our complaints process, which can be read in more detail at this page of our website:

However, we try to ensure that post-watershed, anarchic topical comedy panel series are well signposted and it’s generally accepted that some newer comedy series thrive on self-consciously exhibiting bad taste.  Viewers of ‘Have I Got news For You’ would be well aware of the type of humour exhibited by our regular panellists Ian Hislop and Paul Merton, and would also be aware that they do speak their own minds on the show.
While we credit our audience with knowing these are their own opinions, I feel I must stress that these shouldn’t be seen as being representative of those of the production team or the BBC as a whole.
As we’re a public service financed by the licence fee we must provide programmes which cater for the whole range of tastes in humour.  We believe that there’s no single set of standards in this area on which the whole of society can agree, and it’s inevitable that programmes which are acceptable to some will occasionally strike others as distasteful.  The only realistic and fair approach for us is to ensure that the range of comedy is broad enough for all viewers to feel that they’re catered for at least some of the time.
In closing I’d like to assure you I've registered your complaint on our audience log.  This is an internal report of audience feedback which we compile daily and is available for viewing by all our staff.  This includes all programme makers, including the production team behind ‘Have I Got News For You’ and our senior management.  It ensures that your points, along with all other comments we receive, are circulated and considered across the BBC.
Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.