Like the youngest columnist in Private Eye, I am Extremely Angry.
(1) GREEK NAMES
For some years now, I have been distracted by the way people on TV and Radio pronounce names like Odysseus which end in -eus. (And their habit is even followed by professional Classicists).
They make the final syllable into two syllables. Thus, confronted by Odysseus, they pronounce him odd-iss-ee-uss (instead of odd-iss-ewss). (The only exception appears to be Zeus: I have never heard him called Zee-uss ... I wonder why not).
Finally, something snapped within me. I'd better chexk, I thought, that what I have always assumed to be the 'correct' pronunciation is not just some idiosyncrasy of my own.
So I settled down with the Metamorphoses. Entering it by means of the Index nominum, I checked the nominative forms of a gaggle of such names. Perseus, Neleus, Prometheus ... there are dozens of them. I knew, of course, that in the accusative, genitive, dative, the final syllable divides up, but I was confining myself to the nominative because it is the nominative form of Greek and Latin proper names which is taken over into English.
No; this was not my personal idiosyncrasy: the metre reveals that Perseus was always per-sewss, two syllables, never per-see-uss. What I had picked up from my schoolmasters ... and the way it was pronounced in my undergraduate days sixty years ago ... was correct (this also applies, incidentally, to the vocative).
I quick foray into Flaccus and Maro confirmed matters. From Maro I moved up the River Mincio to that most exquisite of all lakes, to Catullus and to Pietro Bembo, his Eminence, the Great Humanist, the Poet of Lake Garda, friend of Reginald Pole (who got his cardinal's hat on the same day and, while in flight from Tudor's assassins, also sojourned by Lake Garda).
But, of course, these names are really Greek. So I ended up checking through Homer. Here again, -eus is just one syllable.
I have read my 'Allen' and I am aware that a diphthong is two vowel sounds which the ancients ran together; but, surely, they did not pronounce them as two distinct syllables. Otherwise, they would hardly have scanned them as one united sound. Or am I philologically naive?
Here is what I would like to know: when did the modern pronunciation of the diphthong -eu- as two separate syllables arise?
My own current provisional theory is something that I have mentioned before: the consequences of semi-clerks being more familiar with words as phenomena upon a page than as something one hears or utters. I could go on to make elderly remarks about the disintegration of the beautiful old concept of the Respublica litterarum.
(2) THE GREEK ALPHABET
Currently, our new up-to-the-minute hurricanes are named from the Greek Alphabet. We've recently had ETA. But the Weatherfloosies pronounced it ETTA, with a short E. Di Immortales! The letter was only invented, to supplement Epsilon, because the need was felt for a letter specifically meaning long E rather than short E. When we get to the end of the alphabet, we shall, I'm sure, have to listen to the sisterhood prosing on about Hurricane o-MEEE-ga. (And what will they make of the Hebrew Alphabet?)
I bet the Plague would have been sussed by now if we had enjoyed the services of those superb physicians Sir Lambda Munu and Sir Omicron Pi (or, for that matter, Dame Rho Sigma).
But instead ... they give us Mr Hancock, who isn't in the Greek Alphabet. Every time he appears on screen, I hear in my mind's ear the special music in the early St Trinian's films which signals the approach of the spiv Harry (George Cole).