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 jemcintyre@gmail.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

We'll always have Paris

As regular readers know, one of the enduring pleasures of my twilight years is slapping around the Associated Press Stylebook at any opportunity. A couple of days ago I posted this snark on Facebook:

AP Stylebook pronounces Port-au-Prince, port-oh-PRIHNS', for monoglots who think it effeminate to pronounce French words as the French do.

Almost immediately, one Elizabeth Herrington posted this comment:

How do you pronounce Paris?

I pronounce it after the manner of the inhabitants of Paris, Kentucky.

We’ve covered this ground before. When the Olympics went to Turin, there was agitation in the sports department over whether to use Turin, the traditional anglicized version of the name, or the Italian Torino, which the Olympics Committee was using. I asked if they intended to use Roma and Firenze or refer to the Shroud of Torino.

English has many foreign place names that have been anglicized, and which are pronounced as English words. We say Munich, not München, and that’s fine. Other languages do the same thing, and we don’t object when the French refer to us as les États-Unis.

But if a less-familiar foreign place name has not been anglicized, there is no objection to pronouncing it as it sounds in the original language, provided one avoids the finicky hyperpronunciation beloved of announcers on classical music stations.

It seems to me that

1. If you order café-au-lait as cafay-oh-lay and not cafay-oh-late, then you might want to pronounce the Prince in Port-au-Prince to rhyme (roughly) with prance.

2. If you are running the AP Stylebook, to the degree that its apparently random directives have any guidance, then you might indicate that both the French and anglicized pronunciations are acceptable. It’s not as if any hearers are likely to be confused.