Monday, November 13, 2006

British beef

The scene: A local gastropub

The occasion: Our first "night out on the town" in London, testing out a brand new babysitter by staying relatively close to home.

Me: (studying the menu) Mmm.... the fillet looks good.

Paul: It does look good. But it's not a "fil-lay" here. They call it a "fil-let."

Me: Shut up! They do not.

Paul: Really, they do.

Me: How could that be? The word is derived from the French, and they pronounce "let" as "lay." It's a "fil-lay." That's just how you say the word. To pronounce it any other way would sound uneducated and just plain wrong.

Paul: Agreed. But they do it anyway. I don't know if it's that they refuse to bastardize the purity of the English language with "imported" words or what. But they definitely pronounce it phonetically. "Fil-let."

Me: Well, not me. I can't. Seriously, I just can't say it. I cannot order a "fil-let" with a straight face. I'd feel ridiculous.

Waitress: Can I take your order?

Me: Yes. I'll have the... steak, please.

Waitress: The "fil-let"? Very good.

Paul: (Muffled laughter.)

Perhaps someday, under great duress, some u's will colour my world and I will realise the value of substituting an s for a z. I might (though I sincerely doubt it) even come to understand the odd British habit of punctuating queries with a period rather than a question mark, though I can't really see why they do that, can you. (Ick. Really bad.) But mark my words, I will never be able to order a "fil-let" with a straight face. Ever.

11 Comments:

Blogger Stephanie said...

I don't think I could do it either. And I totally don't get the question mark thing.

6:37 PM  
Blogger Tenille said...

Hee. Love it!

Tenille

7:00 PM  
Anonymous Denzylle said...

First off, when I say 'you', here, I mean Americans generally, not you specifically, Rebecca.

If I were in a restaurant that had filet mignon on the menu, I'd ask for a 'fillay' mignon as the word is spelled (and, thus, pronounced) the French way.

However, 'fillet' is an English word, spelled and pronounced differently. How do Americans pronounce the verb? Don't tell me you 'fillay' a piece of fish, too? (Or, maybe you do, given McD's 'filet-o-fish...).

Forgive me saying so but, in this instance, I do think Americans are being rather pretentious by (historically) adopting the affected French pronunciation. (And I know America's love for all things French dates all the way back to Jefferson's admiration for what happened during the time of the French Revolution).

However, in these times, with many Americans having renamed Freedom Fries, perhaps it's time you guys starting talking about fillet steaks, too.

As for question marks, I thought you meant when speaking, we don't end a question in the way that Americans do. If you meant in writing, I've never noticed that. And, personally, I'm anal about punctuation and crossing and dotting the relevant letters.

7:35 PM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

I was hoping you'd weigh in here, Denzylle!

Yes, we "fil-lay" fish, too. No such thing as a "fil-let" under any circumstances in the States, at least not as far as I'm aware. I guess the English took and modified the French word, while the Americans just kept the French version w/ no modification. Pretentious? I suppose. But I think Freedom Fries are, too! :)

The question mark thing is something I've noticed both in print advertisements and in Julia's school reading books. Many sentences which I (also anal about such things) would punctuate with a question mark seem to end with a period here. I've not been able to pinpoint the rule, but as someone who's generally pretty crazy about "proper" punctuation, the discrepancy drives me crazy. I can't decide if I'm relieved or distressed to hear you say there isn't supposed to be a difference!

7:54 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Really? Fil-let? Really? I couldn't say it, either. (Not that I'd be ordering steak anyway - hee!)

4:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, I read this after a search while trying to find the answer to the different pronunciations - tell me, in America do you pronounce it Paree as the French do? (after all - it is "their" word) or do you totally get it "wrong" and pronounce it Paris with the "S" ?......Craig

5:49 PM  
Anonymous Beverly Mills said...

Lived in Australia for a long time and could NEVER pronounce it as fil-let! Sounds uneducated and ignorant to me - it's fillay all the way! ;)

Paris is a specific name and not related to the word fillet. A more applicable example is with the word lingerie - would you pronounce it ling-ger-ree? No! Cos it'd make you sound uneducated and ignorant!

8:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Considering Americans mispronounce so many other English words and mis-spell many more is it any wonder they can not see the difference between "Filet - pronounced Fil lay" and "Fillet - pronounced Fil lit"

2:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

why do Americans always assume that American English is the correct way and all other English is incorrect. English is from England, you are the ones mispronouncing and spelling words. Fillet is English, Filet is French.

11:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, talk about pretentious. I always thought there was a common understanding that neither form is wrong, and that people from different parts of the world sometimes simply say things differently.

No, Americans are not using English incorrectly.

1:50 AM  
Blogger Robin said...

The correct pronunciation (or spelling, or grammar) is the one that correctly communicates the meaning to the hearer (or reader).

All language is artificial, and works by consensus, and is always changing.

9:10 PM  

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