Gel did good

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Nekesa Mumbi Moody, "Adele top winner with 6 Grammys", AP (in Boston Globe) 2/12/2012:

"Mom, gold is good!" Adele shouted as she took the album of the year trophy.

The corresponding audio:

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Helen Smith, "Tottenham Gel", Salon 2/13/2012:

If you watch the clip you can see that she says, 'Mum, girl did good.' She's from Tottenham and she speaks like a typical north London girl: 'Oh. My God. Fank you so much. Fank you. Ooh. Urgh. Hello! I just, first of all, wanna say, Mum! Gel did good! Mum I love you. I'm so sorry you're not here. Erm. And I also wanna say a big fank you to Rick Rubin who taught me about quality control…' There's a nice London glottal stop on 'quality'. I won't transcribe it all but, for Americans who are interested in such things, there's also a good use of 'rubbish' in context, above 45 seconds in, and 'you lot' right at the end.

The video:

Michael Musto focused on a different phrase:

… as she wiped away the tears, Adele noticed that her nose was leaking and blurted, "Oh, I've got a bit of snot!" With that one stroke, Adele not only went green, she took the sting out of that particular body "fluid", turning it into a sign of emotional purity and triumph.

Tip of the hat to Elsi Kaiser, who notes that "it made me wonder what other phonetically-interesting misunderstandings might be out there in the media". We've commented on quite a few examples over the years — for instance, in "Is a title and is a campaign too WHAT?" (9/29/2011), several writers misunderstood Sarah Palin's "shackling" as "shakle-y", and gave her an undeserved hard time for morphological innovation.


  1. Laura said,

    February 18, 2012 @ 8:21 am

    I wouldn't say that she quite says 'gel', though listening again, it isn't exactly the SHIRT vowel – maybe it's a bit higher (not a phonologist, sorry I can't be more specific). But she does have the characteristic south-east pronunciation of [l] as more like [w]. That combined with the non-rhoticity might make it sound more like 'gel'.

  2. dw said,

    February 18, 2012 @ 11:31 am

    She vocalizes the /l/ of "girl", which does make the sound somewhat similar (although not identical) to her normal GOAT vowel: however she could not have said "gold". London English has a special allophone [ɒʊ] of GOAT before word-final or preconsonantal /l/, often resulting in a merger with LOT in this environment, so her "gold" would have been more like [gɒʊd] than [gɜʊ(d)]. You can get an idea by listening to the last syllable of "quality control" at around 0:30.

  3. Pflaumbaum said,

    February 18, 2012 @ 3:49 pm

    I grew up near Tottenham, and I would have expected girl done good. Maybe the dialect's changed, or maybe there's a tense/phase/aspect difference between the two that I can't remember.

  4. Chris Waters said,

    February 18, 2012 @ 4:53 pm

    I can't even hear a hint of a sibilant before "good", which makes it seem very unlikely that the verb was "is".

    Anyway, isn't she a platinum artist, not a gold one? :)

  5. diogenes said,

    February 18, 2012 @ 6:10 pm

    I too would have expected girl done good

  6. Chad Nilep said,

    February 18, 2012 @ 9:19 pm

    @Chris Waters
    Loss of a sibilant wouldn't be such a big deal. One common (American) pronunciation of "going to" has no consonants at all.

  7. cathi best said,

    February 19, 2012 @ 1:09 am

    Wha' I'm trying to figure out from star'in' an' stoppin' ve vid clip is whever her fronted THs are actually Fs and Vs or whever vey are rweally near-mergers.

  8. Steve F said,

    February 20, 2012 @ 8:19 am

    To my West London ears, the first 'thanks' has a 'th' but the second is definitely 'fanks', which would be typical of someone with a London dialect starting off in a more formal register, but immediately reverting to the more customary pronunciation as she goes on. I suspect the same applies to 'girl did good' – I too would have expected 'done', but I think the occasion is enough for her to (unconsciously) select the more standard 'did', whereas 'good' as an adverb in this phrase is so entrenched that 'girl did well' would sound ridiculously over-formal and pompous to her ears.

    'Rubbish' as an adjective is very common throughout British English these days, not only in London, and the glottal stops are so standard for her accent that I wouldn't have even registered them if they hadn't been pointed out.

    @cathi best – like most Londoners, I use 'f' and 'v' for 'th' myself when I am speaking rapidly and informally, but I think my 'f' in 'fanks' is very subtly different from a 'true' f (formed by the teeth touching the top of the lower lip rather than the inside of it) whereas the 'v' in 'whever' seems identical to a 'real v. But I don't think I – or many Londoners – would often say 've' for 'the' – unlike the 'f' for unvoiced 'th' the 'v' for voiced 'th' is much more typically found in the middle of a word – 'bruvver', 'muvver' and so on. Though, as with all self-observed pronunciation, I could be mistaken.

  9. Bloix said,

    February 20, 2012 @ 11:49 am

    As an American lawyer with English clients, I was absolutely shocked when I first worked with professional people who said "fanks" and "wif" and "muvver" and "haitch." To this American ear, at least, that accent was associated with a total lack of education. I've gotten more used to it over the years, but I still have to work to get over my prejudices in order to listen to what's being said instead of judging the speaker.

  10. dw said,

    February 20, 2012 @ 2:23 pm


    I'd be pretty surprised if you actually heard "wif": the final consonant of the word "with" is usually voiced in England.

    I agree about prejudices too. It's funny: when I lived in England I probably had a more positive reaction to London accents than to Nothern England accents (probably reflecting the ascendance of London in the English media and most other aspects of life): since I moved to the US that preference has definitely reversed.

  11. Boris said,

    February 21, 2012 @ 4:14 pm

    Just out of curiosity, is it just me with a leftover Russian thing (21 years ago now) or are there native speakers who cannot hear a difference between fanks and thanks? (mind you, I know how to *say* them differently just fine)

  12. ella said,

    February 21, 2012 @ 11:06 pm

    She doesn't say 'gel'. 'Gel' has a very different vowel.

  13. xyzzyva said,

    February 22, 2012 @ 1:33 pm

    Boris, see the Wikipedia article on the topic. Note that the article claims that

    Apparently, no accents with the merger completely merge the phonemes, because virtually all speakers of such accents know which words should have which sound

    I'm not sure how this distinction could be maintained for more than a generation or two. Is code-switching into non-fronting dialects enough to keep them separate in fronters' minds?

  14. Dw said,

    February 22, 2012 @ 4:16 pm


    I imagine that most mergers go through a phase where most speakers are aware of a distinction, but don't produce it consistently.

    Children growing up in such an environment are likely to be fully merged, because they won't be corrected if they fail to produce the distinction themselves.

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