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How did we get it so wrong?

Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by Malcolm_Stewart, Aug 13, 2019.

  1. Malcolm_Stewart

    Malcolm_Stewart Well-Known Member

    Bombay -> Mumbai
    Peking -> Beijing
    Burma -> Myanmar
    Calcutta -> Kolkata

    I'm sure there's more, but the first three come to mind without effort.
    Three of the above don't sound anything like the currently accepted names; only the final example is close in pronunciation.
  2. spinno

    spinno Well-Known Member

    Bath- Aquae Sulis
    Lincoln- Lindum Coloniae
    York- Eboracum
    Nottingham- Snotingahame
    Wolverhampton- Wulfrunstun
    Catriona likes this.
  3. Catriona

    Catriona Well-Known Member

    Here - what's that place up there?
    Answer - Cnoc
    (A hill or upper part)


    Always makes me smile, the races that go on in another place of the same name. Knockhill. (Dunfermline, Fife).
  4. EightBitTony

    EightBitTony Well-Known Member

    By thinking we knew best, by having no respect, by not caring, by ignoring the savages.
    saxacat, Zou, Gezza and 1 other person like this.
  5. Trannifan

    Trannifan Well-Known Member

    It's very simple - colonialising and/or ruling forces have never bothered to learn the local languages properly, let alone the subtleties of local dialects and pronunciations. This is a field in which, even today, the english excel!

    saxacat and EightBitTony like this.
  6. GeoffR

    GeoffR Well-Known Member

    Bombay -> Mumbai These aren't as different as their spellings might suggest, bai and bay could sound very similar and Mum could be misheard, misinterpreted as Bom especially if masked on one or both sides by a strong accent.
    Peking -> Beijing Say them both a few times and they sound similar but, more importantly, the conventions that determine the way Chinese is rendered into English have been changed thus Peking was the accepted version for a long time, accepted by both Chinese and Europeans that is.
    Burma -> Myanmar Agreed they don't sound very similar but again ma and mar sound the same and masked by a heavy accent there is room for confusion.
    Calcutta -> Kolkata Simple misunderstanding, a very common error as it happens.

    Not saying that efforts shouldn't be made to get things right but we must also remember that what we have are attempts to render words from different languages into English. We do it a lot with other languages too, and they do it to us. It would be great if we all called cities by the names their residents use but we don't. Things are moving that way but very slowly, the more colonial names are being replaced but in some cases the locals have decided that keeping the colonial name is better for business.

    Not just the "English" by any means.
  7. Andrew Flannigan

    Andrew Flannigan Well-Known Member

    I've started watching the series "Vietnam" on the BBC. The English spelling of Vietamese names explains a lot such as General Giap which is pronounced (as near as I can manage it) "General Zjeeapp".
  8. Gezza

    Gezza Well-Known Member

    I thought this was quite interesting:-

    The city's official name change, to Mumbai from Bombayhappened when regional political party Shiv Sena came into power in 1995. The Shiv Sena saw Bombay as a legacy of British colonialism and wanted the city's name to reflect its Maratha heritage, hence renaming it to pay tribute to the goddess Mumbadevi.19 Sep 2016
    daft_biker likes this.
  9. GeoffR

    GeoffR Well-Known Member

    Yes, Vietnamese names are a mine field but ask them and they will tell you how their name is pronounced and, if you try they will forgive your errors.
    AndyTake2 likes this.
  10. spinno

    spinno Well-Known Member

    I like Spike Milligan's approach to foreign names, obviously nowadays totally un-PC but some examples
    German General, General Vongoodturn, Chinese Leader, General Cashmy Cheque etc.
    Of course one of his most popular British Army Captain Hugh Jampton:D
  11. Trannifan

    Trannifan Well-Known Member

    Given the general unwillingness of the english to learn foreign languages...............One wonders how many names of places or geographical features which colonial surveyors immortalised on their maps actually mean,'no idea', 'buggered if I know!' or simply 'blg hill'.

    RogerMac and Catriona like this.
  12. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

    You only have to look at the River Avons to start to get an idea about that...

    "What do you call this?"
    "A river".
    "OK, River River it is."
    Trannifan and Catriona like this.
  13. GeoffR

    GeoffR Well-Known Member

    English settler points to jumping animals and asks native “what do you call that?”
    Native replies, in his own language, “l don’t understand”
    OK then Kangaroo it is.
  14. steveandthedogs

    steveandthedogs Well-Known Member

    On the other hand, , Lontoo, Londres, Ranana, Landana.

    We aren't the only ones to call places by different names. Guess what these are in English?


    ps Finnish, French, Maori, Gujarati
    Catriona likes this.
  15. Catriona

    Catriona Well-Known Member

    I remember the outrage I felt when I eventually identified the marriage of an ancestor back in the 1700s in Edinburgh.
    His name was Duff. In Gaelic, Dubh. Dubh, translated, means black or dark.

    And yes, that's what was put on the marriage certificate - Black, not Duff.

    And in 1968, when I got married in England at a parish CoE church, I was not allowed to put my middle name on the certificate because it was 'foreign' or Gaelic, as it was! This was in a church officiated by an Irish minister! My middle name is Eilidh - the Gaelic for Helen (my mother's name). So Helen it was on my certificate.
  16. miked

    miked Well-Known Member

    King Canute - later written as Cnut, which of course has always been properly recognised by dyslexics.:oops:
    Catriona likes this.
  17. RovingMike

    RovingMike Crucifixion's a doddle...

    Saigon - Ho Chi Minh City. Whoops the local people still prefer Saigon and that's what they call it.

    Beijing was explained to us last month as just easier for them to say.
    Catriona likes this.
  18. Trannifan

    Trannifan Well-Known Member

    Then there are the surveyors and cartographers with hard to decipher handwriting. There's a place in northern Sweden I've stayed at a couple of times whilst hiking around the mountains called, on all the maps, tourist info etc., Saltoluokta. The story goes that when the swedish military were surveying the area back in the nineteenth century, the responsible surveyor's handwriting was almost indecipherable. The name of the place, the Sami told him, was Kaltoluokta - The inlet with a spring . However, when all the surveying documents got back to headquarters in Stockholm, the only sense the engravers and other staff could make of the surveyor's appalling scribble was Saltoluokta. If this name has any meaning then probably something like - Meaningless syllable Inlet ! Be that as it may, the copper plate was duly engraved, the map printed and so the name stuck. Even the Sami eventually got around to accepting this as the 'new' correct name.

    Last edited: Aug 14, 2019
  19. Trannifan

    Trannifan Well-Known Member

    Of course, chinese is a tonal language, which probably fooled westerners....................

  20. RogerMac

    RogerMac Well-Known Member

    I used to be connected with a company in Aachen and every time I drove there the signs called it Aix la Chappel that problem does not arise now as I normally go by Eurostar
    Catriona likes this.

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