Tuesday, January 30, 2007

More Thorough Thoughts on ough

A quick Internet search for the term "ough" -- suggested by my mother -- yielded some interesting results, including an odd posting at the venerable British Medical Journal by an Oxford clinical pharmacologist called Aronson. Here's an excerpt:
Prompted by the unusual pronunciation of cough, George Bernard Shaw suggested that ghoti spelt fish -- "gh" as in cough, "o" as in women, and "ti" as in nation. But, of course, ough is not always pronounced off, as the table shows.

An American friend has told me that there is a US town called Gough, pronounced "gaff," but I suspect that this is just "goff" spoken with a strong American accent.

Notice that slough and shough can each be pronounced in three different ways. And the correct way to pronounce the title of this piece ["Ough ough"] is "Oh oh."

Enough.
The table he mentions is viewable on the BMJ site. It shows a whopping thirteen ways to pronounce ough -- though some are Scottish and Irish.

A new pronunciation from the table is for the words borough and thorough, which are apparently pronounced "bur-uh" and "thur-uh" in British English.

I noticed that he mentioned the word slough. Webster's has it pronounced "sloo," meaning swamp, or "sluff," meaning to cast off. Or "slau" (rhyming with "plow"), a medium-sized city in Berkshire, England.

The final entry in this category is a gem. Slough of despond (pronounced to rhyme again with "plow") is a "state of extreme depression." The etymology is novel:
"From the Slough of Despond, deep bog into which Christian falls on the way from the City of Destruction and from which Help saves him in the allegory Pilgrim's Progress (1678) by John Bunyan"

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