Mar 5, 2012

Guest Post: How Do You Say Celtic?



All Their Wars Are Merry and All Their Songs Are Sad*
By Jamie Chavez

Words—and the way they are pronounced—can be such funny things. And people are often passionately attached to their own interpretation, even if they’re … well … wrong. Like the pronunciation of Van Gogh. (Look it up; you may be surprised.)

The Irishman and I have done some pleasant business with a company called Celtic Marble and Granite right here in the geographical center of the state. The storefront downtown is this fantastical, swirling, hippie-looking façade and I just love it, love going inside and running my hands over the samples of gorgeous stone. The business is owned by the Fretwells; she’s English, he’s Welsh (very, very Welsh).

Which doesn’t really matter, but I’m out driving one day and remember I need to call them about our current project. I don’t have the number, so I call information and ask for Celtic Marble and Granite. I pronounce it “KELL-tick.” Wouldn’t you? It never crossed my mind to pronounce it any other way.

            The operator tells me there is no such number.
            Now … I know there is. :) So I smile and say: “Oh, of course there is! I do business with them! C-E-L-T-I-C (see-ee-ell-tee-eye-see).”
            Long pause. “You mean SELL-tick, then.”

Hahahahahahahhaa. My mistake was that I didn’t get it at first: I was wrong, she needed me to know that. But that just flew right over my head. “No, it’s KELL-tick,” I say without thinking. I didn’t really mean to argue with her, I just didn’t understand I wasn’t playing the appropriate role. :) It made her mad, I could tell. (After the fact. Sorry, BellSouth operator lady! Really!)

But what about the Boston Celtics? you might well ask. Or, if you’re Irish: But what about the Glasgow (Scotland) Celtic? Excellent questions. I was trying, some time ago, to locate a succinct explanation of the origins of the Gaelic language, a language that, written, looks absolutely nothing like how it sounds (would you have guessed the word taoiseach—meaning prime minister, as in “Bernie Ahern, at age forty-five, was Ireland’s youngest ever taoiseach”—would be pronounced “TEE-shock”? Neither would I), when I stumbled upon this, which explains the situation: What is a Celt and who are the Glasgow Celtics?

… It is interesting to note that when the British Empire was distinguishing itself as better and separate from the rest of humanity, it was decided that British Latin should have different pronunciation from other spoken Latin. Therefore, one of these distinguishing pronunciational differences was to make many of the previously hard ‘k’ sounds move to a soft ‘s’ sound, hence the Glasgow and Boston Celtics. It is the view of many today that this soft ‘c’ pronunciation should be reserved for sports teams since there is obviously nothing to link them with the original noble savagery and furor associated with the Celts.

And that, I believe, is the final word on that!

(*From “The Ballad of the White Horse” by G. K. Chesterton: “For the great Gaels of Ireland are the men that God made mad, for all their wars are merry …”)

Jamie Chavez is an editor, writer, and blogger. This article reprinted by permission, © 2012.



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