Let’s start out by all agreeing that English spelling is an invention of the devil—a being whose existence can only be confirmed by studying the way English is written. The experts tell us that English spelling was systemized at a time when the pronunciation was still changing, so it’s correct enough for the way words were pronounced at the time. And I’m sure that’s true (sort of—it doesn’t allow for regional variations, but let’s keep this simple), but honestly, did we ever a letter like C when either an S or a K would have done just fine? If we needed it to spell chunk, couldn’t we have assigned it the CH sound and saved it for that alone?
So let’s agree that the spelling of a word isn’t a trustworthy guide to its pronunciation. Place names, though, are the real killers. Along the north Cornish coast is a town called Widemouth Bay, pronounced WIDmuth. Drive northeast and you come to Sandymouth and think, Right, that’s SANdimuth. Wrong. That’s SANdymouth. Go figure. (That’s an Americanism, by the way—something I found out only recently, when I used it and was met with a blank look.) Keep driving and you come to Woolfardisworthy, which has gone so far out of whack that the road sign actually gives the pronunciation: WOOLsery, only they don’t capitalize the accented syllable, so presumably you could think it was WoolSERRy. Or WoolserrEE. It makes as much sense as anything else. Go to the south coast and you’ll find Mousehole, pronounced MOWZul. A couple of years ago, I drove through a town called Towster (we’re not in Cornwall anymore, Toto, but the pronunciation problems carry over), which is pronounced TOASTer. Yes, the spelling and the pronunciation both make sense, in an English-language, devilish sort of way, but that only points out how little sense the spelling of toaster makes.
I expected to reach Coffee Pot in a few miles.
No one thought a town called Towster was funny except me. I was grief-stricken to be left alone with the joke.
Turn the British loose on American place names and they fall victim to their own language. Michigan becomes MITCHigan. (For all you non-U.S. readers, it’s MISHigun.) Houston becomes HOOSton. (It should be HYOUSton.)
Guys, you have no one to blame but yourselves.