John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, and now at

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Hire someone to look things up

On The Mentalist tonight, they’re looking for someone going by the name of Taliferro.

They are pronouncing it Tal-i-a-fer-r0. The name is conventionally pronounced as Tolliver.


  1. What? How would anyone know that? Here's the part where I feel stupid.

    TV writers are incredibly bad with getting details right. I still hear people talk of a brilliant doctor who went to John Hopkins. All the time.

  2. I knew two of them 'down South'. The salesman was 'Tolliver' and the politician was 'Tal-ia-fer-ro'. Does that mean something?

  3. I believe the first Taliaferro arrived in this country in the early days of the Virginia Colony. The pronunciation at the time was universally "TOLLiver", but it's hardly surprising if a few people have changed their pronunciation to fit the spellingin that time, just as some have changed the spelling to "Tolliver" or "Toliver" to fit the pronunciation.

    In addition, the original Italian immigrant to England was named "Tagliaferro", and it wouldn't be surprising if a few Italian immigrants to the U.S. of that name might have adopted the spelling "Taliaferro" as the "American form" of their name, while preserving something close to the original Italian pronunciation.

    None of this is as weird as the Virginia Enroughtys, some of whom pronounce their name "en-RUFF-ty" but others as "DAR-by". There are two stories about this: one that the latter were originally "Enroughty of Darby [plantation]" (as opposed to "Enroughty of Enroughty [plantation]") and dropped the latter name in writing while keeping it in speech. The other theory is that long ago a Darby was required to change his name to "Enroughty" to gain an inheritance, but kept his original pronunciation.

  4. John, I emailed you a few days ago about my inability to leave comments on your blog, and pointing you to my own blog post on the matter.

    I think you would have acknowledged my email if you had seen it, which leads me to wonder if you have an overzealous spam filter.

    Anyway, I've since discovered that I can leave comments successfully by using Internet Explorer instead of Firefox, but it's important for you to know that I cannot do so using the latter. You may have other readers with the same difficulty.

  5. We have a Taliaferro County down here in Georgia, but nobody ever believes me when I tell them it's pronounced "Tolliver!"

  6. Posted from Firefox.

    Can you read me now?

    Retired in Elkridge

  7. I've known both pronunciations, too.