Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Dot Wordsworth

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Dot Wordsworth

Article excerpt

Haworth is in a constant simmer of Brontë anniversary fever. It is looking forward to Emily Brontë's 200th birthday next year. (This year is poor old Branwell's.) I can't think of a book title more widely mispronounced than Wuthering Heights. Soft, effete southerners pronounce it with a short u. But the wuthering in the title is a good Yorkshire word and its first vowel must be pronounced like the vowel in good.

Yet if you look up wuthering in the big fat Oxford English Dictionary, you'll find it under whither, the main English form deriving from the Old English hwitha. Emily Brontë should perhaps have called her novel Whithering Heights, though that would have led to more confusion among southerners who less often aspirate initial wh, and would have made whithering sound like withering (as in remarks).

The Anglo-Saxons had borrowed the word from the Norsemen, and it remained in use in Viking-struck parts of Britain: Northumberland, Durham, Lancashire, Cumberland, Westmorland and Yorkshire -- and Scotland, which employs a northern English dialect.

In his energetic Scots translation of the Aeneid from 1513, Gavin Douglas spelled whither as quhidder. …

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