The column: In defence of… pronunciation policing
After several months’ hiatus, road cycling is gradually returning to our screens. This week brought us the Etoile de Bessèges and the Volta a la Valenciana.
One of our favourite things about the new term is the opportunity to welcome a raft of unfamiliar riders to the WorldTour. All will pop up on TV coverage before too long; most either doing the donkey work on the front of the bunch or clinging on for dear life at the back, as they discover just how hard the top tier can be.
And all of them will have names of varying degrees of difficulty to pronounce.
We can get our vocal chords around Fred Wright easily enough, and had no problem when we met Ian Garrison in Calpe last month. We might, however, need a bit of help with Thymen Arensman (Sunweb) and Mauri Vansevenant (Deceuninck Quick Step). In the WWT, Jutatip Maneephan (Ale BTC Ljubljana) is something of a tongue twister and we’re not likely to verbalise Marta Jaskulska (CCC-Liv) correctly the first time either.
And “correct” is what we’re after, not close enough.
As journalists we might encounter a rider at a race, or in their team hotel, and you’re hardly going to get off on the right foot by getting their name wrong. Even if there wasn’t a professional imperative, it’s just basic respect, isn’t it? It used to wind me up if a particular friend would call my then-girlfriend Christine when her name was Christina. Because somebody’s name is their identity. Getting it wrong shows you’re not paying attention – or worse, that you don’t care about who they are.
Others may be less bothered by it, but surely we’d all rather get it right than not? I feel like this basic principle is one we can agree on.
At least I did, until I had the misfortune last year of catching a rant, originally broadcast on TalkSport, which went vaguely viral after it was shared to social media. For the station’s Drivetime host Adrian Durham “when commentators pronounce names expertly correctly [sic] it absolutely does my head in.”
“It might be right but nobody says that!” he went on, before concluding with a call for commentators to “just say it how it’s meant to be said in this country.”
Xenophobic dog whistle aside, there is something disturbing about the cognitive dissonance required to denounce someone for doing something “correctly”.
Durham was referring to football rather than cycling, but fans of our great sport are not averse to a moan about this. A cursory Twitter search for “Rob Hatch pronunciation” reveals the sheer volume of grief the Eurosport commentator is subjected to simply for saying the riders’ names the way they would themselves.
And that’s all he’s doing. The headline of this article might imply otherwise, but he’s not telling you how you should say it although, I would argue, you would be advised to follow his lead.
Of course, everything annoys someone and it doesn’t take much effort to find someone spitting feathers about it on social media. In the interest of balance, it should be noted that among the ire aimed in Hatch’s direction, there is also the odd Tweeter complimenting him on his tongue twisting accuracy.
The Column: The riders retiring on their own terms
But they are outnumbered by those who, like our friend Mr Durham, seem not just proud of their own ignorance but belittled and insulted by the acumen of others. What’s more, Hatch’s colleagues receive a lot less stick for getting it wrong more often.
Not that abuse of any kind is to be encouraged, but it’s baffling that the pronunciation of bike riders’ names should have become another battleground in the interminable culture war. How about we call a truce?
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