Is the fear of saying unfamiliar words out loud a particularly Irish thing?

Emer McLysaght: Also, I for one will continue saying ‘goo-dah’ and be haunted by the unsolicited knowledge it’s pronounced ‘how-dah’ for the rest of my days

Nigella Lawson did the world a great service when she gave us a trick for remembering how to pronounce nduja, that delicious, trendy, spicy, spreadable sausage. Indeed, she sounded almost Irish when she put it in a sentence for us: “Nduja want to eat now?” which sounds a lot like “An’ do yeh want to eat now?”. En-doo-ya. That’s how you say it. En. Doo. Ya.

Knowing the correct pronunciation doesn’t make a fig of a difference when it comes to confidently ordering nduja when out and about. Is it a particularly Irish thing, that fear of saying unfamiliar words out loud or more specifically pronouncing them correctly? I suspect that most of us would rather go through our Leaving Cert orals again than saying “en-doo-ya” out loud and be perceived as having notions about ourselves. I’ve definitely felt my body being taken over by some kind of shame beast that has dictated I must say “I’ll have the dough ball with that en-dooje stuff or whatever it’s called”. I would avoid the stuff altogether but it’s like a drug. Even the tiniest scrappeen on a pizza is enough to send you to flavour town.

All that being said, pronouncing nduja correctly is fairly low down on the ladder of notions. Those non-native, non-fluent Spanish speakers who insist on saying “Barthelona” with the tongue flicking out like a lizard are truly a law unto themselves. Or the croissant crowd who simply can’t resist a drawn out “cwoss-auunngg” like they’re in a Parisian bakery in black and white rather than a Tesco Express in Kildare.

When I read recently that the correct way to say gouda is not only to change the familiar “goo” to the less familiar “gow”, but then to drop the hard G for a more guttural “how” sound, I knew the “Barthelona” and “crossaung” crowd would be all over it. I for one will continue saying “goo-dah” and being haunted by “how-dah” for the rest of my days. Calling espresso “expresso” is certainly not Irish-specific, but we have a lot of culprits here. This one is less acceptable than the nduja fumble, especially given the voracity of coffee culture here over the past couple of decades.


There are of course plenty of Irish-specific mispronunciations that we stand over quite proudly. Despite no H being present, the dogged determination to change “Solpadeine” to “Sol-pha-deine” displays a resilience like no other. My heart sometimes goes out to pharmacists who not only have to gatekeep the habit-forming codeine, but also have put up with years of eye twitching over requests for a packet of “Solphadeine”.

“Chicago” becomes “Chicargo” in many an Irish mouth, particularly the older generation. I’m no linguist but the long “ah” of the correct pronunciation feels very “American”, possibly too American for many. We get halfway through the “ah”, lose our nerve and change it to “car”, which is safer and less open to accusations of notions. Gen Z and Gen Alpha, raised on a diet of American accents, will lead the charge in reverting back to going to “Chicago” on their J-1 visas, along with nonchalantly calling the rubbish “trash” like they were born in New York not Newtownforbes. Will Gen Z and Alpha ever evolve beyond pronouncing “water” as “wawsher” though, and succeed in finally being able to order in American without having to correct themselves to “wawder”?

Our own language and pronunciations cause consternation around the world. There are endless versions of the “Irish people’s names be like nine letters long, but they only pronounce four” or “Irish people will be named something like Dhaoinsghe and it’s pronounced ‘Kevin’” memes. Saoirse Ronan was forced to develop her “Saoirse like inertia” mantra on US chatshows and now Barry Keoghan’s surname is throwing up all kinds of hilarious misinterpretations. There are millions of film fans who see a picture of Cillian Murphy and think, “Hey I love that guy, Silly-an Murphy”.

At my choir practices, the conductor often points out phrases or words that the largely Irish-accented members sing in comical unison, the most recent being “I never really cared until I met you” from Alone by Heart. We of course sing “I never really cared until I met chyouuu”, and she is endeavouring to train it out of us. The very Irish trait of dropping a -th for just a -t also crops up, just as it did during a certain recent coronation. “Charles de Turd” has a lovely Irish lilt to it, if you ask me. Now, pass the endooje.