shutterstock_63941572 Next post: Mumbo-jumbo and plocking: Vita Sackville-West in the OED

Argh, muggins, and pleasure boat: diarists in the OED Previous Post: Argh, muggins, and pleasure boat: diarists in the OED

scones

How do you pronounce scone?

If you’re ever looking to liven up a tea party with some fully-fledged warfare, then can I suggest that you try something subtler than putting salt in the sugar bowl or pushing someone down the stairs? Simply point to the curranty baked goods on the Cath Kidston three-tiered cake stand, and ask: “Scone or scone?”

That distinction doesn’t really work on paper, of course. But imagine that the first ‘scone’ rhymes with ‘cone’, and the second ‘scone’ rhymes with ‘con’. This innocuous-seeming query, dealing with a minute point of pronunciation, has been enough to end friendships, destroy marriages, and tear families asunder. Perhaps I exaggerate. But I know that (rightly or wrongly) I can’t help thinking slightly less of friends when I discover that they pronounce ‘scone’ to rhyme with . . . no, I shan’t nail my colours to the mast. It’s too controversial an issue.

You weren’t afforded the same luxury, though. Over the past weeks, we’ve hosted a poll asking how you pronounce ‘scone’ – and it has proved one of our most popular polls, with thousands of you voting. The clear winner, in the end, was pronouncing ‘scone’ to rhyme with . . . ‘cone’!


But this pie chart, attractive though it is, doesn’t tell the whole story. It is quite logical, having gazed at these lovely blue and green shades, to conclude that nearly half the world say ‘scone’ one way, about a third say it another way, 10% aren’t fussy, and a poor, unfortunate 5% of the world have yet to encounter this traditional teatime treat. This is all true. But we can’t extrapolate from this general data to determine how likely we are to get a cup of scalding tea thrown in our face, when offering scones to our nearest and dearest.

Looking at the two countries which voted most often on our poll, there is a definite transatlantic divide when it comes to the humble scone. If you’re holding a bake sale in the US, make sure you’re rhyming ‘scone’ with ‘cone’ – it clearly dominates their graph:

If, however, you’re in the United Kingdom, the tables are turned (possibly quite literally, if you use the ‘wrong’ pronunciation.) While ‘scone-to-rhyme-with-cone’ has some leverage, over half the country will politely pretend not to have heard you, and ask (rhyming scone, of course, with ‘con’) “Would you, dear friend, perhaps like a scone?”

Around the world, things are no more predictable. Most South Africans, Australians, and New Zealanders rhyme ‘scone’ with ‘con’, but people in Ireland predominantly rhyme it with ‘cone’. Outside of English-speaking countries, French and Spanish voters were divided pretty evenly between the two, whilst Italians fell down in favour of ‘cone’ as the rhyming sound. One solitary lover of snacks in Macau chose ‘con’; one in Jordan chose ‘cone’. And so on and so forth.

What does become clear, throughout the world, is how few people are willing to use both pronunciations. Most of us have strong opinions on the subject. And, since it’s not a debate that can ever be settled (both pronunciations are in common usage, and neither is ‘wrong’) we’ll just have to continue squabbling about it. Just be careful whom you invite to tea.

The opinions and other information contained in OxfordWords blog posts and comments do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of Oxford University Press.