You Say “Scenahrio,” I Say “Scenahrio”

Always seeking new horizons for Not One-Off Britishisms, I turn the focus for the first time to pronunciation. This is not because I have ever heard an American say lefftenant, conTRAHversy, shedule, Re-NAY-sunce, pass-ta, or rahhther. Rahhther, the word in question is scenario.

This term for a future situation comes directly from Italian (scena=scene), and I believe that in contrast to Renaissance and pasta, the British have always pronounced the second syllable in accordance with the original language–to rhyme with car, that iswhereas Americans render it scen-AIR-io.

We have, that is, until now, the age of NOOBs. I have heard more and more Americans say it in the British manner in recent years, sometimes with the telltale syllable drawn luxuriously out. As an example, I plucked from cyberspace an exchange that took place on NPR’s “All Things Considered” this past September. Michelle Norris is interviewing Michael Mackenzie about the European financial crisis.

NORRIS: So if we do see defaults and chaos and uncertainty, could you give us a quick picture of what the best-case scenario would look like and the worst-case scenario as well?

MACKENZIE: Well, the best-case scenario is that it would be relatively quick.

Norris is American and Mackenzie is British, but they both say scenahhrio. You can hear for yourself here. The exchange comes at about the 2:40 mark.

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18 responses to “You Say “Scenahrio,” I Say “Scenahrio”

  1. In my experience (U.S.), I typically hear “scenahrio” used in a theatrical context, wereas I hear “scenAIRio” used almost exclusively in a business context.

  2. However people in american media or TV pronounce certain words, regionalism wins out. Similiar in england with, say, the word “something”, right?

    In an everyday scenario, scenario is exclusively pronounced “scenAHrio”. But again, I’m from the northeast. “scenAIRio” is probably more Midwest, west and southern. I can’t speak to Michele Norris’s pronunciation. I do know she’s originally from Minnesota.

  3. “I can’t speak to Michele Norris’s pronunciation.” Now that’s an Americanism! You can speak to Michele, or speak OF or TALK ABOUT her pronunciation – over here, that is. (You could speak FOR her, or speak UP FOR her, too.)

  4. “To speak to” means “to address the issue of,” or something like that. IMO, it’s not an Americanism.

    As for Ms. Norris on NPR, she’s just trying to be trendy by pronouncing words the British way instead of the American way. But it’s not trendy–it’s silly and snobbish.

  5. I’d certainly never heard “speak to” with that meaning until I came to the US. I guess it could just be a recent development on both sides of the Atlantic.

  6. Why do you spell it out as “conTRAHversy”? Is that an attempt to Americanise the “o”?

  7. @Picky:
    Why do you spell it out as “conTRAHversy”? Is that an attempt to Americanise the “o”?

    He, like nearly all North Americans west of Boston, has the father-bother merger. See

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phonological_history_of_English_low_back_vowels#Father.E2.80.93bother_merger

      • Thanks for the Wiki-link. Until you supplied it, as I’m not a professional phonetician, I had been ignorant of the phonological history of English low back vowels. It reminds me, however, of a message I sent to my sister last week over the pronunciation of somebody’s name: “I pronounce ‘Carrie’ as ‘carry’. You pronounce it as ‘Kerry,’ which is why I thought it was spelled, ‘Keri’.” And to think that we grew up together in the same household….

  8. Indeed, dw, I’m familiar with the father-bother merger, which is why I was surprised at the spelling conTRAHversy in a list of Britishy-type pronunciations. It seems to imply that the British have the merger and the Americans don’t. If you follow me.

  9. I really must protest the “rahhther” point. Perhaps it goes hand-in-hand with being clueless as to what is said west or south of Boston (seen above; also my hometown), but I and virtually every northern New Englander I know says “rahhhther.”

    This was never an issue until I moved to the UK, where other Americans on holiday would accuse me of “going native.” No, I just never spoke very “American” in the first place.

  10. Some Americans saying “ahr” and not “air” in “scenario” might have grown up with “The Greatest American Hero” TV show (1981-83, and often rerun since). Robert Culp’s FBI character said “scenAHRio” in perhaps every episode. I don’t know if his spy character in “I Spy” (1965-68) ever said “scenahrio.”

  11. Surprised (or maybe not) no one mentioned the Jaÿ-Z song “Big Pimpin’.” Bun B starts his verse saying, “Sit back and peep my scen-ARE-ee-oh” taking poetic licence to rhyme with “impresario,” “barrio,” and “sorry who’e,” but quickly corrects himself to the standard U.S. pronunciation: “Oops, my bad, that’s my scen-AIR-ee-oh.” It is not clear whether he knew that pronunciation was normative or associateed with a particular region.

  12. Laurel Marshall

    I’ve noticed that my 26 year-old daughter, a college graduate now says “scenAHRio”. I grew up saying ‘scenAIRio’. I think young people around her age have taken up this pronunciation to set themselves somehow apart from other generatons. IOW, it’s a fad or a culturally induced linguistic change that recently has occured. Who knows; maybe a favorite movie or TV program had a protagonist who said “scenAHRio” all the time. This is how language changes over the years.

  13. Not sure if you’re suggesting that we pronounce it “conTRAHversy”, because we don’t. At least I don’t. It’s con-tro-versy” over here. I think also you have to bear in mind there are regional difference in pronounciation here, in the north they use short vovel sounds for “a” and “o” while in the south the long forms exist – take Bath, for instance, in the north it’s “b’a’th” i.e. a very short, barely vocalised “a” while in the south its a long “a” sound like “baarth”. I think that all americans think brits speak with a “Received Pronunciation”, sometimes called “BBC english”, accent. This leads to some confusion with americans who when they meet a brit on their soil who doesn’t speak with an RP accent assume we must be australian, which happened to me everytime I’ve visited. “Gee, that accent, which part of australia are you from?” I’ve never been there in my life.

  14. Many Americans would pronounce “scenahhrio” and “scen-AIR-io” identically, and do pronounce ‘Carrie’ and ‘Kerry’ identically. Few Brits do. See Mary–marry–merry merger

  15. @mollymooly:

    I think you’ve misunderstood “scenahhrio”: it’s referring to the PALM/START vowel. There is no “canary-safari” merger in AmE — at least I’ve never heard of one. The case of “caramel” (often disallybic with the START vowel in AmE) is isolated to that one word.

  16. In Canadian English…

    Lieutenant – is LOO-ten-ant mostly, but LEFF-ten-ant in parts of the Maritimes. I think Lieutenant Governor is officially LEFFtenant.

    Controversy – Always close to the American CON-truh-ver-see, but more rounded… like CAWN-truh-ver-see

    Schedule – SKED-jooh-uhl or SKED-juhl, SHED-juhl is rare

    Renaissance – RENN-uh-sawss, no audible “n” at the end… we’re Canadian, our French words sound more French.

    Pasta – traditionally Pass-tuh, still pass-tuh from Quebec east, but in Ontario and west American “PAW-stuh” is becoming more common. Americans say getting “merried” for Married, Canadians usually say “MAH-ried” and “CAH-rrot” not “CARE-it”

    Rather – Always has the short “a” of cat not the long “a” of raw.

    Scenario – Always senn-AIR-ee-oh, never senn-ARR-ee-oh.

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