22 October 2010

Sancta Maria Magdalena, ora pro nobis

Standing innocently at a 'bus stop in West Oxford the other day, I was approached by someone whom I knew, from the way he bore himself, to be a North American. (Why is it that, despite the infinite variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds from which, e pluribus unum, they all derive, so many Americans who visit Old Europe seem to have acquired the same style of body language?) In the confident and laudably audible tones with which some visiting members of the Imperial Race tend to address us, the gentleman enquired where "M'gdall'n" street was. I probably looked nonplussed for a moment or two, because he repeated, and with even more admirable clarity, "M'gdall'n". Then the penny dropped: I expect most readers know that in Oxford and, I wouldn't be in the least surprised, Cambridge, "Magdalen" (as in S Mary Magdalen) is pronounced "Maudlin". (Even among those English not given to such arcane eccentricities, I suspect Magdalen is commonly pronounced Magd'l'n.) "Ah", I said, deferential as ever towards the Fellow Americans of the Obama, "I think you may mean Maudlin Street. Now; if you go straight down there ...".

He was having none of this. With the patient tolerance of one accustomed to handling untermenschen, he interrupted me. "No; it is definitely M'gdall'n Street. Look, guy [I loath being addressed as Guy], if you don't know, I can ask someone else". And with the consummate courtesy of a Rumsfeldt, he turned round and shimmied off.

In retrospect, I wished I had simply directed him to hurry down the Botley Road.

18 comments:

TheOldCrusader said...

Don't fret Father. In Chicago, Goethe Street is pronounced GO-THEE. Ask the cabbie to take you to 'gurta' street and you will receive a blank stare.

Joshua said...

When in Savonarola's rooms in San Marco, looking over the relics (including his cappa and instrument of discipline) and an affecting lithograph of his end, I couldn't help but overhear a terribly loudmouthed Yank remarking superciliously to her companion tourist: "Well, I guess he just didn't know the meaning of moderation".

By her girth, neither did she (cf. Amos iv, 1).

Athanasius said...

Hmm, I'm a Magdalen College man myself, but throughout my Oxford days the street was always pronounced by my peers in the modern way, ie MAGdal'n Street. It is possible that this reflects the declining standards at Oxford University, or perhaps more probable that we at Magdalen College wished to feel superior for pronouncing our college name differently from town manifestations of the same...

Of course, the fine church there is habitually referred to as 'Mary Mags', so that may be another way in which the [g] crept in.

Little Black Sambo said...

In the town where I lived we had a St Mary MAGdalen's Church, but it belonged to the MAUDlin Charity.

GOR said...

Sorry Father that you had to encounter that well-known person: ‘The Ugly American’… When first contemplating moving to the US, that was one of the things which gave me pause. Having encountered Americans on holiday in Europe I did not have a good impression of the general populace of the former colonies. Fortunately I persevered and found to my delight that all Americans are not like that (some are even quiet-spoken!). Unfortunately, our compatriots abroad often are our worst ambassadors.

Jonathan Winters, one of our better comedians, who never resorts to loud or uncouth language to convey humor and whose humor is self-effacing, tells of his visit to Greece.

Emerging from one of the ruins, he is accosted by a rotund lady from Kansas who bounces up to him.

Kansas Lady (breathlessly): You’re…you’re…you’re…Jonathan Winters!!!

JW (cautiously): Yes’m.

KL: what did you think of it?

JW: I’m disappointed...very disappointed.

KL: But, why?

JW: Everything’s broken in there.

KL: But man, it’s 3000 years old!

JW: Should have been fixed by now…

Fr Levi said...

Americans in general are embarrassed by their stero-type as being loud and ignorant. I spent 10 years working with Americans, and hardly a day went by without someone saying, apologetically, 'We're not all like that, you know.' It's a bit like squeaky wheel syndrome - the loudest noise get most attention.

On the other hand, there was the memorable occasion when, as we stood outside Notre Dame Cathedral, I asked an American friend what he thought. His sole response? 'It's not as big as the one in Cologne.'

Sir Watkin said...

Both college and street in Cambridge are pronounced "Maudlin".

Derek Christenson said...

Oh, dear, Father, that bane of our existence, the Ugly American, does get around, doesn't he? Perhaps he is a relic of some old, Soviet plot to discredit my fellow-countrymen? (Tongue in cheek.) Yes, indeed, we are perpetually embarrassed by the popular stereotypes that precede us, as if by some coordinated plan, when we travel abroad. I, myself, read politics at Bristol Uni a number of years ago and was perpetually bombarded by the most bizarre expectation of what "Americans do" during my time there. But then, when at places popular with tourists, I met Mr. Ugly myself and realized what they must be thinking of. So, fair enough.

However, when I went to Spain (not the beaches, mind you -- I was mostly interested in places like cathedrals, castles, museums, etc.) during Easter holiday, I also met his Old World cousin, the Ugly Englishman: often drunk, always rude, and mysteriously demanding why the Spanish couldn't speak English or serve "real food." ;-) I think each country must have one of these that travels around the world, making sure that none of us can feel too prideful about our country of origin.

Mind you, some of the "American" stereotypes were quite amusing as well. For instance, nearly everyone who met me seemed to feel compelled to ask me if I was from New York. When I said no, I'm from Arizona, they often said something to indicate that they thought I must go there quite frequently nonetheless. When I pointed out the distance between my homeland and New York, then clarified that I'd never been there, shock often followed. "Do all Englishmen travel frequently to Moscow, or perhaps at least to Berlin?" I asked one day when I was in a frivolous mood. :-) In addition, many people who took me out to dinner took me to get pizza and then remarked something like, "This must remind you of home." There's something there, I'm sure.

johnf said...

Ah well, in Liverpool our local church was known as St Francis dee Sails and down the road, there was St Robert Bellamine (as in coal mine).

We didn't know any different, in fact it is still difficult to pronounce these any other way.

And we laugh at our American friends when they talk of Notre Daym.

kiwiinamerica said...

Most likely a "Yankee", Father. I feel your pain. Down in the deep south here in Georgia, we have similar issues with Northern Yankees and their uncouth ways offending our refined southern manners and polite sensibilities. Brash, lacking in modesty and humor and always in an almighty rush.

Should I ever happen to cross paths with you in Oxford I will happily invite you to "come on day-un" to the nearest hostelry and "sit a spey-ull".

Chris said...

Here in Gorleston, Norfolk, the Magdalen Estate, including Magdalen Way, Magdalen Square, and the Magdalen Arms pub, is pronounced with Gs all round, despite getting its name from the previous owner of the land, Magdalen College Oxford.

(The other roads on the estate are mostly named for colleges from both universities, there's also Bodleian Court, Oxford Ave., Cambridge Ave., and a few off-topic around the edges.)

Rhiannon said...

You were right, of course, but, when I lived in east Oxford, the Magdalene Road there was pronounced MAG - presumably to distinguish it fro m the other

Nebuly said...

A road by any other name would spell as street

benedictambrose said...

And Magdalen Green in, um, Dundee is always pronounced MAG-da-lin. Caused me a very embarassing moment in my precocious Anglican youth, that did.

If you think that is shocking, you should hear how the locals mangle the rest of the language...

Feed Room Five said...

I would not attempt to mount some defense of Ugly-Americans. But I would only note that a country, which has made a venerable tradition of hooliganism, might be a little more tolerant of ignorant travelers. When I lived in England, I was from time to time astounded by the behavior of my fellow countrymen abroad, but at least they never thrust a broken bottle in my direction.

andrew.welsby said...

When visiting the Schonbrunn Palace some years ago, I took a guided tour with a group of our cousins from over the pond. One memorable question addressed to our guide was,
"Say, were these Hapsburgs moneyed people?"

ella said...

Hmm,Dear Father.
Next time you are in Texas you can ask directions to Joshua.
You can have three guesses as to how it is pronounced - and you may NOT ask Terry S. for the answer!

childermass said...

My father is one of those Ugly Americans.

At the age of 62 he got a passport for the first time last year, and I took him to France.

Imagine us walking around Paris, he wearing a baseball cap adorned with an American flag and loudly complaining about the food and drink ("What?! No 'real' coffee, even at McDonalds?), walking into shops and demanding that everyone immediately speak English.

I did my best by translating for him and smoothing over the discourtesies. I also told him to lose that "USA" cap. He complied and arrived back to our hotel sporting another baseball cap with the word "Paris" on it. Sigh.