Tassie rhymes with snazzy

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English spelling has a lot to answer for.  I'm currently in Sydney, Australia, leaving tomorrow to fly to Hobart, Tasmania, for my first-ever visit to that part of this excellent country.  And I've just noticed, also for the first time ever, that the Australian nickname for Tasmania, which is Tassie, is pronounced with a [z], not an [s].  It figures, since the s in Tasmania is also pronounced [z]; but it doesn't fit the spelling Tassie, which, with its doubled -ss, ought to represent [s] (at least according to my intuitions about English spelling/pronunciation rules).

They could force a [z] pronunciation by spelling the nickname Tasie. Trouble is, that would also force a vowel change, so that it'd look as if it should be pronounced tay-zee.  They could solve both problems by spelling the nickname Tazzie, but then it would no longer look like a shortened form of Tasmania.  So instead they go for the spelling/pronunciation mismatch.  Maybe it's deliberate, a trap for the uninformed tourist trying to sound like an insider.  More likely it's just the typical (or stereotypical) Australian method of forming nicknames combined with an independent spirit that thumbs its metaphorical nose at sound/symbol conventions.

[Since a number of people in the comments below ask why I have not come in to address the matter (people may be aware that I spent something like a year and a half in Australia in bits and pieces during the time I worked with Rodney Huddleston on The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language [CGEL]), let me just say here that I addressed the matter myself in a passage that appeared in CGEL on page 1636. There is indeed a general rule of voicing intervocalic fricatives in embellished clippings. A clipping is a word formed from another word by leaving part of it out: utility truck yields ute, the Australian for "pickup truck". An embellished clipping forms a clipping and then embellishes it with an ending: French letter ("condom") yields frenchie by addition of -ie, registration yields rego ("car registration") by addition of -o, and so on. When a fricative like -s- falls between the clipping and the embellishment, it is always voiced. The embellished clipping from position is possie, the one from Australian is Aussie, and they are all pronounced with [z]. Perhaps the most surprising is the embellished clipping formed from afternoon: it is pronounced [a:vo] (and usually spelled arvo, since Australian English is non-rhotic). —GKP]

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93 Comments »

  1. Lazar said,

    January 20, 2011 @ 9:38 pm

    This usage seems consistent with "Aussie", which is likewise pronounced with a [z].

  2. Bill Poser said,

    January 20, 2011 @ 9:43 pm

    "Aussie" has a [z] in Australia? Who knew? Does "Australia"?

  3. empty said,

    January 20, 2011 @ 9:48 pm

    They seem to have an impulsive habit of coining a word without giving any thought to whether there is going to be a good way of spelling it.

  4. Dhananjay said,

    January 20, 2011 @ 9:50 pm

    @Bill Poser I don't think so. But the country is usually just "Oz".

  5. Crabbadonk said,

    January 20, 2011 @ 9:52 pm

    Some other examples of this sort of voicing are cossies (for "swimming costume"), mozzie (for "mosquito") and arvo (for "afternoon", the -r- of course being an artifact of nonrhotic spelling).

  6. Danmcc said,

    January 20, 2011 @ 9:56 pm

    I just confused myself as to whether Australia has a [z] in Australian pronunciation, but I am pretty sure that would be a non-standard pronunciation, though might be accepted. And this post has just cleared up the terribly grating North American pronunciation of "Aussie" which actually uses an "s" instead of a "z". Recent culprit: Oprah.

  7. EmmJ said,

    January 20, 2011 @ 10:04 pm

    @Bill Poser – if you listen to any crowd of Australians at any sporting event, someone will chant 'Aussie Aussie Aussie' (with the response 'Oi Oi Oi!'), and you'll hear the correct (;) ) pronunciation!

    I wonder if it's related to the Australian habit of nicknaming -
    Sharon becomes Shazza
    Barry becomes Bazza etc.

  8. cosmicfroggy said,

    January 20, 2011 @ 10:14 pm

    Yes, "Aussie" and "Tassie" definitely do have a [z] in standard Australian English, and so do some other words such as "cossie" (regional slang for bathing costume). "Australia" does not have a [z]. The voicing only seems to happen between voiced phonemes. But it doesn't always occur there; "lassie", "hussy" and "missie" all have [s].

    I am reminded of an old uni acquaintance who pronounced "assume" with a [z]. That's not standard Australian, but I can see where she picked up the pattern.

  9. Nathan Myers said,

    January 20, 2011 @ 10:23 pm

    … and in formal registers an Ozzie is referred to as a "Strine".

    You could spell it "Taszie", but then the Germans would be similarly confused.

  10. Mark P said,

    January 20, 2011 @ 10:23 pm

    I have seen Australians use names like "Ozzy" in various forums around the Web, so I figured the s would sound like a z.

  11. Matthew Moppett said,

    January 20, 2011 @ 10:23 pm

    Two more examples (Australian, but I think some of them are also in use in other parts of the Anglophone world):

    cossie (swimming costume): pronounced as 'cozzy', and sometimes spelt 'cozzie' or 'cozzy'
    pressie (present, gift): pronounced 'prezzy', and sometimes spelt 'prezzy', 'prezzie'

    'Mozzie' (mosquito) seems to buck the trend, but the 'mossie' spelling certainly exists as well.

    Then there's 'Bazza', 'Shazza', and 'Dazza' (nicknames for people named Barry, Sharon, and Darren) – these never seem to be spelt with 'ss' – perhaps because there's no 's' in the original spelling to influence the spelling of the new coinage.

  12. Eric TF Bat said,

    January 20, 2011 @ 10:41 pm

    The concern over the pronunciation of Aussie (/OZ-ee/), Tassie (/TAZ-ee/) and Australia (/@-STRAY-lyuh/) glosses over the more important matter, which is the sheer quantity of vowels you MUST insert into every word. It's not "g'day", it's "gudaaeiyee". Your vowels must traverse the entire nation, from mud-raddled Brisbane to rapidly-combusting Perth to the newly flood-beset Victoria and back again. Our vowels aren't broad: they're mammoth. Bigger than the annual deathtoll from Australian fauna, wider than the devastation of the recent floods/fires/winds/elections, and flatter than our Prime Minister's hairdo.

    Also: if you haven't looked into the eternal controversy around cossies, togs, bathers, swimmers and swimsuits (all of them regional variants for the same concept) then I recommend it. When you're done, you can start on sneakers/trainers/sandshoes and telephone poles/Stobey poles. For bonus points, try to figure out what the generic term is in Australian English for what Americans call popsicles and Brits call iced lollies.

  13. mgh said,

    January 20, 2011 @ 11:00 pm

    In Warner Bros cartoons the Tasmanian devil character's name is spelled "Taz"

  14. John said,

    January 20, 2011 @ 11:26 pm

    I would be strongly tempted to pronounce "prezzy" with a /ts/ and not a /z/. Kind of like "pizza." But I speak Italian, so maybe that's why.

    There is "jazzy," but that has "jazz" going for it.

    Fuzzy. Fizzy.

    Lazy. Hazy. Crazy.

  15. David Barry said,

    January 20, 2011 @ 11:27 pm

    'Brisbane' is often shorted to Brissie/Brizzie/Brizzy. I don't know which spelling would be the most common – I see all of them fairly regularly.

  16. ashisha said,

    January 20, 2011 @ 11:35 pm

    @ Eric TF Bat – popsicles/iced lollies = iceblocks.

    @ Nathan Myers "in formal registers an Ozzie is referred to as a "Strine"" –
    'strine' refers to AustEng, or as an adjective for nationality (in both cases only in limited, out-dated and highly informal usage), but is not equivalent to the noun 'aussie', itself a term used with much greater frequency outside Australia than it is here.

    While we're on Australian linguistic stereotypes, I know very few people who would say 'g'day' with any seriousness, and probably no one who uses the term 'Oz' for Australia.

    The most common contemporary greeting is in fact a non-interrogative 'how are ya', meaning 'hello', and not necessarily requiring any response beyond a reciprocal 'how are ya'.

  17. Reinhold {Rey} Aman said,

    January 20, 2011 @ 11:39 pm

    @ Nathan Myers:

    You could spell it "Taszie", but then the Germans would be similarly confused.

    Not to mention the Poles: "Tashye."

  18. rootlesscosmo said,

    January 20, 2011 @ 11:55 pm

    Then there's 'Bazza', 'Shazza', and 'Dazza' (nicknames for people named Barry, Sharon, and Darren)

    I wonder how many Australians would spell these "Bazzer," "Shazzer," "Dazzer." Compare British "soccer" for "Association [football]," "rugger" for "Rugby [football]," and (according to T.H. White's The Age of Scandal) "pragger-wagger" for "Prince [of] Wales"–all with non-rhotic final /r/.

  19. John S. Wilkins said,

    January 20, 2011 @ 11:56 pm

    Tell you what. When you Mericans start pronouncing "herb" with the "h" that's spelled out right there in front of you, you can mock our diminutive forms, okay?

    :-)

  20. ashisha said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 12:27 am

    @ rootlesscosmo –

    Bazza, Dazza etc all have word final schwa so are unlikely to be spelt 'Bazzer', 'Dazzer'.

    As a related aside, I have twin siblings named Corrie and Isabel who are regularly referred to as Cozzie and Izzy – the former for the 'rr' in his spelt name (as per Shaz, Daz etc), and the latter for the [z] pronunciation of 's' in hers.

  21. Bruce M said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 12:57 am

    I'm surprised that nobody has picked up Eric TF Bat's challenge.

    We Australians seem to like straightforward description. A very long reef that's a barrier to shipping = The Great Barrier Reef. A long mountain range that divides the coast from the inland = The Great Dividing Range. A large arid area full of sand = The Great Sandy Desert. A smaller arid area full of sand = The Little Sandy Desert.

    A block of flavoured ice on a stick? An ice block. What else could we possibly call it?

    Then there is the Australian tendency to throw away vowels. Americans seem to be caught out with pronunciations like Briss-bane and Mell-born. We rarely hear Brizb'n and Melb'n. Other nationalities seem to find it a little easier to pick up the correct pronunciations. There's bound to be an interesting linguistic explanation.

    And it's always amusing to hear any non-Brisbanite trying to figure out how to pronounce the suburb Indooroopilly. Indra-pilly.

  22. Jonathan Lundell said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 12:58 am

    Issy for Isabel isn't uncommon in the US.

  23. empty said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 1:09 am

    Speaking of "soccer", the k sound doesn't fit with either the usual rules of spelling or the way "association" is pronounced.

  24. J. Goard said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 1:36 am

    @Jonathan:

    Izzy isn't, but the esses spelling would've been unthinkable for me (before this post).

  25. SlideSF said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 1:42 am

    Oh, I thought you said English spelling…

  26. J. Goard said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 1:47 am

    BTW, as an American example, the shortened form of Missouri, especially with respect to university sports, is Mizzou.

    Missou apparently exists, including some semi-authoritative sites like the MU bookstore, but here it's dropped in among many more occurences of the Z spelling. Google ratio is enormous:

    mizzou 3,560,000
    missou 91,800
    ZZ/SS 39

  27. Nijma said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 1:51 am

    When you Mericans start pronouncing "herb" with the "h" that's spelled out

    Is the "h" not pronounced in the name "Herb" (Herbert)?

  28. Mezzanine said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 2:01 am

    @ Bruce M: "A block of flavoured ice on a stick? An ice block. What else could we possibly call it?"

    Really? Melburnians tend to call them icy poles.

  29. Jason said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 2:13 am

    Sigh

    I can't believe I'm on the language log today. So little linguistic sophistication. Look, I'm a rank amateur, but unless Mr. Pullum arrives to set us straight on Australian English, I'll take a stab at things: [Thanks for holding the fort, Jason; when I arrived I added a note at the end of the post above. —GKP]

    There is no "Australian tendency to throw away vowels." The unstressed syllables in Melbourne and Brisbane become schwas, a tendency no means restricted to Australian English.

    The derivational morphology of this pattern Australian diminutives dictates that, in the case of a contraction like "mozzie", "cozzie" or "arvo" (for mosquito, swimming costume and "afternoon" respectively) an unvoiced fricative becomes a voiced fricative in the contracted form. (Also note that the "r" in "Arvo" represents that the "a" is a long vowel, not an "r" sound, as is normal in Australian English (eg Caa pronounced for Car).

    For "s", the orthography of Australian English represents this as a double "s", ie, "Tassie", "Aussie", or a double "z" (mozzie, cozzie). The two forms often exist in free variation for the same word, and it's arbitrary which has became the "canonical" spelling for a given word. So far from it being

    the typical (or stereotypical) Australian method of forming nicknames combined with an independent spirit that thumbs its metaphorical nose at sound/symbol conventions.

    In fact, the spelling reflects an utterly lawlike and explicable sound/symbol convention that you just happen to be unfamiliar with. While it's true that if I encounter a word like, say, "Bossie", I can't tell you whether "ss" represents a voiced or unvoiced alveolar fricative, if you inform me it's a contraction of "Boston", I can immediately tell you it's pronounced "Bozzie".

    I just hope we don't get sidetracked the usual claptrap about how Australians speak "lazily" or have adopted their accent to prevent flies flying into their mouths.

  30. iching said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 2:17 am

    "Taswegian" is a not uncommon alternative for "Tasmanian". I wonder where that comes from?

  31. Keith said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 2:24 am

    In the UK, there's 'bessie mates', pronounced bezzy, for 'best friends'.

  32. Bruce M said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 2:39 am

    @ Mezzanine

    You fancy southerners with your 'icy poles' :-)

    North of the border we go for real generic terms, rather than genericised brand names. In this case, at least.

  33. maidhc said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 2:43 am

    I believe that "Strine" was coined by Afferbeck Lauder in his 1965 book "Let Stalk Strine" (some of which previously appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald), which instructed the reader in the use of phrases like "Didgerie dabat it in the piper?", "Gonnie newsa Bev" and "Garment seamy in a garbler mince". Now part of the country's Gloria Sarah Titch.

    Similar works have since been produced for other dialects of English, but I think this was the first of its kind.

  34. tpr said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 3:17 am

    You can tell where each commenter comes from by which incorrect things they believe. If you think most Australians use 'Oz' or 'Strine', you're from the UK. If you think 'Aussie' is pronounced with an s-sound rather than a z-sound, you're from the US. If you think Vegemite is uniquely Australian, you're from Australia.

  35. Mark Etherton said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 5:32 am

    @ rootlesscosmo

    In the late 60s at my prep school (in the English, not the US, sense), there was also 'wagger-pagger-bagger' for 'waste-paper basket'.

  36. Petrus said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 6:39 am

    @iching Taswegian? Indeed v common. Not in the OED though. Bloody Poms.

  37. Hamish said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 6:52 am

    I wonder, given the imminent death of Cockney, whether Australia will remain the last remaining linguistic habitat of Cockney rhyming slang?

  38. Eric P Smith said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 7:22 am

    Most words, when abbreviated, can undergo a spelling change for the sake of pronunciation if necessary. To the examples given by readers above, I would add the usual 'mike' rather than 'mic' for 'microphone', the almost universal 'fridge' rather than 'frig' for 'refrigerator', and the universal 'Nazi' rather than 'Nati' for 'Nationalsozialistische'. It therefore puzzles me that the abbreviation for 'Academicals' (in the names of British sports teams) is always spelt 'Accies' and never 'Ackies' or 'Akkies'. To my eyes, the spelling 'Accies' forces the pronunciation /aksɪz/.

  39. James McElvenny said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 7:58 am

    'Is 'e an Aussie, is 'e, Lizzy?'

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zD9n-wjnfjI

  40. GeorgeW said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 7:58 am

    I think this post illustrates very well the tension we experience in a deep orthographic system not unlike faithfulness vs markedness in OT.

    Contemporary users are often left guessing as to the pronunciation of an unfamiliar word where etymologists are appreciative that faithfulness to the root is preserved.

  41. A2DEZ said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 8:06 am

    As far as I am concerned is the default for /z/ in non-standard spelling, and so the geminate is orthographically conditioned.

    My name is Des, but I go by /dezi:/ quite a bit so I have to debate this stuff in the name I use in my writing. I just think it's a good buzz to use a , and the spelling is always predictable as . is too likely to be pronounced like 'desi' or rhymed with 'Jessie', although no one from Britain or Ireland ever seems to mistake it. (Americans often think I am called 'Taz', because there is a bit of initial devoicing round my way (Dublin), and presumably some DRESS-lowering too :-)
    But is just better craic. End of.
    Same as Ozzie, Tazzie, Mozzie and Bezzie Mates etc

  42. Colin John said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 8:07 am

    @ashisha
    I've just come back from Australia and I can assure you that 'g'day' was alive and well.

    @Eric P Smith
    Would you pronounce 'baccy' as 'baksy'?

  43. Tom Vinson said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 9:06 am

    @John S. Wilkins
    We had to take the 'h' from 'herb' to replace the one you all lost from 'humble'.

  44. peterm said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 10:52 am

    Regarding Oz abbreviations of fore-names, let's not overlook Jezza for Jeremy, and Wokka for Warwick.

  45. Ken Brown said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 12:08 pm

    Ther's nothing perculiarly Australian about this I think. Brits and Irish do it too. Bazza, Gazza, and Shazza are all alive and well and living in England. They hang out in the same dives as the remains of Cockney rhyming slang, which is I think (mostly) a form of joke rather than a vocabulary. (Though some rhyming slang words do become normal speech, even nowadays)

    Why is "Oz" a British mistake? Do Australians not ever say "Oz" as well as "Ozzy"? (A common British spelling of "Aussie")

  46. John Cowan said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 12:26 pm

    Eric P Smith: Per contra, people who deal with microphones professionally do write mic and even micing, though of course they pronounce them mike and miking; indeed, I think the oddball spelling is something of a shibboleth. My wife habitually writes frig on Post-its, while of course saying fridge, and I think more people would do so if frig didn't have a taboo homograph.

    Petrus: Of the seven editors of the OED, Murray and Craigie were Scots; Onions, though born in England, was of Welsh extraction, and Burchfield was a Kiwi. Only Bradley, Weiner, and Simpson are True Poms.

  47. Steve the Steam Shovel said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 12:39 pm

    @iching: "Taswegian" is a not uncommon alternative for "Tasmanian". I wonder where that comes from?

    Norway and Glasgow.

    If -way -> -wegian and -gow -> -wegian, then -mania -> -wegian is just the next logical step, thereby pre-empting Tasmaniac.

  48. Coby Lubliner said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 12:49 pm

    How about dessert and Quebecer? "English spelling/pronunciation rules" indeed.

  49. Keith M Ellis said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 1:07 pm

    @John S. Wilkins

    I'm not sure of my inference from your comment that you think the American English pronunciation of herb is a "diminutive form". In any case, it isn't.

    The US pronunciation is an example of what I just saw referred to as American linguistic conservatism. The word came to English from French and the h was unvoiced in English until the 19th century. The US, however, retained the old form.

    Our hosts will no doubt inform us as to whether this claim about a generalized American linguistic conservatism is accurate and reliable, or if it's overstated and often misleading.

    I first encountered this (strongly made) assertion about American English 25 years ago in a 1940s era pop-science book on linguistics I found in my grandmother's library (it was combined with a related claim that languages change more rapidly near their geographical origins). Both seemed very counterintuitive to me and I became quite enamored of these two ideas until I was strongly disabused of the latter by a linguist about ten years later. However, the former assertion—about American the supposed American linguistic conservatism—seems to have some limited validity, as far as I can tell.

    However generalized this is, it's obviously counterintuitive to pretty much everyone, especially non-Americans, who seem to expect that every deviation of American English from (especially) UK English results from an American corruption of the language. However, in many cases it's the American form which is prior and thus more arguably "correct", if one is inclined to that sort of prescriptivism.

    …which, hopefully, most of us here are not. Though, sadly, it seems that it's difficult for most everyone to resist the impulse to occasionally make fun of unfamiliar dialects by claiming that their divergent features (from one's own) are corruptions.

    Anyway, not all Americans pronounce herb this way, though I think that most still do.

  50. Eric P Smith said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 3:48 pm

    Colin John: I would pronounce 'baccy' as 'backy' because I know I am supposed to, but my eyes tell me 'bacsy'. Google suggests that 'backy' is 3 times as common as 'baccy'.

    John Cowan: Google suggests that 'miking' is 3 times as common as 'micing', though you may well be right that 'micing' is relatively more common in the professional world. Google shows that 'fridge' is 6 times as common as 'frig', even when the taboo instances are included in the latter.

    The oddity about the spelling 'Accies' is that it is virtually universal. The only exception seems to be Leeds Akkies Rugby League Club, where 'Akkies' arose as an abbreviation of 'Akademiks'.

  51. maidhc said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 4:57 pm

    I think that British elocution teachers at one time promoted the dropping of initial H in words derived from French. You can hear this in recordings of RP speakers from the 1930s.

    It's rather silly, since at the time those words came into English, the French were still pronouncing the H. But such rules are never about logic.

    When the rule was taught, however, it applied to all such words. It's a mystery why Americans only apply it to "herb" and not "hotel", "hospital", "history", etc.

  52. Domen K said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 5:45 pm

    I've seen the nickname Shazza used for one (Maria) Sharapova, the tennis player (and, as creatively, Madge for Madonna).

  53. tpr said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 6:14 pm

    @Ken Brown

    Why is "Oz" a British mistake? Do Australians not ever say "Oz" as well as "Ozzy"?

    "Not ever" would be a bit strong, but it's far more common for Brits to refer to Australia as 'Oz' than for Australians to do so.

  54. Terry Collmann said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 7:40 pm

    @ Hamish: "I wonder, given the imminent death of Cockney, whether Australia will remain the last remaining linguistic habitat of Cockney rhyming slang?

    Not until I'm brown bread, me ol' china.

  55. Keith M Ellis said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 9:00 pm

    @maidhc

    I don't think you're correct when you say that the "h" was voiced in French at the time these words came into English. You've got this (somewhat) backwards in your thinking that the voiced "h" was an artifact of some prescriptivism.

    And in contrast to your list of h-words that American English voices the "h", how about honor, honest, hour, and heir? Do British anglophones voice the "h" in those words? It's right there on the page, after all. :)

  56. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 9:25 pm

    Before "mike" for "microphone," there was "Mike" for "Michael." And similar examples from clipped proper names such as Stephen->Steve and Jacob->Jake. Which is all to say that a letter change to "Tazzie" wouldn't seem like an insurmountable problem, although it might just be unnecessary if in fact as suggested above intervocalic "ss" is routinely pronounced /z/ in Strine.

  57. maidhc said,

    January 22, 2011 @ 1:17 am

    @Keith M Ellis

    I'm not able to find any immediate references to the history of French pronunciation. However, my reading has led me to believe that in general, vowel shifts excluded, English spelling is based on medieval Anglo-Norman French, and pronunciation based on the usual English consonant sounds is a pretty good approximation to medieval Norman French. For example, "beauty" preserves the medieval French pronunciation of "beau".

    Hence English has "garden" from Norman "gardin" where Parisian French has "jardin". But English has also borrowed from Parisian French (e.g., "challenge" not "callenge"), and sometimes both, giving doublets like "hostel" and "hotel", "catch" and "chase", "cattle" and "chattel".

    The OED says that:
    H in "hour" became silent in Romanic
    H in "honour" disappeared in Romanic, but the French re-introduced a mute H from Latin
    "heir" is derived from central French, but note that we pronounce the H in "heritage", "heritable", etc.
    H in "herb" was silent until the 19th century, though regularly spelled with H since 1475 (time of Caxton, see below)
    Some of these words (e.g., "hostage", "habit") were also sometimes spelled without the H in ME, but others (e.g., "herald", "haughty") were not.
    Some English words have dropped initial French H, e.g., "hability" -> "ability".

    The OED also makes the statement:
    As a rule, it may be assumed that the original form of every Middle English word of French origin was identical with the Anglo-French form; and that, where a gap appears between the earliest known English form of a word and its Old French equivalent, that gap would be filled up by the recovery of the Anglo-French and earliest English form. It was not until the fifteenth century, and chiefly at the hand of Caxton, that continental French forms and spellings began directly to influence our language.

    The OED is kind of a blunt tool for investigating this question, which seems to be quite complicated. But it is true that the irregular American "herb" is a survival and not an American innovation, which is also true of the peculiar American use of a knife and fork.

    As I said above, I have heard old recordings of RP speakers saying things like "an hotel", "an historical occasion" with mute H, but otherwise never "dropping Hs", which doesn't seem justified by etymology.

  58. maidhc said,

    January 22, 2011 @ 2:39 am

    There is an online dictionary of Anglo-Norman at http://www.anglo-norman.net/, which makes very interesting reading. It doesn't really deal with pronunciation or etymology, though.

  59. Keith said,

    January 22, 2011 @ 5:01 am

    Ken Brown said: Why is "Oz" a British mistake? Do Australians not ever say "Oz" as well as "Ozzy"?

    It's not common but Oz is certainly used by Aussies. In fact, my blog is "Notes from the North (of Oz)".

  60. maidhc said,

    January 22, 2011 @ 5:36 am

    One more thing about H. The pronunciation "haitch" used to be a shibboleth in Northern Ireland, that could be used to distinguish Catholic from Protestant.

    As an outsider, I found it hard to tell who was which, other than the degree of dourness, or else (in times past) if someone dressed in camouflage was pointing a machine gun at your head, you knew they were a Protestant. But the locals knew all these little clues to determine if someone was one of "us'ns" or "them'ns".

    I think Ulster is a fabulous place. I've been there numerous times, since back when things were a bit dicey. I have friends there and I'm very happy that the situation there has improved considerably.

    But getting back to "haitch", according to one site I came across in my research, 25% of the population of England now say "haitch". This may partly be attributed to efforts to prevent the working class from dropping their Hs. So its social status has surely changed.

    60% of Australians say "haitch". That is probably a result of substantial Irish immigration over a long period.

    The perceived name of the letter affects the choice of indefinite article before initialisms beginning with H: for example "an HTML page" or "a HTML page".

  61. iching said,

    January 22, 2011 @ 9:59 am

    I say "an historical" (with pronounced "h"), but "a" rather than "an" before every other "pronounced h-" word, including "history". I have no idea why. How odd.

  62. Breffni said,

    January 22, 2011 @ 10:56 am

    I say "an historical" (with pronounced "h"), but "a" rather than "an" before every other "pronounced h-" word, including "history". I have no idea why. How odd.

    "History" starts with a stressed syllable, "historic(al)" with an unstressed one, and initial stress seems to rule out the use of "an" for all speakers ("an helicopter"? "An hatchet"?). My impression is that "historic(al)" is the word that gets the "an" treatment most consistently, but I do hear "an horrific" and "an hilarious" from Irish broadcasters occasionally.

    Maidhc: "if someone dressed in camouflage was pointing a machine gun at your head, you knew they were a Protestant." – one the face of it that seems like a very unsafe generalisation, to put it mildly. If you found yourself at the end of a gun on the Falls Road or the Bogside during "the Troubles", it would be odd to assume that the paramilitary holding it was Protestant. Or am I missing your point?

  63. m.m. said,

    January 22, 2011 @ 12:59 pm

    …And I've just noticed, also for the first time ever, that the Australian nickname for Tasmania, which is Tassie, is pronounced with a [z], not an [s]. It figures, since the s in Tasmania is also pronounced [z]; but it doesn't fit the spelling Tassie, which, with its doubled -ss, ought to represent [s] (at least according to my intuitions about English spelling/pronunciation rules)…
    …The embellished clipping from position is possie, the one from Australian is Aussie, and they are all pronounced with [z].

    Hmm, for me, "aussie" always has [s], but I more or less instinctively read "tassie" with a [z], probably from just having read "tazmania" [oops, look at that, I meant "tasmania"] which has [z], seemingly working as a preconditioner, cause it makes sense to me to keep the same sound for "embellished clipping"s, though I'm a bit logical about language that way. [which is a pain with english haha]

  64. Xmun said,

    January 22, 2011 @ 2:15 pm

    @Mark Etherton

    I too went to an English prep school (St Hugh's near Faringdon, Berks) but I first heard the expression "foggers-goggers-concluggers" as an undergraduate in the 1950s.

  65. Adam said,

    January 22, 2011 @ 2:23 pm

    If only the explorer's name had been Tazman. That would make things much less complicated.

  66. taswegian said,

    January 22, 2011 @ 5:52 pm

    No-one mentioned the "map of Tassie"?

  67. Fowl said,

    January 22, 2011 @ 7:46 pm

    I always find it's Kiwi's that call Australia "Aussieland"/"Ozzyland", "Aussie"/"Ozzy" or "Oz".

    All this analysis is confused by the fact that Australia is actually quite big and has regional variations.

    For the record, in Melbourne, they're called Icypoles =P

  68. Joe Fineman said,

    January 22, 2011 @ 9:38 pm

    I have seen the spelling "mic" for "mike" = "microphone" explained by the fact that MIC for a long time has been the usual abbreviation for marking the microphone input jack on an amplifier. Whatever the reason, it seems to me anomalous; cf. "bike" for "bicycle".

  69. bryan said,

    January 22, 2011 @ 9:50 pm

    @Steve the Steam Shovel:

    @iching: "Taswegian" is a not uncommon alternative for "Tasmanian". I wonder where that comes from?

    Norway and Glasgow.

    If -way -> -wegian and -gow -> -wegian, then -mania -> -wegian is just the next logical step, thereby pre-empting Tasmaniac.

    Really? Norway in Norwegian could be Norge [Bokmal] or Noreg[Nynorsk]. Norwegian seems to be Noreg + w from English name Norway, where Nor(d) means north in Scandinavian languages, and "way" in Norwegian Bokmal = vei. I guess they had translated it as Norvei+ɣ+ian which might have turned out to be too cumbersome: Norveiɣian, which is hard for English speakers, so the v became a w, and the ɣ became γ which is the Greek letter which is mostly transliterated as "g" before the letters e & i. There: Norwegian came into being. I still don't know how the gow of Glasgow became weg+ian. Did they actually spell gow backwards and changed the o into a schwa sound replaced by the letter e+ian? Therefore becoming "Glaswegian?"

    Tasmaniac? I thought it was "Tasmanian". Since -manian has an m initial, I find it weird that it's being turned into an m because the people wanted to change it from -manian into -wegian?!

  70. Gwan said,

    January 23, 2011 @ 7:45 am

    @Fowl – I'm a Kiwi, & I don't recall ever seeing or using 'Ozzy/Aussieland'. Oz, yes, or Ozzie/Aussie as an adjective or for a person. It's not really germane to the discussion, but a lot of the diminutives and other slang is common to both Aussies and Kiwis, although I think Aussies are a bit keener in this area, especially for words ending in -o.

  71. Matt McIrvin said,

    January 23, 2011 @ 7:54 am

    I recall older American media depicting "an historical", with pronounced h, as a rule pushed by prescriptivist English teachers on shamefaced children. By the time I was in school (1970s) nobody was making me say that.

  72. bryan said,

    January 23, 2011 @ 9:12 am

    @ Matt McIrvin:
    I recall older American media depicting "an historical", with pronounced h, as a rule pushed by prescriptivist English teachers on shamefaced children. By the time I was in school (1970s) nobody was making me say that.

    Even though we no longer say "an historical", teachers still stress that fact that at one point in history Very funny: "history" is the predecessor of historical, yet they screwed the word "historical" and it's predecessor, "historic", but yet not for the predecessor of "historic" which = "history" : You were never taught to say "An history book", yet were sometimes taught "an historic event", and "an historical ______ [my mind went blank on this one], and it was even spoken by some teachers at one point in my life.]

    If you go with ancient Greek pronunciation, the h is pronounced indeed. Scientists, linguists and speakers of modern languages often go with Ancient Greek pronunciation or words, and rarely follow the Modern Greek way of doing things: They want to tell people, that this is passed down from long ago, but caveat: it's not in Modern ________ [target language, whether it's English, etc... ]. An historical makes absolutely no sense! [You borrow the word "historical" from Ancient Greek, not Modern Greek. In Modern English, you you an in front of a vowel or silent letter, not a letter with full pronunciation! "A historical" is more correct in Modern English. "An historical" would tend to be correct if you're speaking in Middle or Old English, Victorian or Shakespearean/Ellizabethan English!: "An" here is just a corrupted form of "one" in one of those ancient languages being borrowed, and "A" is the abbreviated form of "An". ]. You would not say "An "! You'd say "A friend"!

    If you go by Modern Greek, the aspirant [heavy initial h sound/a puff of air] is now silent.

  73. bryan said,

    January 23, 2011 @ 9:15 am

    I guess they had translated it as Norvei+ɣ+ian which might have turned out to be too cumbersome: Norveiɣian, which is hard for English speakers, so the v became a w, and the ɣ became γ which is the Greek letter which is mostly transliterated as "g" before the letters e & i.

    I made an error: I meant " and the ɣ became γ which is the Greek letter which is mostly transliterated as "g" before the vowels other than "e" & "i" in Modern Greek.

  74. maidhc said,

    January 23, 2011 @ 9:16 am

    @Breffni

    The UDF (Ulster Defence Regiment, reserve soldiers in the British Army) set up regular (legal) roadblocks all over the place back in the 1980s. You could be just driving along and suddenly find yourself with someone with a machine gun demanding to see your papers and interrogating you about your past and future whereabouts

    I didn't myself encounter any worse treatment than having a gun pointed at me and demands to search my car. But still not very pleasant.

    Had I encountered the other side, I doubt they would have been wearing British army camo uniforms.

    I was on the Falls Road and the Bogside in those times, and the people that I met there were just regular ordinary people. No doubt there were some hard cases about, but I never ran into them.

    It would be pretty exceptional to have the IRA hijack your car. But the UDF were all over the place.

    I remember taking a bus across the border one time, and this British soldier came on with a rifle and his face all covered with camouflage paint. Does he think we won't notice him because his face is all covered with paint?

    Most of the people on the bus were middle aged ladies who'd been shopping across the border because certain items were cheaper. Is he going to shoot an old lady for bringing in a cheap tin of McVittie's biscuits?

  75. bryan said,

    January 23, 2011 @ 9:28 am

    @Keith M Ellis
    And in contrast to your list of h-words that American English voices the "h", how about honor, honest, hour, and heir? Do British anglophones voice the "h" in those words? It's right there on the page, after all. :)

    The silent h in English words are of Old French spellings/pronunciations. Honour, honest, hour, heir, plus many others so the British lose the h initial following French pronunciation, yet "hospital" is a word of French origin, but the British pronounce the h sound when it's NOT pronounced in [Modern] French: Hôpital. I don't know why they also go through the pain to add the extra "s" to the English spelling : it's evidently not there in the French spelling.

  76. bryan said,

    January 23, 2011 @ 9:32 am

    Since -manian has an m initial, I find it weird that it's being turned into an "m" because the people wanted to change it from -manian into -wegian?!

    I meant "Since -manian has an m initial, I find it weird that it's being turned from an "m" initial into an "w" initial because the people wanted to change it from -manian into -wegian?!"

  77. Matt McIrvin said,

    January 23, 2011 @ 11:52 am

    "Hôpital", though, does have the circumflex that indicates the former presence of an s.

  78. maidhc said,

    January 23, 2011 @ 5:50 pm

    The order of Knights Hospitaller was founded in 1023, when French still had an S in the word.

  79. AussieBel said,

    January 23, 2011 @ 10:15 pm

    I've always used / heard "Strine" for the Australian language, and "Aussie" (With the [z]) for the Australian person, and never the other way around. (An Aussie speaks Strine.) I also had a strange conversation a few years ago where someone from overseas was saying "Aussie" with an [s], and it took me a few listens to understand what she meant, it sounded that foreign to me. I noticed Oprah using both the U.S. and Strine pronunciations of cities and other terms during her Australian specials.

  80. Brett said,

    January 23, 2011 @ 11:07 pm

    @ashisha

    While we're on Australian linguistic stereotypes, I know very few people who would say 'g'day' with any seriousness

    Not sure what rock you've been living under, but I can tell you that g'day is pretty well the default universal greeting in Australia. G'day mate is also pretty common as a friendly greeting to someone you don't know (or whose name you've forgotten, but that's another story).

  81. Luke Bradford said,

    January 24, 2011 @ 4:00 pm

    Speaking of Aussie speech, I was surprised to find out that Australia is pronounced with an initial 'ə' by natives. Where I live (New England), most people give it the same first vowel as ostrich ('a' or 'ɒ'). Anyone know what the tendency is globally?

  82. iching said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 12:17 am

    I wonder how many non-Aussies "got" taswegian's "map of Tassie" reference?

  83. Jonathan D said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 12:34 am

    Any thoughts on how to spell the -z/-zza form for Warren?

  84. gin said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 6:33 pm

    Well, I've lived in Sydney my entire life, and I've rarely heard anyone actually say "g'day" outside events specifically designed for tourists or ads. This discussion is largely ignoring things like: city vs. country; class differences; slang & language register; regional differences and nationalist myths.

    I'd be offended if you said I spoke Strine. I don't, I speak Australian English. Yes, I work as a professional & live in a big city.

    @iching I'm guessing only the Aussies smiled at "map of Tassie"

    BTW, I'd happily use "Aussie" for the people, not the country. I use "Oz" occasionally on Twitter, it's shorter.

  85. iching said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 3:01 am

    @Jonathan D: Happy Australia Day! I think the most common form is Wazza (rather than Wozza) for Warren. It is also used for Warwick, one of the most famous examples being Warwick "Wazza" Capper, the flamboyant red-tight-shorts-wearing-pink-Lamborghini-driving Sydney AFL full-forward in the '80s. Another less common form for Warwick is Wokka.

  86. The Ridger said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 8:39 am

    This post saved me a lot of wondering when I read (in a novel by an Australian set in Australia) this invitation to a picnic: How does fish and chips in the park with the possums and mossies sound? I doubt I'd have come up with "mosquitos" for "mossies" without it.

  87. The Ridger said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 8:44 am

    @bryan and matt: Whether you (or I, I suppose I should say) say "an" or "a" before words that start with H has – for me, consciously – nothing to do with their etymology or their spelling. It has do with where the stress is. "History" and "historic" are not stressed on the same syllable.

    I don't care which article you use. But I do bristle when you sneer at my choice.

  88. Cathy said,

    January 27, 2011 @ 1:51 am

    So much fun to see us Aussies get a mention in Language Log-land! For the record, it's icy-poles in Perth as well. (Perth being the capital city furthest away from anywhere. Even Oprah didn't make it this far.)
    Have never heard Aussie-land, but certainly Kiwi-land when talking about our friends across the pond. Strine is spoken with a broad Australian accent, most Aussies can speak it easily but it's considered a bit lower-class by the educated. And while g'day is still common, it's not universal.
    Agree with Ashisha that 'how are ya', or even more so, 'howya goin' ' is the most likely greeting. Can be a bit confusing for 'foreigners' as a greeting, they tend to think we're asking when they're about to leave.
    And finally, for me Oz is only for the wizard.

  89. Keith said,

    April 18, 2011 @ 11:55 am

    I have never heard 'Aussie' pronounced as anything other than 'Ozzy' here in the southern U.S. Also, "ice block"? That is what I'm calling my popsicles from now on.

  90. Tom said,

    May 17, 2012 @ 11:31 am

    Issy for Isabel isn't uncommon in the US.

  91. W. Reid Ripley said,

    November 14, 2012 @ 5:48 am

    "Ice block" seems an overstatement to this American, as this confection is a "popsicle," which in turn is probably a genericized brand name after the fashion of "kleenex." Popsicle as distinct from an ice cream bar — and very much distinct from an ice cream sandwich. (If you've never had such a beast, eat them quickly before the last mouthful tries to run down the heel of your hand. By then the wafer parts are sticking to your fingertips anyway, for a sort of gustatorial coda. The ice cream within is usually vanilla and never the fancy stuff. A coffee-ice-cream sandwich would be nice. Never even heard of one offered commercially.)

    To Americans, an ice block is a large heavy cube of frozen water only, two and a half kilos or so usually, for refrigeration — keeps the cooler cold longer, doesn't melt as fast as bagged cube ice so it's less bother with draining the cooler. On the ice machine at the grocery or convenience store, you'll see advertisement for "block ice" and "bagged ice," five- and ten-pound sizes, with occasional rare mention of "cube ice." The sign advertising its presence on the outside of the store mostly simply says "ICE," period. Nothing to do with the recently established Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

  92. W. Reid Ripley said,

    November 14, 2012 @ 5:59 am

    Not sure if this one has taken off in Australia, but a variation on the ice cream sandwich where you have [i]some[/i] chance of different flavors of ice cream inside is the It's It, which uses chocolate chip cookies for its outer layers and may offer the good stuff within.

    It's not a Moon Pie either, which is marshmallow centered and be-cookied, and frosted over totally, and requires no refrigeration. Regionally popular through the southern United States.

  93. Treesong said,

    January 28, 2014 @ 1:21 pm

    For those puzzled, like me, by 'foggers-goggers-concluggers', it's 'foregone conclusion', or 'fossy conclussie'.
    And 'map of Tassie' is a woman's pubic region, from the island's shape.

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