Saturday, March 1, 2014


So there is a town west of London called Slough. It's fairly close to Maidenhead, where we've been staying, and we pass it every time we take the train to London.

I am dedicating a blog post to it because the pronunciation of Slough has opened a proverbial can of worms in my head that I would like to exorcise. 

On arriving, I politely presumed Slough was pronounced "Slew", since it seemed a reasonable way to pronounce a place where people actually lived (as a secondary option, I also suggested "Slow"). I was informed, however, the the correct pronunciation is "slauw" (rhymes with "thou" or "plough" or "how now brown cow"), which sounds quite a bit less like a place where people should live. Nevertheless, there it is. If you want to abide by the queen's English, and apparently we all do, you should call it "slauw".

This just reminded me how painfully arbitrary the Queen's English can be, with all it's firm, precise and entirely illogical rules. Like the way "though", "through", "thought", "tough" and "trough" all find different ways to pronounce the identical "ough" element (th-oh, thr-ooh, th-ô-t, t-uff and t-rôff, respectively). No sense at all.

That made me wonder why Slough diverges from all these varied pronunciations and pursues, instead, yet another alternative. I logically decided to research all words ending in "ough" (for purposes of brevity and sanity I focused only on words ending in "ough", to the exclusion of words containing "ough") to determine which pronunciation is, in fact, the most common.

As it turns out, there are 24 independent, and 3 derivative, words ending in "ough" (IF YOU KNOW OF ANY MORE, LET ME KNOW URGENTLY), and they are:

although - despite the fact that - rhymes with "aglow" 
borough - a village, town or part of a large city that has it's own government - rhymes with "furrow"
bough - a main branch of a tree - rhymes with "cow"
breakthrough - a sudden increase in knowledge, understanding etc - rhymes with "achoo"
chough - either a black and white Australian bird of the mud-nester family, or a black bird of the crow family - rhymes with" bluff"
clough - a steep valley or ravine - rhymes with "low"
cough - to force air through your throat with a short, loud noise, often because you are sick - rhymes with "scoff"
dough - a thick malleable mixture of flour and liquid, used for baking into bread or pastry - rhymes with "crow"
enough - as much as required - rhymes with "cream puff"
furlough - a leave of absence - rhymes with "wallow"
hiccough - fancy way of saying hiccup - pronounced like "hiccup"
interborough - between boroughs - still rhymes with "furrow"
lough - Irish for loch, which is like a little lake - rhymes with "block"
plough - large farming implement with blades, used to turn over soil and cut furrows for planting seeds - rhymes with "now"
rough - having an uneven or irregular surface, OR a violent, boisterous person - rhymes with "bluff"
slough 1 - a place of deep mud or mire; a swamp, OR a situation characterised by lack of progress or activity, OR a state of moral degradation or spiritual dejection - rhymes with "blue"
slough 2 - the cast-off skin of a dead snake, OR something that may be shed or cast off - rhymes with "bluff"
sough - a moaning, whistling or rush sound as made by the wind in the trees or the sea - rhymes with "cow"
sourdough - leaven for making bread, consisting of fermenting dough - rhymes with "airflow"
thorough - complete with regard to every detail - rhymes with "burrow"
though - despite the fact that - rhymes with "blow"
through - moving in one side and out of the other side - rhymes with "chew"
tough - strong enough to withstand adverse conditions or rough handling - rhymes with "fluff"
trough - a long, narrow open container for animals to eat or drink out of - rhymes with "scoff"
unrough - um, not rough - rhymes with "nun bluff"
wherethrough - through which, whereby - rhymes with "ado"
yarborough - (usually in a game of bridge) a hand with no ace and no card above nine - rhymes with "Gainsborough"

So we have 10 "ough"s pronounced "oh", 7 pronounced "uff", 4 pronounced "ooh", 3 "ow", 2 "ôff" and 1 "ock".

The statistics clearly favour the pronunciation as "sl-oh" or "sluff", while the main dictionary definition of Slough (hardly anything you'd want to name a town after), suggests my initial presumption of "sl-ooh" (or "slew"). You have to dig pretty deep (to bough, plough and sough) to find a justification for "sl-auw". But there it is.

Which all leads to the conclusion that this is a very unfortunately named town, subject to the ridicule - and ridiculousness - of the Queen's English.

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