Monday, 30 November 2009

Cockermouth

Cockermouth in Cumberland has been in the news recently because of disastrous flooding. Here’s Rod Liddle in yesterday’s Sunday Times:
An extra irritation for the poor people of Cockermouth, as if they needed such a thing, is the determination of television reporters to mispronounce the name of the flood-stricken town. They seem unwilling to articulate the first syllable, so that it comes out as “Currmouth” or, in the case of very posh reporters from the BBC, “C’mouth”. It must annoy the locals because it enrages me: I scream the first syllable at the TV every time it is mispronounced. Let’s hope the Sheffield suburb of Penistone stays dry this winter.

I must say I haven’t noticed anything particular about television reporters’ pronunciation of the first syllable of Cockermouth. I haven’t heard anyone reducing ˈkɒkə to just as Rod Liddle implies. (Though I suppose a few people might get as embarrassed about this name as American tourists in London sometimes do about Piccadilly Line tube trains showing the destination Cockfosters. Roostermouth, anyone?)
It was the final syllable that I found interesting, the -mouth part. Harry Campbell noticed, too.
It's always pronounced with the last syllable unobscured as in the mouth on your face, rather than -məθ. I had the idea from somewhere that only in Scotland was this the pattern, as in Eyemouth. Compare Burnmouth (in the Scottish Borders), pronounced burn-mouth, with Bournmouth (-məθ).

Although outsiders may say -maʊθ, I think the locals mostly say -məθ in Cockermouth, as you would expect for a place in England. Listen to a resident, Sue Cashmore, and a Scottish reporter, Laura Bicker; also the Chief Constable of Cumbria. They all say -məθ.
When I was a boy my father twice took a locum near Maryport on the Solway coast. We would have outings to the Lake District, taking a bus to Keswick (ˈkezɪk) that passed through Cockermouth. Being outsiders, we called it -maʊθ.

25 comments:

  1. Although up in Northumberland you find places like Alnmouth [ælənmaʊθ], so some places in England can have the -maʊθ pronunciation!

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  2. Rod Liddle's comment is truly bizarre. The normal pattern is for those who don't know any better to pronounce a name more like the spelling, not less so. I don't believe a word of it.

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  3. Like Prof Wells and Harry Campbell, I haven't heard anyone saying this either. The whole thing seems to be a set up for the "penis" gag anyway.

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  4. The local pronunciation is məθ. This seems to be the traditional one as well: http://sounds.bl.uk/View.aspx?item=021M-C0908X0042XX-0700V0.xml# listen here at 2:55. It is close to the Scottish border, so it wouldn't have surprised me if the Scottish form had been used.

    Also, Penistone is not a Sheffield suburb. It's in the middle of the Pennines.

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  5. @Leo "The whole thing seems to be a set up for the "penis" gag anyway."

    A [ˈpinɪs ɡəɡ], surelyǃ

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  6. Dartmouth college NH; plymouth street, mountain view, CA; monmouth county, NJ--all these have have schwa in the place of ou in mouth. This phenomenon seems similar to the pronunciation of land in new zeland; oakland, ca.

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  7. I have heard similar comments about mispronunciations of two place names in New Zealand: Greymouth (at the mouth of the Grey River on the west coast of South Island), always pronounced by Kiwis with a full diphthong vowel, and New Plymouth (on the west coast of North Island), always pronounced with a schwa, like Plymouth in England after which it is named. Why? I have no idea.

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  8. By the way, "Penistone" is [''penIst@n], not [''pi:nIs-].

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  9. Leo is right. Reading Liddle's comment again it's clear to me that it's his idea of a joke. A pretty tasteless one you might think given the widespread destruction and indeed death that has been visited on Cockermouth (ha ha, he said "cock", ha ha!). This interpretation is easily confirmed, not that I recommend it, by a glance at the spiteful and flippant Sunday Times article from which this comes. I imagine the line about "very posh BBC announcers" refers to the fact that the surname "Cockburn" is traditionally pronounced "Coburn" in posh circles. Dated, since BBC newsreaders are hardly posh nowadays? Far-fetched? Feeble? Just a bit.

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  10. When you tell people where you live and they burst out laughing at you, it is no joke. As a result you start to change the pronunciation of the name of your town. I gather it is also embarrassing for some strangers to say words that can be taken inappropriately and so they automatically try to find alternative pronunciations.

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  11. I think it could be quite embarrassing to tell the guys that you stay in a town like Cockermouth.
    "Well is a big one or small one - town I mean."

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  12. Town really have funny name, even though the name doesn't apply to anything kinky as some of the commenters applied. Maybe your towns name should be pronounce ru:st* mau*

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  13. I would really hate to stay in a place with a name like that. You would constantly be at the blunt end of countless jokes and remarks.

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  14. I can imagine how much jokes citizens of Cockermounth have to take all the time. Specially from people that don't know the right pronunciation of the name.

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  15. It's not funny when soebody jokes you because of name of your city or town.
    I agree with "Mustang Floor mats".

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  16. This must be one of the funniest town names.

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  17. I saw a picture of town called Anal and now I don't know which one is worst, your town or there's?

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  18. Don't make fun out of there name. It's not polite.

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  19. I thing it's not funny at all. Maybe those people who makes jokes from names must consider, how would they feel if they live there.

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  20. Funny or not, those people live there and that is it. I can't imagine, who pick the such a names for town, village or city?!?

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  21. This is really neat. Who would believe the names that some people can come up with. They are really unique!

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  22. The Truth is, that people that lives in wierd named citys, just must accept what life bring them because of the name of their city.
    But on my opinion, this is not funny at all.

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  23. It's just sad that people make jokes of this :(

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  24. I think the flooding in Cockermouth is a little bit more than an "irritation". Yet every year the same thing happens in one part of the UK or another.

    When is the government going to create food enough flood defences?

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