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You say “tomayto and I say tomahto…

 Pauline Nevins April 6, 2015 - The Union


This is an open letter to Nigel Thrift, vice chancellor and president of the University of Warwick in England. Mr. Thrift was in Placer County recently providing details on a proposed 6,000-student Warwick University on 600 acres west of Roseville in Placer County. I hope he’s still in the area so he can read this.

Dear Vice Chancellor/President Thrift:

May I say your surname is perfect for someone who is looking for investors for the new University of Warwick proposed for construction in Placer County in 2016 — although you may have the money part covered. I know nothing about the financial side of this project. Also, your Christian name (or should I say “first name”), is pretty cool, too — very upper-class English. How many Americans are named “Nigel?”

Actually, this letter has nothing whatsoever to do with your nice name. I was born and raised about 50 miles east of Coventry where your Warwick University is located. I know it’s not news to you, or to most English and Americans, that though we mostly understand each other’s language — facilitated by American films in Great Britain, and British programs on American public television — there are still some words and pronunciations that cause confusion.


In my teens I dated an American serviceman who was stationed in England. He would become my first, but not my last husband.

“Frank the Yank,” as my cheeky siblings called him, was a bit odd. Even I, a self-centered teenager at the time, managed to discern this. However, I continued to go out with him. I told myself Frank’s behavior was just a cultural thing, something to be understood — like his Southern accent. One of his many quirks was to correct my pronunciation.

“Nestlés chocolate is American,” he announced one rainy afternoon as he sat on our sofa in the living room munching a chocolate Aero bar, “and it’s pronounced “Neslees” not “Nessels.”He also said I pronounced “aluminium” incorrectly. “It’s not al-you-min-i-um,” he told me mockingly. “It’s a-loo-min-um.”

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