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 <>.