You say scone, I say scone; let's call the whole thing off
September 27, 2012 4:59 AM   Subscribe

We're resigned to our differences over the pronunciation of 'scone' (rhyming it with either 'stone' or 'gone'). The strange thing is that both of us regard the other's pronunciation as sounding 'posh'. So, does scone/scone divide along class lines, or is it more about geography or something else?
posted by monkey closet to Writing & Language (48 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It's really regional, the British say it like gone and some say it like the Scottish and pronounce it bone or stone or cone.

Since it originates from Scotland (though there are debates) perhaps it is properly pronounced like stone. Or tone or prone (I'm just having fun finding words now...)

I was always told it was pronounced the Scottish way though.
posted by Yellow at 5:08 AM on September 27, 2012

According to Wikipedia:

The pronunciation of the word within the United Kingdom varies. According to one academic study, two-thirds of the British population pronounce it /ˈskɒn/ with the preference rising to 99% in the Scottish population. This is also the pronunciation of Australians, Canadians and New Zealanders. Other regions, particularly the United States, pronounce the word as /ˈskoʊn/. British dictionaries usually show the "con" form as the preferred pronunciation, while recognising that the "cone" form also exists.
posted by nikkorizz at 5:13 AM on September 27, 2012

I live in Western Massachusetts, and we pronounce it as though it ryhmes with "cone".
posted by Hanuman1960 at 5:14 AM on September 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Well, I have always heard "this scone is like stone," and I have ordered the things/overheard the things being ordered all over the US (where we pronounce things wrong anyway, I gather).
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:15 AM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Growing up in the Home Counties, I've always regarded the "stone" pronunciation as the posh one -- maybe a special case of a general rule of thumb that longer vowels are posh (see also "paahsta" "grahnd piaahno", etc.).

OTOH it could just be a South England / North England thing, and southerners often make the lazy equation of "south=posh, north=working-class".

Personally I favour the "gone" pronunciation; partly because I don't want to seem posh, and partly because it's the only one which works with the following awful pun:

-- What's the fastest cake in the world?
-- I don't know, what is the fastest cake in the world?
-- 'sgone!

posted by pont at 5:16 AM on September 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

I believe most people in the United States pronounce it like "cone," but the poster is from the UK, so I think they are specifically referring the UK pronounciation.
posted by nikkorizz at 5:18 AM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

As an American, I've only ever heard it to rhyme with own/stone/bone. No other pronunciation is standard in the US, as I'm sure plenty of my fellow Americans have butted in to inform you.
posted by Sara C. at 5:21 AM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I live in Ireland, where it's universally pronounced to rhyme with 'cone'. Pronouncing it the other way would be considered very 'English' and outrageously posh. (Or just funny. I remember cracking up the first time I heard an English friend of mine pronounce it that way. My reaction was something along the lines of 'Wait, people really say that?')
posted by anaximander at 5:23 AM on September 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

My mum always told me that ordinary people say sconn, people who want to be upper-class say scohne, and people who are actually upper-class say sconn.

This was in the north of England, by the way.
posted by dudekiller at 5:28 AM on September 27, 2012 [6 favorites]

I'm originally from the north of Engand. I've always pronounced it to rhyme with gone and none. Where I come from, pronouncing it to rhyme with bone and lone would almost certainly have resulted in a schoolyard beating for being posh. So, originally, I'd have said that it's a poshness thing.

However, having now mingled with a fair amount of 'southern nancies', I can now authoritatively declare that it's far more of a north/south thing. Southerner friends from a similar social background to me pronounce it the bone/lone way.

They also take the pee because I still, despite having lived in Bath, pronounce the city's name as 'baff'.
posted by veedubya at 5:40 AM on September 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm from western Canada and I pronounce it sconn, which I learned from my born-and-raised-in-Canada mother. She is in her late 70s.
posted by lulu68 at 5:55 AM on September 27, 2012

I grew up in the States (Philadelphia area) pronouncing it to rhyme with "bone". Then I moved to Liverpool 9 years ago and was constantly corrected to say it so that it rhymes with "gone". Now I live near Oxford (for the last 4 years), where most people rhyme it with "gone" but my Yorkshire fiance rhymes it with "bone" and chides me when I pronounce it to rhyme with "gone". I can't win, and it's strangely difficult to change how I say it again.
posted by sascha at 5:57 AM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've never heard anyone in Central or Eastern Canada pronounce it like gone, it's always pronounced like stone. Family in Manitoba and British Columbia also pronounce it like stone.... in fact I don't think I've ever heard anyone use the 'gone' pronunciation. Now I'm going to be obsessed and ask everyone I meet to pronounce it for me, thanks a lot!
posted by zarah at 6:11 AM on September 27, 2012

I had a scone in Edinburgh with a native of Stirling, and she pronounced it "scunn." She and her husband are visiting soon; I'll point her to this thread and see what they have to say.
posted by infinitewindow at 6:22 AM on September 27, 2012

I'm Australian and we all rhyme it with gone. I had always assumed that folk that rhymed it with cone were ignorant/pretentious.
posted by taff at 6:23 AM on September 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

I (American) was stumped for years by Michael Palin's line from the Lumberjack Song (of Monty Python's Flying Circus), which to my ear was "And have buttered scunns for tea." Now I know that "tea" is meal and that Palin was probably singing scones in some regional fashion, though it still sounds less like stone or gone, and more like bunn.

On preview, I see that this might be a scots thing.
posted by Sunburnt at 6:26 AM on September 27, 2012

I agree with Taff on the Australian thing.
posted by b33j at 6:27 AM on September 27, 2012

In the Black Country, which has a lot of low-person connotations, the pronunciation is scon, but a crumpet is called pikelet.
posted by parmanparman at 6:29 AM on September 27, 2012

As a Scot; S'cone' is pretentious and posh. It's the kind of thing that old ladies from Morningside would say.
S'con' is just what us normal people say.

So; it's regional, classist and probably historical!
posted by BadMiker at 6:31 AM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Youtube has lots of videos for recipes where I have heard three of the pronunciations identified above: scone (gone), scone (stone) and scun (stun). But seriously, freezing your butter and then grating it to make better scuns? I don't think so.
posted by b33j at 6:33 AM on September 27, 2012

My Scots parents say s'con', but will say s'cone if they are doing a pretend posh voice.

I have been told though, that I'm not allowed a opinion on pronunciation due to the fact that I seem to have inherited the scots way of saying App-ricot insteat of ape-ricot. So you probably shouldn't listen to me.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 6:36 AM on September 27, 2012

I'm from the southern end of Northern England, and would say scone with a "short o". However, the other pronunciation is certainly heard, and I wouldn't associate either with a specific class.
posted by Jehan at 6:49 AM on September 27, 2012

I discussed this with my (Welsh) great-aunt and (Scottish) great-uncle who live near Cambridge, and they agreed that s'con' was the regular way to say it and s'cone' was posh. They're both about 70, if that makes any difference, and not particularly working class or supremely posh (as far as my non-class-aware American self could make out).
posted by MadamM at 6:49 AM on September 27, 2012

I recall my copy of Jilly Cooper's Class says that 'sconn' is the more working class pronunciation while rhymes with 'cone' is the more upper-middle class pronunciation.

I live in the West Midlands (and my husband's family is there). They all say sconn, including my public school educated FIL and my more working class background MIL.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 6:50 AM on September 27, 2012

This reminds me of the time when my entire A-level class laughed long at our Eng. Lit. teacher (who was actually from a little bit further north than us) because he said 'scone' with the long vowel. So: within Britain at least, it's regional, and the regional mapping brings an implied class mapping, but there are enclaves and exclaves and salients where the supposedly less-posh short vowel is heard as a marker of pretentiousness.

Outside Britain, all bets are off.

Breads and quickbreads are a fraught, frictive and fractious linguistic domain.
posted by holgate at 7:47 AM on September 27, 2012 [6 favorites]

I'm from Western Canada, and learned that scone rhymes with "stone" from my grandmother, who was raised in the country near a small town in Saskatchewan.

I first heard scone rhyming with "gone" while living in Australia, where my "stone" rhyming pronunciation seemed not to even be understood. I eventually adopted ThatCanadianGirl's strategy.
posted by snorkmaiden at 7:55 AM on September 27, 2012

I'm from Sheffield originally and have always said scone like stone. That 'scon' was poncy and posh to me was reinforced when we moved down south and all the soft southerners said it.

But then, my missus is from Lancashire, and they all say scon, so who knows.
posted by ComfySofa at 7:56 AM on September 27, 2012

Interestingly and tangentially, although the tasty quickbread is pronounced sconn in Australia, the town of Scone in Victoria is pronounced scohn.

I've heard both pronunciations from people across the class and geographic spectrum here in the UK, and don't think there are any hard and fast rules.
posted by goo at 8:55 AM on September 27, 2012

An Aussie with parents from the UK, one from a poor Yorkshire working class and one from a very poor Cockney/London background both pronounce it with the short sound like gone.

I was told I was putting on airs and graces to use the "stone" pronunciation. Which makes it very disconcerting to hear how they pronounce scone in the US, not that I have ever actually seen one for sale in my three years here so it's not been a real problem with ordering. Well except when I made pumpkin scones for Halloween one year and no one knew what they where until my husband translated.
posted by wwax at 8:57 AM on September 27, 2012

An aside or two:
1. Scone Palace (in Scotland) is pronounced scoon.
2. This appears to be almost as sensitive a matter of class/regional variation as the vexed question of what the evening meal is called...
posted by penguin pie at 9:21 AM on September 27, 2012

Which makes it very disconcerting to hear how they pronounce scone in the US, not that I have ever actually seen one for sale in my three years here so it's not been a real problem with ordering.

They're common enough at Starbucks, but most Britishers wouldn't recognise them as such; this is a separate dispute from what you call them.

posted by holgate at 9:43 AM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm as southern English as you can get, and my secondary school home economics classed laughed at a teacher for pronouncing it the 'posh' way.
posted by ellieBOA at 9:47 AM on September 27, 2012

The definitive reference work
posted by flabdablet at 10:04 AM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm from British Columbia and pronounce it as "biscuit".
posted by islander at 10:15 AM on September 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

So okay, here's a hypothesis.

When someone insists on saying "pa-REE" instead of "Paris," or "WOT-tay-mala" instead of "Guatemala," it sounds a bit snobbish, right? Not posh, exactly, but pedantic and snooty and superior, like they're rubbing it in your face how cosmopolitan and well-traveled they are. Like, "Well, yes, we've had a second apartment in Paris since I was a child, and so of COURSE I speak perfect French, and it's only NATURAL that I pronounce the word that way...."

Someone genuinely upper-class wouldn't have to try that hard to impress you with their French pronunciation; but someone who was trying too hard to sound upper-class just might.

Here in the US, where everyone rhymes scone with cone, the rhymes-with-con pronunciation strikes me as having a similarly snobbish and pedantic sound to it — like "Oh, yes, well, WE only eat special IMPORTED scones, flown over from the oldest and most traditional scone-bakery in all of Scotland, and so of COURSE I use the proper Scottish pronunciation."

So there's my guess: when one of you says that rhyming-with-con is "posh," what you really mean is that it sounds snobby or show-offy or stuck-up, like the person saying it is just going way too far out of their way to let you know how knowledgeable and well-traveled they are. Maybe?
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:27 AM on September 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

How To Get On In Society by John Betjeman

Phone for the fish knives, Norman
As cook is a little unnerved;
You kiddies have crumpled the serviettes
And I must have things daintily served.

Are the requisites all in the toilet?
The frills round the cutlets can wait
Till the girl has replenished the cruets
And switched on the logs in the grate.

It's ever so close in the lounge dear,
But the vestibule's comfy for tea
And Howard is riding on horseback
So do come and take some with me

Now here is a fork for your pastries
And do use the couch for your feet;
I know that I wanted to ask you-
Is trifle sufficient for sweet?

Milk and then just as it comes dear?
I'm afraid the preserve's full of stones;
Beg pardon, I'm soiling the doileys
With afternoon tea-cakes and scones.
posted by ZipRibbons at 11:43 AM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

So okay, here's a hypothesis.

I don't think it's quite that, because scones are basically the opposite of cosmopolitan, which is what I meant about breads/quickbreads being fraught spaces. (Bap or barm or cob or stottie or fadgie or breadcake? Subs or hoagies or torpedos?) They're Sunday tea and village cafés with the faint whiff of gardenia and mothballs.

The moments when the pronunciation of 'scone' becomes a hilarious shibboleth are both surprising and awkward: teachers who aren't from the socially homogenous background of their classes, people visiting their in-laws, etc. It's an in-group/out-group moment where you're never quite sure what the in-group is until you open your mouth, by which time it's too late.
posted by holgate at 11:59 AM on September 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is the exact reason I try to avoid saying the word "vase" in public.
posted by Sara C. at 12:03 PM on September 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Southerner here (UK not US) and I was brought up to pronounce it Scone like Stone. My Dad is one of those people who pretended to be middle class when we weren't, so I definitely think rhymes-wth-stone is the posh pronunciation, and rhymes-with-gone is correct.
posted by Joh at 12:30 PM on September 27, 2012

In the Discworld series, an important dwarf relic is the Scone of Stone, which presumably rhymes. So now you know how Sir Terence David John Pratchett, OBE pronounces it. How's that for posh?
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 6:46 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

which presumably rhymes

Or perhaps not, given that Stone of Scone doesn't.
posted by holgate at 6:58 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm from British Columbia and pronounce it as "biscuit".

Biss-ket or Biss-quit?
posted by flabdablet at 8:42 PM on September 27, 2012


posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:15 AM on September 28, 2012

You are opening up another front in the cream/jam jam/cream wars of Devon and Cornwall there obiwanwasabi. It's not something to embark upon lightly.
Especially as the jam then cream approach should properly be served on a cornish split rather than a scone.

Those Cornish.... wacky!
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:49 PM on September 28, 2012

My UK guests, one woman from Stirling and one man from Bradford, both rhyme it with gone and not with cone. They allow that there is a regional variation but react more strongly to the "poshness" of the cone pronunciation.
posted by infinitewindow at 12:06 PM on September 29, 2012

growing up in Ireland the way to do "posh" was to say scone as in gone and we normally said scone as in groan. If fact it was a definite marker of non-working class to say the former.
posted by Wilder at 6:05 AM on September 30, 2012

so in Ireland it is the exact opposite of the Scots/English pronounciation, fascinating
posted by Wilder at 6:07 AM on September 30, 2012

Just to complete potential pronunciation pitfalls, 'scone', whether skon, s-cone, sconnn shouldnt be confused with Scone, which is pronounced 'Skoon' (as in spoon, or moon).

Pratchett should probably have been the Scone of doom in this case.
posted by BadMiker at 3:00 PM on September 30, 2012

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