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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 January 2006, 09:40 GMT
Why is Menzies pronounced Mingis?
The Magazine answers...

Campbell and yogh
Sir Menzies Campbell (left) and the symbol for the now defunct yogh
He's the frontrunner for the Lib Dem leadership, but why is Sir Menzies Campbell's first name pronounced Mingis?

Blame the "yogh", a letter in old English and Scots (see image, right) which has no exact equivalent today.

Pronounced "yog", it used to be written a bit like the old copperplate-style "z" with a tail, which helps explain the discrepancy between the spelling of Menzies and the pronunciation.

The rise of printing in the 16th Century coincided with the decline of the yogh, and so it tended to be rendered in print as a "z", and pronounced as such.

But there's more to saying Menzies than simply transposing the "z" for a "g" when speaking the name.

"You've got the upper 'y' sound from the back of the mouth and the 'n' sound going to meet it," says Chris Robinson, director of the Scottish Language Dictionaries. "There's a sort of assimilation of the two sounds."

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According to the BBC Pronunciation Unit, the name can be phonetically transcribed as "MING-iss".

"It rhymes with 'sing' but without the hard 'g'," says BBC pronunciation linguist Catherine Sangster. "Think of the difference between 'finger' and 'singer'. In Menzies, you want the 'n' to immediately form into the soft 'ng' from singer."

The yogh takes a softer "y" sound in the word capercaillie, the name of a large grouse, which the Oxford English Dictionary spells "capercailye" or "capercailzie".

The same goes for the Scottish surname Dalziel, pronounced Dee-ELL.

The yogh owes its origin to the Irish scribes who arrived in Saxon Britain in the 8th Century and began teaching the Anglo Saxons to write - before this, old English was written in runes, says Ms Robinson.

It fell out of favour with the Normans, whose scribes disliked non-Latin characters and replaced it with a "y" or "g" sound, and in the middle of words with "gh". But the Scottish retained the yogh in personal and place names, albeit mutating into a "z" to please the typesetters of the day.

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Inevitably, however, the euphemistic "z" became a real "z", in some quarters at least. The surname "MacKenzie" now almost universally takes the "zee" sound although it would have originally been pronounced "MacKenyie".

"I had two girls in my class at school with the surname Menzies, one pronounced 'Mingis' the other 'Menzees'," says Ms Robinson.

Often pronunciation can be an indicator of class and status, or geography. But in the case of Menzies it's purely arbitrary, says Ms Robinson, who advises to always check.

Those south of the border might be surprised to know that the newsagent chain John Menzies takes the old pronunciation, and so should be John Mingis.

The company's website has a bit of fun with the potential for misunderstanding, invoking the following poem to make its point (see Internet links, above right, for audio):

A lively young damsel named Menzies
Inquired: "Do you know what this thenzies?"
Her aunt, with a gasp,
Replied: "It's a wasp,
And you're holding the end where the stenzies."

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

Regarding the letter "yogh", can you clarify the pronunciation of yoghurt for me? I fear I may have got it wrong all these years.
Ian, UK

Oh, the joys of the English language! As a teacher of EFL in Spain, a country whose language is very phonetic, each letter has a sound, and it hardly ever changes, it is a constant source of fun and struggle to teach pronunciation.
PJ, Barcelona

For mis-pronouncing silent letters, I think this is the best story I've heard: Jean Harlow was at a dinner party and kept on addressing Margot Asquith (wife of prime minister Herbert Asquith) as MargoT (pronouncing the 'T'). Margot finally had enough and said to her "No Jean, the T is silent, as in Harlow".
Stephen Buxton, Coventry, UK, thelbiq.co.uk

In this neck of the woods, Menzies would be pronounced Menzees, which is an awful lot nicer than Mingis.
Alison , Aberdeen

My late grandparents lived in a town called Glenzier and for the past 22 years of my life, I have pondered why exactly it's pronounced Glinger. Thank you BBC for finally explaining the reason behind it!
Phil Rae, Langholm

I was once advised by a venerable Scots Lib Dem many years ago that the correct pronunciation of Mr Campbell's first name is 'Menoz'. She noted that he once thanked her for being the only person in Cowley Street who ever said it correctly.
Andy Crick, Oxfordshire, UK

This Menzies thing always made me laugh growing up. Every Dundonian knows that the district known as Menzieshill is pronounced "Meeniss-hill" ( we soften the 'e' and drop the 'g' for effect!) - and yet we'd rarely pronounce the newsagent John Menzies 'correctly'.
Richard B, Edinburgh (formerly Dundee), Scotland, UK

I knew someone called John Menzies, who pronounced it "Meany". I suppose that at least gives us a collective term for Campbell's supporters - they can all be "Meanies"
Brian Clapham, London

What about those with names St. John pronounced Sinjun or St. Clair pronounced Sinclair?
Oliver Crispin, London

I don't speak Old English or Old Scots. Neither does anybody else. It's pretentious upper-class twaddle.
Neil Hoskins, Aylesbury, UK

What's the difference between "finger" and "singer"? They both sound the same to me!
Ash, Andover

Interesting. I knew about the Old English letter. It's often printed as 'g' when books of Anglo-Saxon poems are printed. So 'gingra' for 'younger', where the first letter should be a 'yogh', sound intermediate between a y and g, I was taught. The old word 'ye' as in 'O come all ye faithful' should also be spelt with it.
Alan E., West Yorkshire

After reading this, maybe it is time for my to hang my head and apologise to the poor Mr Menzies who used to buy Contact Lenses from the Opticians I worked at a few years ago. Every three months he came in asking for his new batch of lenses (Menzies pronounced with ing), and every time I would say I couldn't find them, asked him to spell his name and then say 'Ah, you mean Menzies (pronounced with the Z). This went of for 2 years and kept me slightly amused as I felt I was getting one over on a snobby customer!
Mike Burns, Inverness, Scotland

Having lived in Scotland for four years and worked in the newspaper industry with the John Menzies firm (now a newspaper and magazine distributor having sold their retail chain to WHSmith several years ago), the company name was always pronounced with the 'z' and not with the 'yogh' described in your article. I have been told that 'Menzies' was pronounced with a 'z' in surnames in Scotland, but in the old style in forenames.
Simon Linacre, West Yorkshire, UK

What an excellent article. Thank you for clearing up the mystery of why Dalziel is pronounced Dee-ELL, that has puzzled me since the series first aired. I've always pronounced the newsagents name as John MING-iss.
Dougie Lawson, Basingstoke, UK

Having the middle name of Menzies (due to the Scottish tradition of receiving your mother's maiden name as your middle name) I am watching all this debate on what I thought was a fairly standard name with interest. I used to be slightly embarrassed about my name being pronounced "Mingis" but all this publicity seems to be changing that!
Gillian Sinclair, Manchester, UK

Not so about John Menzies the newsagents - I lived in Edinburgh for 8 years where everyone pronounces it as Menzees. Not only that but I worked for the ad agency there that had the John Menzies account, and we recorded radio jingles that also pronounced it as Menzees. Presumably that was okayed by the company...
Louise Elliott, Cheshire

As a child I lived in one of those areas in the NW where "singer" is pronounced "sing-ger". So when schoolteachers tried to explain things by reference to the difference between the sounds of finger and singer, I had no idea what they were talking about.
Ivan Viehoff, Chalfont St Giles, England

John Menzies might think they are called John Mingis, but when I was growing up in the West Highlands everyone (except my Mum) called them John Menzees.
Oliver, UK

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