Monday, 20 September 2010

Jerome Klapka Jerome (1)

There is a short section in Jerome K Jerome's book Three Men on the Bummel which I should like to draw your attention to (or brush up your memory on):
I also think pronunciation of a foreign tongue could be better taught than by demanding from the pupil those internal acrobatic feats that are generally impossible and always useless. This is the sort of instruction one receives: "Press your tonsils against the underside of your larynx. Then with the convex part of the septum curved upwards so as almost - but not quite - to touch the uvula, try with the tip of your tongue to reach your thyroid. Take a deep breath, and compress your glottis. Now, without opening your lips, say 'Garoo.'" And when you have done it they are not satisfied.
Allow me to write a few lines on Jerome before in a later blog I'll come back to the phonetic side of this short extract (which was written in 1900).

Who was Jerome K Jerome (/dʒərəʊm keɪ dʒərəʊm/)? Born on the 2nd of May 1859 in Belsize House, Bradford Street, Walsall, Staffordshire, (England, Great Britain, Earth, Universe) as the fourth child of Jerome Clapp and Marguerite Maine Jones. Jerome's siblings had been given quite spectacular names (here are a few fabulous first names for your baby):
  • Paulina Deodata Clapp
  • Blandina Dominica Clapp
  • Milton Melanchthon Clapp.
Before the birth and christening of Jerome his father changed his name to Jerome Clapp Jerome. I haven't read anything yet about the reason(s), but according to OED clap (inter alia) means gonorrhoea in impolite use. Understandably, Jerome Clapp changed his name to Jerome Clapp Jerome. (All this is a mere conjecture, of course). The fourth sibling, a son, was Jerome Clapp Jerome, the later author of Three Men in the Bummel and other writings. The story goes that the Clapp family had a lodger, an exiled Hungarian general called György Klapka (the mind-boggling question is how this general came to live in Staffordshire in mid-nineteenth century*); György Klapka's last name was pinched by Jerome's parents, and Jerome Clapp Jerome became Jerome Klapka Jerome or JKJ for short.

Three Men in a Boat and Three Men on the Bummel are the two most well-known novels by JKJ. None of the three pronouncing dictionaries (CPD, LPD, ODP) lists the pronunciation of bummel. OED mentions two pronunciations -/bʊməl/ and /bʌməl/. Bummel is of German origin and means something like 'a leisurely stroll or journey' (OED, s.v. bummel). 
* An attempt at an answer can be found in my blog of the 23rd of September.


  1. Jack-of-all-trades20 September 2010 at 21:48

    Greetings from Italy, and my best wishes for your blog!

    So, the "K." in the full name of Jerome K. Jerome stands for "Klapka".

    And "Klapka" is the surname of the Hungarian patriot George (György) Klapka.

    But, how did the writer himself (and his family) pronounce the middle name "Klapka"?

    Or, at least, how is "(Jerome) Klapka (Jerome)" commonly pronounced in English?

    Does anybody know?

    The original Hungarian pronunciation was (is) /'klɒpkɒ/ (I hope the IPA signs are readable: with the vowel of BrE [RP] "dog" /dɒg/ – open back rounded).

    But I suspect that the (British) English pronunciation was (is) /'klæpkə/, with the vowel of "cat" /kæt/ (near-open front unrounded) in the stressed syllable. Am I right?

    I couldn't find the English pronunciation of "Klapka" anywhere.

  2. Only a lodger? Looks suspiciously like a ménage à trois!

  3. @Jack-of-all-trades: Thanks for your wishes!
    @Anonymous: Ts, ts, ts! What a one-tracked mind you've got! ;)

  4. Jack-of-all-trades22 September 2010 at 23:23

    @ John Maidment: Thank you very much.