I forgot to post this yesterday, when it was more relevant, but here I go anyway. I’m not looking to offend anyone here, I’m just curious, and have been puzzled about this for years. I’m reminded of it every year at about this time. What am I talking about? Wimbledon.

venus williams wimbledon 2007 (AP Photo/Andrew Parsons, PA)Not the event itself (which I have not followed in over a decade or so) but the word, or rather its pronunciation. I’ve noticed that a lot of people in America – from people I encounter day to day to newscasters on NPR – seem to get very confused about the “d” and pronounce it as a “t”. So you get people talking about the “Wimbleton” final a lot at this time of year, especially when someone from the US is in it (see photo at right [credit: AP Photo/Andrew Parsons, PA]). Has anyone else noticed this, or is it just my hearing? (Or worse, perhaps it is pronounced with a “t” and I’ve just not been paying attention all these years, and somehow I just hear it more clearly over here when some people say it.)

I’ve been wondering why this happens. Here’s some additional data, I’ve painstakingly gathered over the years. I’ve noticed that it is not just with Wimbledon. It works with any British place name that ends with “don”. It does not work with place names that end that way from anywhere else, I’ve noticed. So I think it might be because there are many British place names that end with “ton”, and so people get confused. Or perhaps “ton”-ifying a name makes it sound more authentically British to some US ears? Paradoxically, those same who “ton” in place of “don” do not do this for “London”, as though that place has somehow transcended the state of having a definite sense of place and Britishness and has become international common property, and thus not subject to the rules above.

I’m very confused about this (it is by no means a universal pattern, although I’ve had examples from all over America), but I’ve never discussed this with anyone before so I am not even sure if anyone else has heard it. Perhaps the powerful medium of the blog can help.

So share with me what you think/know.


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4 Responses to Teesandees

  1. rob says:

    You should watch more Letterman. Dave complains about it frequently. Here‘s the best reference Google could find for me, including the great line “But God bless the dumb people.”

  2. Clifford says:

    Hi. Thanks. I don’t watch any Letterman at al, so completely missed that.

    I just noticed that a technorati search brings it up as being an actual technorati tag, and furthermore currently there are seven pages listing 218 blog posts that use “wimbleton”, this page and one other (at a quick glance) being the only ones actually using it in order to point out its misuse….



  3. mollishka says:

    I’ve heard a few non-native English speakers rail about how native speakers pronounce t’s like they’re d’s, e.g., “butter” is often said so quickly that the middle letters seem to be d’s.

  4. candace says:

    American English speakers flatten their Ts like that, but it’s much less common for British English. And, actually, this is my guess as to why this t/d swap happens: perhaps (American) people are suddenly mindful of their enunciation and overcompensate in the wrong place. The two things that always mess my tongue up are forcing myself to say Ts more crisply and dropping my Rs.

    But thinking again, I’m also wondering if the -ton placename suffix isn’t used merely because it’s more common in the US and -don is relatively rarer, so they are defaulting to what they hear most often.