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Spare me the pronunciation terror

The day Carla Bruni pronounces Banarsi Das Vastralaya right, we’ll proudly start calling Hermés as ‘Air-maess’

india Updated: May 13, 2012 02:18 IST
Sonal Kalra
Sonal Kalra
Hindustan Times
hermes,Jean paul Gaultier,Pizza

Oh ji mazaa aa gaya. More than 600 mails dropped in my humble inbox last week about the column on OTS phrases. Only two promised to slap me and went into long winding explanations of why ‘it is what it is’, but thankfully most of you got the humour.

I’ve got another pet peeve to cry about this week, and that’s pronounciation…err… I mean pronunciation. I’d once written about it earlier too, but my grudge continues with those who judge others by the way they pronounce fancy words. Please know that I fully endorse learning the right usage of words that belong to any language. What I have problems with, however, is when that becomes a yardstick for us to judge how ‘upmarket’, or otherwise, a person is.

Blame it on globalisation, fancy foreign brands have hit us like a rash. They are everywhere, and ironically enough, none of them have names that are pronounced the way they are written. And worse yet, in the name of training their ‘brand personnel’ in India, the firang brands have unleashed a tribe of half-baked intellectuals who may have mugged up the pronunciation of fancy labels but know little else, and who foolishly smirk at those who don’t happen to know that ‘H’ is silent in the name of French brand ‘Hermes’ or that Parisian fashion house Lanvin is to be pronounced as ‘law-ve’ (kyun, bhai?) of you may be wondering how this relates to you. Because a lot of us do not afford such fancy labels anyway. But I feel this stress relates to anyone who may have always ordered for a pizza at a restaurant and never tried bruschetta because it’s so damn hard to pronounce. And further had arguments with friends on whether it is ‘pizza’ or ‘peetzah’.

I've seen parents correcting their kids, or vice versa, about how Nike is not Nike (as in bike) but as in ‘Naayi-ke-shoes’. I’ve seen restaurants waiters smirk and say ‘Sir, you mean ‘Lazaanya’ and thus destroying your Rs 450 Lasagna experience — the same waiters by the way, who may strictly eat aaloo paranthas at home (thank God most of our food items don’t confuse us before we gobble them up).

Anyway, you get the drift. We are flooded with things that have torturous names, and we are being terrorised by chalte-phirte tongue twisters with a warped sense of what constitutes sophistication. I refuse, henceforth, to be a victim of this torture. Here are three kinds of things I find impossible to pronounce — and it’s not my problem because they are meant to be pronounced in the most unreasonable way. Check out…

1 French luxury labels: Try saying Yves Saint Laurent. No, no my dear… not the way you just said it. It’s Eve-Son-Lor-Ron. I just felt like I gargled. No wonder most of us are happy saying YSL. Or D&G, for that matter. Because Dolce in Dolce and Gabbana is not ‘dolls’ but ‘dolchay’. Khiske hue hain kya yeh log? Vaise, it’s wrong to blame the French, when a lot of us still get cold sweat trying to get Kanimozhi or Alagiri right. I know, I know… every language has it’s finer nuances but it would have been a tad bit easy if words were spoken the way they are written. Americans are trying to do that, but even Americanisation of words creates quite a confusion. The other day, a friend who takes accent workshops told me that the commonly used pronunciation of Spanish label Paco Rabanne in the US is now the way it’s written and not the twisted ‘Paco-Ruhbon’. No sooner had I adopted this with relief and heartfelt blessings to the Americans, that a well meaning friend from the fashion fraternity said, ‘Don’t mind but don’t say ‘Rabanay’ anywhere, people would think you don’t know.’ I felt like banging my head against the wall. Arrey bhaad mein gaya aisa label. Mujhe bolna hi nahi hai. I’ll use sign language. Because you know what (OTS!), we in India have double standards. When a Hillary Clinton says ‘Maam-tah Bannurrjee’…we all go, ‘Awww, that’s so cute’. But if we say ‘Versays’ for Versace, instead of ‘Versaachay’ (why, why), someone’s snooty, stiff nose goes up and we are branded downmarket. Why aren’t we cute? Hum free mein aaye hain kya?

2 Italian food and wine: I’ve seen many people who want to try out imported wines, but settle for the safe, Indian ‘Sula’ because it’s a bi*** to pronounce Brunello di Montalcino. Or they’ll keep adding beer to the pot belly because the required wine etiquette in public are enough to give performance anxiety. Don’t know when we’ll be able to happily enjoy gnocchi (NYOH-key) without bothering about what sound comes from our mouth when we order it. Let’s point our finger on the menu in the meantime. Sigh.

3 British towns: Ab batao, what’s the need to spell Worcestershire the way it is when you are going to call it ‘oo-ster-sheer’? And to add to the misery of tourists, this beautiful county in West England borders Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Gloucestershire. Hey, if you are breathing easy thinking you are never gonna visit, and it’s not even in your geography syllabus, just wait. They ended up inventing a world famous sauce which they nicely named after the place of origin. Ab banaalo khaana. I insisted on pronouncing it the right way at the grocery store the other day and could hear the shopkeeper mutter ‘mental hai’.

Yaar, it’s tough finding our way through these foreign pronunciations but it’s no one’s fault. The names of our Indian towns and dishes are as challenging for foreigners. My only point is, let’s applaud those who are at least trying. Insult them and you’ll only display your shallowness. And then the pronunciation monster would throw you into Lake Chaubunagungamaug near Massachusetts. Soch lo.

Sonal Kalra has discovered that saying Jean Paul Gaultier (zhan paul GO-tee-AY) five times quickly leads you to sneeze. Try it.

Mail at or at Follow on Twitter @sonalkalra.

First Published: May 12, 2012 16:24 IST

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