Home Forums WWII Pronouncing "Cupola" Reply To: Pronouncing "Cupola"

John D Salt

I suspect that Tim and Martin, and possibly other contributors, are old enough to remember, like me, when Airfix kits came with instructions written out in full. None of these new-fangled cartoonish instructions with iconographic symbology (and symbolic iconograpy) that could be followed by Walloons or Ukrainians, but lengthy directives in properly-formed sentences to “Locate and cement port and starboard flange-bracket fairings (parts 55 and 56)”. These fulfilled a double purpose; first, by “the naming of parts”, they gave really quite a good idea of how the original of the model was engineered, and, second, by the unapologetic use of correct technical terms, they painlessly imparted an oddly recondite technical vocabulary to seven- and eight- year-old boys whose principal motivation was to build this Focke-Wulf 190A so that they could run around with it going “NNEEE-Owwww NNEEEE-Owwww Dacka-Dacka-Dacke Wheeee…” along with the Spitfire IX they built last week.

This inevitably resulted in the impressionable young mind meeting words that were quite outwith the ambit of workaday locutions, except perhaps in the works canteen at Vickers Armstrongs. So it made sense to pronounce the words as they are spelled, failing, in those juvenile years still having had been innocent of the pluperfect of faillir, to allow for the French origins of many technical terms in aviation and armour.

I always imagined to myself that “cupola” was pronounced “cup-oh-lah” until put right by watching a programme that used the word in its architectural meaning. I had previously heard it pronounced something like “coupler” by Mr. Obbard, our grocer, who had been an RM Commando sniper in WW2 and who I enjoyed listening to as a kid, but I assumed that this was some special Royal Marine pronunciation that the rest of the world did not use. I was similarly deluded about the word “nacelle”, which for many years I imagined was properly pronounced “nackelly”. Fortunately I guessed right with “anhedral”, “dihedral”, “oleo”, and “aileron”, and “gondola” and “fuselage” were common enough to be picked up in everyday speech. Somebody once tried to tell me that “glacis” is correctly pronounced something like “glassee”, but I wasn’t having that.

Similarly, in later years, when a passion for Airfix kits had been largely usurped by an obsession with SPI boardgames, there was a debate on the correct pronunciation of the strange (to 1970s England) new word “scenario”. Reference to the Concise Oxford (I think it was) suggested that the correct pronunciation was “shanario”. Nobody believed that, and I still don’t, so we carried on haggling between “senario”, “skeenaro”, and “skenario” until the rest of UK culture caught up with wargamers and started using the word in mainstream media.

It’s probably lucky for my early sanity that the Airfix Bofors gun lay many years in the future, because I think I might have been permanently traumatised by the proper pronunciation of “Stiffkey stick”.

All the best,