Friday, July 1, 2016

Language has a will of its own that bridles little the will of man

From We're All Mispronouncing Mount Everest's Name by Simon Brew.
The highest mountain on Earth? Very few quarrel with the fact that it's Mount Everest, standing at over 29,000 feet above sea level. Located in the Himalayas, it's been known as Mount Everest since it was named after Welsh surveyor and geographer Colonel Sir George Everest in 1865.

While George Everest objected to the honor, the Royal Geographical Society went ahead and named it after him due to his significant contribution to the Great Trigonometric Survey of India, which took place over several decades starting in 1806.

However, over time the pronunciation of Everest's name has altered to the point where now the way people commonly say "Mount Everest" isn't actually reflective of the man who gave the mountain its name.

George Everest's surname was actually pronounced Eve-rest, with the emphasis on 'Eve,' like the woman's name. But the mountain is almost universally, in the English language, known as Ever-est (or, in some cases, Evv-rest).

Language and pronunciations evolve, of course, so it's hard to see that there's an absolute right or wrong here. But to stay true to the Royal Geographical Society's original intentions, Earth's highest peak should technically be referred to as "Mount Eve-rest."
I imagine this happens a fair amount with relatively little comment.

My senior year at The Lawrenceville School, I lived in McPherson House, named for Simon John McPherson, Headmaster from 1899-1919. McPherson House had only recently been converted from the old McPherson Infirmary. In the old days of influenzas and epidemics, you had to have a sizable infirmary able to accommodate dozens laid low in the pre-antibiotics era. McPherson had a capacity for several dozens.

In the late seventies, the school built a new Infirmary better suited to modern medicine and with only a few in-patient rooms. McPherson was then converted from Infirmary to dormitory, or House in Lawrentian parlance.

The only trouble with the refurbished McPherson was the pronunciation of the name. The new residents all took to pronouncing it Mc-fierce-son versus the proper Scottish pronunciation of Mc-fur-son.

There were apparently still some surviving members of the McPherson clan who took some minor umbrage which led to the Headmaster Bruce McClellan sending around a memo at the end of Fall term encouraging everyone to focus on the correct pronunciation. I don't recall that it had any effect. I wonder how people pronounce it on campus now. My guess is that it would be the Mc-fierce-son version. Language has a will of its own that bridles little the will of man.

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