Greenwich – it’s in the way you say it…

Making its debut this week is The Greenwich Podcast – it’s worth a listen and the feedback to it‘s been pretty good. It’s made by a Blackheath-based production house, Testbed, who do a lot of work for Radio 4, which explains why it sounds very, very polished. I particularly liked the piece about the guerilla gardeners – I hope the team behind it will find more stories like that in SE10 and the surrounding areas.

One thing did strike me as a little bit weird though – and I think it might be my fault. When the podcast announced itself last week, I had a listen to the trailer and joked on Twitter about them pronouncing the name of the place “Gren-itch”, as opposed to the local pronunciation of “Grin-ige”. A week later, the podcast features an exchange with comedian Tim Key about the pronounciation issue, with presenter Alex Mitchell saying that the latter camp get snobby about people calling it “Gren-itch”.

Which struck me as getting it the wrong way round – the pronunciation simply alerts the listener to the origins of the speaker. “Grin-ige” usually alerts you to a native south-east Londoner, “Gren-itch” indicates they may not be. If anything, it’s inverted snobbery, since “Gren-itch” has always been, to my ears, the “posh” pronounciation for the place. Anyway, don’t ask me, ask the 126 denziens of this Facebook group

I once checked it with BBC pronunciation and “Grin-idge” was the preferred option. My Collins dictionary gives both, with the local version first. There’s no right way or wrong way – it’s not like the episode of EastEnders where Pauline Fowler talked about “Play-stow“.

I’d be interested to hear how the two versions developed, though. I get the feeling that with gentrification, and the influence of people referring to Greenwich Village in New York – or Greenwich, Connecticut – the local version might be dying out. Like the Welsh speakers of Patagonia, some day in the future, in a place in Kent, people will wonder what that “Grin-idge” place a few elderly die-hards speak of.

Anyhow, I’m off to see local boy Arthur Smith tonight at the Greenwich Comedy Festival. He went to my old school, and has a few views of his own about this area. I wonder how he pronounces it?

18 comments

  1. I’ll hazard a guess he’s a grinnidge man.

    It puts me in mind of the only ‘mistake’ I’ve ever come across on Mad Men, when the insufferable young ‘English’ chap, fautless in every other way, offered some visitors the ‘three-penny tour.’

  2. I’m now saying it over and over in my head as have never given thought as to how i say it? But phew im definitely a Grinige.

  3. I’ve always been a gren-itch boy, and that’s as a result of my father’s family pronouncing it that way – they hail from Lewisham and Greenwich, but maybe it’s a generational thing?

  4. Oh shucks, I’ve been pronouncing it as “Gren-itch” my whole life.

    Still, I’m from Norfolk and all you Londonders pronounce -everywhere- wrong.

    Hunstanton = Hunst’n
    Costessey = Cossey
    Happisburgh = Haysb’r
    Snettisham = Snetsh’m
    Wymondham = Wind’m
    Postwick = Pozzik

    When you get these right I’ll pronounce Greenwich anyway you want.

  5. Grin-itch for me, and not an -idge ending that would rhyme with partridge. My impression is that we got ”grenified” as the area got gentrified.

    I did have an interesting exchange when I told a more recent arrivé that my parents lived in West Grinnitch. They immediately mocked me, thinking that the distinction East and West Greenwich was an estate-agent led thing. In fact the distinction was very clear since my childhood, cf: West Greenwich House, West Greenwich Library. It was actually the opposite: estate-agent led marketing had suppressed the east-west distinction because they wanted to push east Greenwich property values up. So people can get these things arsey-versey.

    Right, who’s up for having a go at pronouncing neighbouring Deptford? I’m somewhere between Detfud and De:fud (where : indicates a glottal stop.) I’d guess that people who first ”saw” the name in writing would pronounce the p, and those who first heard the name from family and neighbours would leave it out.

  6. Interesting post! Definitely Grinidge. I remember my teacher at school blaming Gren-itch on Rosie Barnes, who hailed from the Midlands and pronounced it that way and was then the Greenwich MP for the SDP. As she was on TV the whole time talking about ‘Gren-itch’ it began to be repeated that way by all and sundry, leaving Grinidge as a marker of SE London-ness!

  7. don’t you find an east/west divide with east greenwich tending towards the “gren-”
    but as a native scot surely “gwen-itch” or gwin-itch” is phonetically more correct? I’ve never met a native Londoner, north, south or Charlton, who could do their “r”s proper!

  8. My family is from south-east London. It’s Grinidge and Detfud…if pronounced any other way my parents would wonder who I’d been associating myself with.

    The funniest thing I heard recently was on the radio where some estate agents were trying to shift some bland looking flats on ‘Ever-Line’ Street (Evelyn Street). What’s wrong with plain old Evelyn?!

  9. I was brought up in East Greenwich (well, just across the post code border in Westcombe Park – Dinsdale Road to be exact) and went to St Josephs RC primary school. Lived in the area for most of my life.

    Anyway, I trend towards Gren-idge in my pronunciation rather than Grin-idge. Gren-itch is just plain wrong and jars mightily on the ear.

    I’d go for De:-fud on marmoset’s Deptford question. I’d also say Chaa:-un for Charlton, especially when in the Covered End!

    Mind you, I live in the Forest of Dean now and had to rapidly learn some new non-obvious pronunciations of of local place names, such as Prin-ish for Prinknash and Zindy-vurd for Cinderford.

  10. I come originally from Gravesend and Gravesend has a very clear dividing line between town and country with different pronunciations either side of the Watling Street. As a historian I know Greenwich is a town in Kent – and I guess that something of the same divisions will have existed. Around Gravesend of course are some names that outsiders always get wrong – for eg: Meopham, Wrotham and Trottiscliffe.

  11. One of the things that this debate highlights is the way that the population of the Greenwich area is made up of people who hail from such a wide variety of locations. As the population shifts and changes the language and pronunciation of the area moves as well.

  12. It had never occurred to me before reading your post that there was any other way pronounce it than Gren-ich. I’ve only lived in the borough for 10 years though! Having given it some thought I’d say that Grin-idge is probably closer to the literal pronunciation.

    I come from Kent and a familiar with the places Mary mentions – always mispronounced by my father!

  13. There’s no real doubt: Grinnidge. I’ve also heard “Grinnitch”. “Gren-itch is just plain wrong

  14. Well, David Starkey says Grinich, and every other pompous queen i’ve met, so i’m defintely going for grenich. As far as I can tell grinich is an affectation except when spoken by those with a south east london accent.

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