18 August 2012


I learned to speak Prairie on the weekend. Oh yes. As I already mentioned, there was the lesson that tall round steel containers on the prairies are called "granaries", not "silos" (silos are for animal feed, not people feed). There was also the spelling lesson I got on how to write it; when I told another prairie-born friend how our Saskatchewan friend had been so emphatic about the right word, I spelled it "graineries", and she wrote back nonchalantly talking about "granaries". Aha, another thing learned.

And then, furthermore, there is "coulee", a dry ditch on the prairie. (No, not a native Asian worker who is employed to carry heavy burdens for ridiculously low wages. Those are coolies.) And there is "butte" - take off the "e", and imagine one sticking out of the flat of the prairie. That's sort of what it looks like. But it's pronounced "bute", like the first syllable in "butane", not like, well, the body part.

But then, there's "slough". And that's a really funny word, because of its pronunciation. A slough on the prairie is a lake, often without an outlet, so it can become almost salty (or so I hear). And that kind of slough, it's pronounced "slew". Like flew, and grew, and sew. (Oh, wait...) But then, another friend of mine comes from the land where they pronounce things correctly (well, you have to admit that England has a certain claim to being the arbiter of how English should be pronounced. I mean, it's not called Americanish, or Canadianish, or Australianish, is it?). He says that there, the word "slough" is pronounced to rhyme with bow, and row, and sow. Uh... I mean, as in: "After the sow had a row with the cow about who got to drink from the slough, she took a bow and walked off in a huff." NOT as in "The farmer liked to sow his row of wheat so that it would go in a bow around the slough." You know?

That's what really confused me about J. K. Rowling - I used to pronounce her name like "Roland" with "ing" on the end. Then I read somewhere that she said the "Row" part was pronounced like the row people have with each other; and that just confirmed it for me. I learned that word from books, you see, and had never heard it said out loud, so in my mind I was always pronouncing it like the activity people engage in with paddles and oars. (But, oh dear, I suppose you could have the argumentative "row" with paddles and oars, too - it would get a little violent, that, as Dr. Seuss so aptly describes in the "Tweedle Beetle Battle with Paddles in a Puddle" from Fox in Socks. No, no, I mean the rowing you do with paddles and oars on the water. In boats. Phew, this is involved...). It took some watching of Brits movies to figure out that an argumentative row, the kind that J. K. Rowling means, rhymes with "cow" and "now". As does the slough, the watery kind, in England. But not on the prairies.

Now, I also have this vague idea that there is a kind of "slough" that's pronounced differently yet, namely when it's a verb. To slough, i.e. to shed skin - sloughing off - isn't that pronounced to rhyme with "tough"? Sort of like, well, tuff? And huff? Sluff?

I think I'm giving up. English is just weird. Suffice to say, the prairie slough is something that ducks can swim on, and it gives greater value to a piece of land. And the sun turns it into a molten gold when it glints off it in one of those spectacular prairie sunsets one hears so much about.

Life, the Universe, Coulee and Slough. I speak Prairie - how about you?


  1. LOL! Well, you know I speak prairie! I also have enough Brits among my married-ins to have been educated on the proper pronunciation of 'Rowling'. (They ARE pronouncing slough wrong, however. We get that one because we have WAY more of them than they do.) Anyway, your photograph is beautiful. I look at sloughs and think 'mosquitoes' and 'leaches' and 'farm runoff'. I'd forgotten that they were beautiful.

  2. Good stuff! You know what's funny? Growing up in the south, we learned to pronounce things much closer to the English way of saying them than the "American," I guess. So I said "slough" as "slow" for years until I heard someone I thought knew more say "slew." Then I changed... Silly English. :D

  3. Well, Leigh, I only recently learned that your name is pronounced "Lee", not "Lay" like I'd always said it. We live and learn. So I guess "Slow" is yet another way of pronouncing Slough. And quite possibly the "correct" way in the deep South. Apparently coulees are something different in different parts of America, too; only the Saskatchewan ones are dry ditches. Elsewhere they're lakes or rivers or something.

  4. Anonymous20/8/12 11:32

    Good grief, the English language is complicated, ain't it!