We all like a good comedy place name. Like ‘Upper Chute’ and ‘Wetwang’ and the ever amusing opportunity for selfies by the road sign indicating the road to ‘Twatt’.
And there’s little more amusing than listening to foreign visitors trying to pronounce the nonsensical spellings on British maps or signposts, like Americans and that Mercian tongue twister, ‘Worcestershire’.
Other beauties include: ‘Towcester’, looks like it should be pronounced, ‘T-ow-ses-ter’ but is actually pronounced ‘Toe-st-air’; ‘Kirkcudbright’, easy one, ‘Kurk-cud-br-ite’, nope, ‘Cur-coo-bree’; ‘Frome’, looks like ‘Fro-mee’, actually is ‘Fu-room’; and finally ‘Tallywhackerville’, should be ‘Tal-ee-wah-cur-vill’ but the correct verbiage is ‘Lun-dun-bu-rah-of-kens-in-tun-and-ch-ell-sea’.
If you’re in the know, and you have the occult pronunciation of a place, it’s a breeze to roll them out of your smug gob; correcting old Johnny Foreigner to your heart’s content. But the fun stops when even the natives, in an unfamiliar area of these fair isles, get bollocks in their mouths as they try to sound out weird conurbation monikers…okay, I mean the fun stops when I get tripped up by a local dialectic term that has only one reason to exist, to make ‘outziders’ (more specifically me) feel foolish.
I was driving to Lincoln the other day – I may rant about why I was driving to Lincoln another time – when I passed a sign that short-circuited the language centre of my brain. I can’t remember what the name of the town or village was but it looked exactly like the board on ‘Countdown’, made up of random choices of vowels and consonants. Clearly unpronounceable in a phonetic manner.
‘That can’t be right,’ I thought, ‘someone in town planning is surely taking the piss?’ The next thought I had was utter genius; the invention of a system that shall forever wipe the smug grin from locals’ faces as you try to pronounce a town, or village, name that is right up there with the classic, ‘I’m not a pheasant plucker, I’m a pheasant plucker’s mate…’ for verbal gymnastic failure.
Towns that don’t adhere to the general rules of the written word, such as stalwarts like ‘Wigan’, ‘Hull’ and ‘Bradford’ do, will be replaced with a number. Starting at ‘1’ and going up to as many as is needed. For example ‘Keswick’ (pronounced ‘Kes-ick’, yeah a smart-arse silent ‘w’ to throw you off) will become ‘2354’, pronounced ‘2-3-5-4’…by everyone! See, how genius is that? No more winding down your car window and asking a local how to get to, ‘Yourballsack’ who, in return will reply, in a well-practised manner, with, ‘You can start by buying me dinner’. Before pointing out the place you seek is actually pronounced ‘Trumpton Green’, or some-such bollocks. If you’re really lucky the local will ruffle your hair and say, ‘Oh, ye be a silly outzider b’aint ye, moi dear?’ at which point it is legal to ‘Wicker Man’ the git and dance all swaying arms, like big Chris Lee did.
Obviously I can see a couple of drawbacks to my scheme, like the cost of repainting all the traffic signs and reprinting maps and shit and possibly it taking at least two generations before the awkward place names are forgotten and fall from use; but it will be worth it so the landlord of ‘The Revenge of the Scythe’, who thinks that Cornwall should be independent and blasted off earth into space to keep its heritage pure, can’t say: ‘Well, it’s true it is spelt ‘7’ but it’s actually pronounced ‘u-got-it-rong-nob-ed’.
Which brings us to Wales. The Welsh lexicon (or lllexicon as it is spelt there) is way too ‘L’ heavy. Therefore all Welsh names, saving ‘Cardiff’, ‘Swansea’, ‘Mold’ and ‘Wrexham’, will have to be numberised (a new word invented for my scheme, the OED are considering its inclusion for the next print run). However to acknowledge the undeniable musicality of the principality each town’s number will also have a sharp (#) or flat (b) placed after the name…as well as an emoticon of a pissing down cloud.
So there you have it, another problem solved. You don’t have to thank me, I see it as my civic duty (a duty well perfomed, I could add humbly) to bring all the peoples of the world closer together…in the UK at least. And just in case you were wondering, ‘Twatt’ stays, however the people who live there would like it to be pronounced.