How Do You Pronounce Theydon Bois?

Image by Ewan-M under Creative Commons.

We’ve all heard it. “Can you tell me where Lie-sester Square is?“. English place names can be a bit of a challenge to the outsider. Even longtime Londoners might struggle with some pronunciations. Hands up who’s contemplated the correct way to say ‘Theydon Bois’?

Here’s a quick guide to some of the commonest tongue-puzzlers:

Leicester Square: Any native knows this is pronounced ‘Less-ter’, but that complex run of vowels commonly stumps visitors.

Theydon Bois: A bit of a teaser, even for locals. The consensus seems to be ‘Theydon Boyce’ (or Boyz), given credence by Tube stop announcements. But we’ve found several reports of bus drivers pronouncing it as Theydon Boy. Most definitely, it’s not Theydon Bwahh.

Hainault: On the Central Line, it seems that pronouncing words the French way is passé. A few stops round from Theydon Bois, we find Hainault, which is enunciated as Hay-nolt rather than the Gallic ‘ay-no.

Cadogan Square/Hall: The Cadogan name is all over the Sloane Square area, named after a Georgian noble whose family still own much of the land thereabouts. It should be pronounced as Ca-duggan, not Cad-ogan.

Holborn: A perennial puzzler, Holborn is best pronounced using as few letters as possible – o’b'n rather than Hole-born. Ho-bun is probably the commonest form among locals.

Marylebone: As with Holborn, using fewer letters gets you nearer to the local pronunciation (up to a point). Mar’l'bun is a good start. Marry-lebone seems commonplace. Mary-le-bone is the tourist’s choice, and close to the historical roots in St Mary-le-Bourne church.

Homerton: The Simpsons fans might be tempted towards Homer-tun, but the correct form is more like Hommer-tun.

The Mall: Potentially confusing for North American visitors, who may be expecting a shopping centre. The ‘a’ is short, making the word rhyme with ‘pal’. And, as it happens, the name was borrowed from the neighbouring Pall Mall (definitely not pronounced Paul Maul), which itself was called after a croquet-like game called Pell Mell.

Rotherhithe: This had never struck us as particularly tricky, until one (anonymous) Londonist contributor admitted: “This probably marks me out as a moron, but I was convinced Rotherhithe was pronounced Rotherhither when I first moved to London. If we were in Germany, I’d totally have been right.

Greenwich/Southwark/Woolwich/Chiswick: The ‘silent W’ is a common peril for non-natives. The phenomenon tends to crop up in names of Anglo Saxon origin. If you see a W in the middle of a place name, just ignore it (hence Gren-itch, suth-urk, Wool-itch and Chis-ick). It’s only a rule of thumb, though. Don’t try it with Holloway or Queensway.

Tottenham: Most Londoners probably say something like Tott-num. The name was most famously mangled by former Spurs midfielder Osvaldo ‘Ossie’ Ardiles, who rolled it out to ‘Tottingham’ in this top-10 hit from Chas & Dave.

UPDATE

Here’s a graphic you can pass around to any visitors who might need help.

pronouncetheydonbois

NEW ADDITIONS

The following have all been added post-publication following reader comments (thanks).

Deptford: The case of the silent ‘p’. Simply, ‘Det-ford’. Thanks to Gaz in the comments for the suggestion.

Penge: @emdobinson on Twitter asks about this one. It rhymes with ‘henge’.

Plaistow: The correct form is ‘Plass-tow’. Thanks to reader BeccaS

Ruislip: 20th Century London advises us that this should be pronounced ‘Rye-slip’.

Struggling with other places? Share in the comments below.

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  • http://twitter.com/Exploring20CLdn 20th Century London

    Ruislip usually catces out the unwary. Dropping the ‘u’ does the trick ok ‘Rye-slip’

    http://www.20thcenturylondon.org.uk/server.php?show=conObject.2481

    • Anonymous

      Cheers. A good call. I’ve added it to a new section at the bottom.

      • El_Sid

        Thinking of double vowels, Yoostun is probably awkward for visitors from Oy-ropa

        Castelnau in Barnes seems to attract a variety of pronunciations.

        Portsoken may confuse some?

        And of course Clarm & Barm. ;-/

  • london historian

    Ha. Pipped at the post on Ruislip!

  • Iain

    Being on the Essex/London border, I think you’ll find Hainault is more likely to be ‘Ay-nort than Hay-nolt. And while we’re in that area, us locals generally avoid the other problem by simply calling the village “Theydon”.

    • Helvissa

      ‘Ay-nawt – cos people like me from Essex can’t say L without it turning into a W!

  • http://twitter.com/benhodgson Ben Hodgson

    Green-itch? Surely Gren-itch?

    • Anonymous

      Corrected, thanks. As a former Greenwich resident, that was very much a typo.

      • Badenmorgan

        I heard the locals call it Grin-itch, not Gren-itch

        • http://twitter.com/darryl1974 darryl1974

          Definitely Grin-itch, *not* Gren-itch.

        • Lizzikoala

          Completely correct – Gren itch is the yuppie form locals call it Grin idge

  • Steve Smith

    But what about Plaistow? I’m a Londoner who knows all the pronunciations above but nobody has ever clarified whether it’s “play-stow” or “plass-stow”. You regularly hear both.

    • BeccaS

      It’s “plass-stow” the root of the word is different to that of the places that are actually “play-stow” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plaistow,_Newham I’ve lived there my whole life and it’s become a per hate over the years :)

      • Anonymous

        Thanks Steve and Becca. I’ve added Plaistow to a new section at the bottom.

        • bravenewmalden

          But it’s surely ‘plarse-stow’, isn’t it? Unless you’re from the north of England.

          • BeccaS

            I’d say more Plah-stow but you are indeed right!

      • londona729

        *pet lol!
        Misspelling is one of my pet hates!

  • Gaz

    I’m from old Deptford stock (no ‘p’ pronounced) and locals say Grin-idge for Greenwich.

    • NR

      That is so wrong. It may not be a hard, empathised ’P', but the ‘P’ is still there. 

      • smiler_grogan

        It is the ‘T’ that is not pronounced not the ‘P’. Depford.
        And no way is it MARLybone. That’s lazy reading or plain dyslexia. Because it sounds like MARLow or MARLboro. MARRYlebon every time. And its not Westminister either.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=620222966 Neil Saunders

          As a Londoner born and bred I heard people pronounce Marylebone as either Marry-le-bun or Marlybun (with the vague sense that the latter was somewhat posher).

  • http://twitter.com/mseebach Martin Seebach

    Also an exception to the -wick rule: Gatwick.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=620222966 Neil Saunders

      True! Compare with Flitwick in Bedfordshire, which is definitely pronounced “Flittick”.

  • Phia Little

    I clicked through to this hoping to find an answer to the Play-stow/Plaah-stow dilemma! I haven’t been there on the tube recently so that provides no help. Someone please illuminate me. 

    • Nn

      See BeccaS’s reply above.

      But “Play-stow” is what I hear most.

      • Phia Little

        Thanks, and to Steve/Becca. Did send that question before BeccaS’s reply popped up. Interesting that the Tube drivers aren’t sure either!

        • Colin Davey

          I’m with Ian Dury on this one: Plaaahstow!

          • http://twitter.com/darryl1974 darryl1974

            Definitely Plaaaahstow.

            There’s a small, almost obselete bit of Bromley just above the town centre with the same name, though, which I believe takes the “play-stow” pronunciation. Not that it’s often heard, though, it’s pretty much subsumed into Bromley.

  • Steve Smith

    Thanks to BeccaS for clarifying “plass-stow”. Phia Little would find that travelling on the Tube doesn’t help as I’ve heard it pronounced both ways by train drivers.

  • london historian

    For Plaistow, I follow Ian Dury’s lead in Plaistow Patricia. @martin Excellent observation, I’m now going to be an insufferable PITA and call it “Gattick”

  • Maisie

    Erith – pronounced by locals as Ear-riff. No need for those pesky H’s!

    • Alan Jones

      But always pronounced Ehh-rith by newsreaders!

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=620222966 Neil Saunders

        Split the difference for the correct pronunciation, “Ear-ith”.

  • Biggsy

    I pronounce Chingford as “Cheenkford”.  How wrong is that?

    • BethPH

       I hear it pronounced as Chinkford quite a bit.

  • Goit

    Leytonstone is now officially know as Leyton-Saint-One by more
    bourgeois residents. 

  • http://twitter.com/parkylondon Paul Parkinson

    Greenwich? If you talk to a local, it’s Grinnidge.

    And an anecdote. I used to work for a Japanese company many years ago. During a quiet afternoon we had a round of tongue twisters. “Red Lorry, Yellow Lorry” had our Japanese manager in stitches as she tried to sort out her R’s and L’s. All went well until one wag asked her where she lived straight after a particularly long run of “Red Lorry Yellow Lorry”.

    CRAPHAM came the reply….

    • Su-Chong Lim

      “Crapham”‘s common, lol.

  • http://twitter.com/tiredoflondon tiredoflondon

    I’ve never been convinced by the Holborn argument. I’m convinced it was the plummy-voiced upper classes who enforced their own pronunciation on the grovelling masses. Somehow the idea of a Covent Garden barrow boy calling it Ho-Bun just doesn’t fit.

  • Grass

    Hampstead. Properly pronounced “luxury yacht”.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe just out of London – but Ewell always used to get me! (I used to pronounce it Ee-well, rather than the correct You’ll)

  • http://twitter.com/AlixKroeger Alix Kroeger

    What about De Beauvoir Town? Or is it easier just to call it North Hoxton?

  • Brindisi

    Spuyten Duyvil, on the north tip of Manhattan … Now there’s a place name to get your teeth into…

  • Jane

    What about the announcement on the 271 bus?  she says “cannon bewrie”

  • Dan M

    There seems to be no consensus about Becontree in east London. I grew up nearby and it’s pretty much a 50:50 split on Beacon-tree and Beckon-tree fans. There’s a clue from a pub there called the Beacon and Tree, but I’ll still be calling it Beckon-tree until some sort of law comes into effect telling me not to.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=620222966 Neil Saunders

      It should be “Beckon-tree”, just as Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire should be “Beckons-field”.

  • http://twitter.com/sparticus Mark Walley

    Let’s not forget Borough, which you pronounce as any English person would, in the manner that is entirely at odds to it’s spelling. Burra would be a better phonetic spelling, but I fear we’d be accused of being australian.

    Also, having lived in Marylebone and now living just along from it, the common way of saying it (one that the girls school and parish church seem to use as well) is marley-bone (as in dead friend of scrooge, dog’s bone)

  • Toffer99

    Look. I’m sorry about this, but if you’re as posh as me, you’ll pronounce it Tea-down Boze.

    • londona729

      People say i sound posh too lol!

  • bravenewmalden

    Theydon Bois looks guilty if you ask me.

  • OurSoul

    If you’re having difficulty pronouncing “th” like a Londoner, remember it’s not my fault, it’s Northolt.

  • http://twitter.com/davidwhittam David Whittam

    There’s the Dull Itch of Dulwich of course.

  • Dermot_e2

    One of my pet hates when people pronounce De Beauvoir Town (Hackney), ‘De Boo-vwah’. It’s ‘De Bow-vwah’!

    And while I’m in the neighbourhood – for a long time after moving to Hackney I pronounced Kingsland Road as ‘Kings-LAND’ when, as any fule kno, it’s ‘KINGS-Lund’

    • Benjamin Mathis

      Strictly speaking it’s “De beaver” but the CORRECT mispronunciation is “De bow-vwarr.”

      What about Aldwych? I learnt it as “Oll-ditch” but you still hear it said phonetically as “Orld-witch.”

      And then someone popped up and claimed it should be “Orld-wick.”

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=620222966 Neil Saunders

        An elderly lady of my acquaintance (the mother of a friend) refers to the nearby Theobalds Road as Tibbalds Road. I’m pretty certain I’ve heard her refer to Alditch as well.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=620222966 Neil Saunders

      Believe me, I sympathise with you over Kingsland Road. The pronunciation that you rightly condemn is an instance of a spelling pronunciation driving out a local, oral one, with an accented vowel as in RP “cat” replacing the unaccented schwa. Something similar has happened to Wandsworth. The announcements on automated railway station announcements now regularly refer to this locality as Wands Worth (as in a query to a wizard or magician: “How much are your wands worth?”), rather than the long-established Wandswuth.

  • Katharine

    There used to be an advert on the tube for Jamieson’s whisky (I think) which was headed ‘How to separate the Debden from the Theydon Bois’. I’ve used that as my basis for pronunciation ever since.

    • londona729

      Do you have a link for the ad?

  • Melaniewold

    Maybe you can also alert tourists (American) that Wimbledon is not pronounced “Wimbel-tun”!

  • http://twitter.com/Britt_W Britt Warg

    Then there’s Grosvenor St. Far from self-explanatory…

  • http://twitter.com/toady toady

    Personally, I always thought it was ‘Rovver-ive’; true Londoners know that ‘th’ will either be pronounced as a ‘v’ or an ‘f’, depending on context. 

    Aldwych: I grew up hearing it as ‘Auld-witch’. 

  • http://twitter.com/adamawhite Adam White

    Theobald’s Road at the top of Hole-born is traditionally ‘Tybbald’s', although it’s increasingly rare to see anyone say it. At what point do we adopt the popular pronunciation?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=620222966 Neil Saunders

      My friend’s mother still calls it Tybbald’s Road, although she’s pushing 90 now!

  • Geoff Webber

    Not London but an Aussie was once heard on a train asking for Loo-ger-ba-roo-ger. Transpired he was after Loughborough.

  • http://www.boatownerswarehouse.com.au boat parts
  • Dan

    How about Aldwych? The announcement on the number 13 bus says ‘Ald-which’ but I would have gone with ‘Ald-itch’.

  • Escapingbrown

    Friern Barnet is definitely Fry-ern Barnet, in line with its lovely Friary Park. It’s not Free-ern, whatever my mum says.

  • Jim M

    It is definitely Plar-stow.

    There is no debate about this. Classic way to spot the outsider. 

  • Tom

    And St. John’s Wood. So often pronounced ‘saint’ not ‘St’. I’ve ranted at US tourists about such errors.

    • norwoodgirl

      I overheard someone call it SIN-gins-wood once rather than St.-JOHNS-wood. Was he just being silly?

      • El_Sid

        Influence of Norman St John-Stevas, one time MP for Chelmsford, who was pronounced Norman Sin-jun Stevas. It’s wrong when applied to the area around Lord’s cricket ground.

  • John Parkinson

    No Isleworth? Pronounced locally as Eye-sul-worth. Most outsiders think it should be Aisle-worth.

    • london historian

      Ah yes. Because it’s on my doorstep I never even considered it. 

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=620222966 Neil Saunders

        There must have been far fewer confusions about how to pronounce place names when people moved around less. Growing up not too far away, in Fulham and then Putney, I knew that it was pronounced Eye-Zul-Wuth (although I won’t be too dogmatic about the voicing of the sibilant).

  • Fox

    I always thought Theydon Bois was pronounced ‘They done boys’, preferably in a thick Cockney or Essex accent. After all, it is next to Fiddlers Hamlet…

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=620222966 Neil Saunders

      This one is more divisive than I thought. I’ve always pronounced the “th” of Theydon as unvoiced (as in “thin”) but the “s” of Bois voiced (as in “rose”).

  • Richard Mellor

    De Beauvoir is the classic here. 

    (I’m not sure where Benjamin Mathis and his strict-speaking is quoting from, but I’d argue there is no correct way – place names and intonations change over time anyway, so what was correct a decade ago might be wrong a decade later.)

    I’ve heard it De Beaver, De Bow-Vwah, De Boovi-ay, De Bwavah.  On the basis that De Bow-Vwah is the commonest utterance, I’d argue that that’s therefore the most correct pronunciation.  There isn’t really a right or wrong, basically. 

  • William B.

    Greenwich and Southwark, both on the Jubilee line, and both tricky for the unawares.

    The “w” is silent and useless in both words. 

    • londona729

      It’s useful for spelling

  • Rangjan

    There seems to be a misconception that locals pronounce the place-names correctly. Please, let’s not take a lowest common denominator approach!

    • londona729

      Very true indeed!

      Some of the pronunciations suggest a ‘dumbing down’ or more euphemistically put as the lowest common denominator approach|!

  • Phil

    Just been to Canterbury and had a pint in the George and Dragon in “England’s smallest town” Fordwich
    The local radio traffic report and the landlady both said ford-witch but it just doesn’t sound right to me!
    I’ll keep calling it Ford-itch as it sounds better.

    • El_Sid

      Nice pub. The Fordwich W is definitely pronounced – I guess it’s a Jute thing versus the silent Saxon W. See also nearby Sandwich – would you eat a “sandditch”?

      Given all the -wich salt-mining towns in Cheshire, and randoms like Aldwych, I suspect that pronouncing the W is marginly more common than not, making Dulwich/Greenwich/Harwich the exceptions not the rule. All a conspiracy to confuse the foreigners!

  • Davjlam

    Cheyne Walk?

    • smiler_grogan

      Chaney

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=620222966 Neil Saunders

        As in Lon.

  • Briteyes

    Streatham is my favourite bugbear.  A few years back, I was in a play set in Streatham, and had a hell of a time convincing my fellow actors that it wasn’t pronounced “Streeth-ham.”

    • Em

       Or as the locals once tried to convince the rest of London when Streatham was up and coming, St.Ree-Thum!

  • BB

    I’ve heard calling Crouch End ‘Croux-on’, again, thanks to our french neighbours.

  • Paul

    Tottenham – Nam, as in Viet.

  • http://www.janeslondon.com Jane

    Whopping

  • Helen

    This is probably me being stupid but how do any of you pronounce Leytonstone? I’m moving there later in 2012 and I’m totally stumped.  I’ve heard “lay-tonne-stone” by estate agents and “lay’un’stun” or “leytunsun (no t) by locals…. It’s probably any of those but I’m just curious as I’m not from London originally :)

    • londona729

      Ley-ton-stone! Not too hard!

  • Judygs

    lay’tun’stun I’d say, just a bit of a t after the y unless you’re really local

  • Stefan Hilzinger

    Gloucester Road

  • Pete Allen

    How about Beauchamp Place in Knightsbridge? Commonly pronounced “bee-cham” is this correct?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=620222966 Neil Saunders

      Yes, it’s definitely “Beecham”.

  • Mike7373

    Not London, but what about Bevois Valley. Is it pronounced “Beeviz” (as in Beavers), or “B’ vwah”, or neither of those?

  • rebelcode

    Isleworth. Apparently Eye zal-Wuth. Who knew?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=620222966 Neil Saunders

      Anyone from a roughly ten-mile radius of the place.

      • londona729

        Lol just travel on a bus and i-bus will say it!

        • Neil Saunders

          The automated announcements on buses are far from infallible, though. An example is Eveline Road in Mitcham, which is announced on the 270 bus as Eev-Lyne Road. (The strictly correct pronunciation of this Irish-Norman name is something like Ave-Leen, but the now largely displaced Mitcham locals used to pronounce the road Ever-Lin.)

          • londona729

            In my book there’s nothing with pronouncing a name in a more RP-style way!

  • http://sfchapman.tumblr.com/ Stephen Chapman

    I was in the USA in the Summer and the area southeast of Boston is littered with towns that have names “stolen” from us: Chatham, Sandwich, Falmouth, Plymouth etc. In the main, the Americans pronounced them correctly… apart from one. They insisted on saying Harr-witch when they meant Harwich!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=656911477 Bobette Bobette

    Pall Mall is Pal Mal but the Mall is the Maul.

  • http://twitter.com/ZoiRosewin Zoey Vardanis

    Edgware Road: agewah-rod, not edgah-road or age-where-rod

  • liliabbott

    Marl i bone not mar’l'bun

  • Alex Macfie

    When you think about it, it doesn’t make sense to pronounce place names derived from Anglo-Norman (such as Heinault heydon Bois) as in modern French. There’s about 800 years and another dialect apart…

  • http://www.facebook.com/thanassis.deriziotis Thanassis Deriziotis

    What about Rugeley? It must be pronounced “Roozly” or “Ragly”?

  • starburn

    When I lived in Bow, a colleague used to pronounce it bow as in ‘bow to the audience’ rather than a bow that you tie in your shoelaces.

  • Phil Armond

    hello

  • Lars

    Speaking about not pronouncing in a French way, how about “Vauxhall”? Great article, by the way.

  • Guest

    Holdborn, from Middle English for ‘Old Brook’ is pronounced Hoe-bun not Hold-bon or hold-born.

  • MM

    Colesdon or Coolsdon for Coulsdon? My money’s on the former.

    And it’s Plah-stow, not Plass-tow

  • londona729

    I’ve now been inspired to join the Queen’s English Society!

  • Morisek

    Leadenhall?

  • pasqdek

    Meopham
    it should be pronounced Me-pem, not me-o-fam or me-fam

  • pasqdek

    and Wandsworth is mispronounced all the time, instead of correct “wand’s worth” I hear all the time, especially on train announcements as a rhyme to hands forth, grrrrrrr!!!