24th March 2016
(Above) Poor visibility above 700m for most of the day; quite dreich, too. View from the NE ridge of Sron a Ghoire looking towards Coire Chriochairein. Traces of melting fresh snow in amongst grasses and heather in the foreground.
If you read today’s avalanche report you’ll see a mention of sluffs. Since this is topical it’s a good moment to put to bed a minor issue that divides opinion amongst SAIS forecasters.
Is it sluff or slough?
Let’s see if we can bridge this etymological and pronunciation schism with a little common-sense and clarity of thought.
Sluff (rhymes with stuff). That’s clear and unambiguous.
Slough (pronounced sluff?, or sloff?, or slow?, or slau?) Confused? I am!
Putting ‘snow sluff’ into Google comes up with 37,800 tightly relevant results. ‘Snow slough’ comes to 468,000. But, the ‘snow slough’ references are all about snow clearing in Slough or something (The town made famous by Ricky Gervais’s ‘The Office’ & John Betjeman’s ‘come friendly bombs’ invitation in his eponymous poem). References to the loose snow phenomenon in question are relatively sparse – only two on the first two pages of results for slough. A win for ‘sluff’ then?
The pedants out there will be frothing at this and howling at the moon because slough is embedded deep in our language, having its roots in Middle English meaning ‘moulting’ or shedding of skin like snakes do. The link to the snow feature, or movement of snow, is fairly clear here. So, an equaliser!
However, the BBC News website have made their mind up and are unequivocal:
Can’t argue with the Beeb, the ‘keeper of the flame’ and ne plus ultra of the written and spoken word, can we?
2-1 to sluff?
We do seem to revel in weird spelling/pronunciation combos on this side of the Atlantic. Where else in the world could we come up with Cholmondeley (pron. chumley), or the good burghers of Findochty on the Moray Firth coast knocking the edges off the name to pronounce it fin-ech-ty. The list of examples of where this has happened with words/names/place names is a very long one here on this sceptred isle of ours. Monty Python nailed the issue in their old ‘Raymond Luxury Yacht’ sketch, where Raymond Luxury Yacht is pronounced Throatwobbler Mangrove.
Our love of complification (now there’s an excellent non-word!) is bewildering to other nations, not least the Americans. Yes, our North American cousins can and do butcher arcane parts of the English language and its medieval roots, but there’s often method in their madness, surely?
Sluff: it’s just so much easier on the tongue and eye. Go figure!
3-1. Final score.
If you object to any of the above content please put your comments on a postcard and send them to: Raymond Luxury Yacht, c/o Pedants’ Corner, Slough (pron. slau). Berkshire (pron. barkshire).
“SAIS Creag Meagaidh: Fighting back against Obsessive Compulsives & pedantry since 1990”
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