March 11, 2004

Beijing, Bolshoi

Bill Poser's hypothesis about the source of the "zh" pronunciation of Beijing is appealing, and very likely correct. "Zh" works better as a French pronunciation than "j" does, and Americans seem to have a fondness for Frenchifying all foreign words. There's the story -- possibly apocryphal, but I hope not -- of the refined lady who called the San Francisco opera house wanting to know when the "Bolshwa" ballet would be performing -- using the "wa" pronunciation of the final oi, as in French, instead of the Russian (and ordinary English) "oy" pronunciation. And there are other examples out there of fake-French pronunciations of words assumed to be foreign. Posted by Sally Thomason at March 11, 2004 10:08 AM