"Norval" ... How do *you* pronounce it?

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Fri Aug 28 20:57:19 UTC 2009

I should have added that, our teacher, a green-eyed blonde member of
the all-black RC order of teachers, the Order of the Holy Family, from
[,nIu O'linz], was a stickler for correckin (first black bunny at the
L.A. Playboy Club to white customer, thereby disgracing the race: "How
come yew always be correckin ma Ang-lish?") for attempting to teach us
standard English, so that we wouldn't be disgracing the race in our
dealings with The Man, always addressed Naahveil as [nOrv at l] and
Leondas Rambo as "Leonidas."

Historical note 1. I mention Sister Ann Elizabeth's complexion because
the Holy Family sisters had a sordid origin. Historically, the order
was cobbled together by the Diocese of New Orleans as a way for the
better class of white men to rid themselves of the daughters of their
black and ixed-race concubines. These nuns didn't become teachers
until after the Civil War, when teaching random blacks to read and
write became legal. The sons, of course, could be used in a myriad of
other ways, from field hand to houseboy.

Historical note 2. the Rambos were essentially a clan of
"bright-skinned" black people, all more-or-less descended from the
plantation-owner after whom Rambo, TX, is named. As such, they carried
a *lot* of social weight, *despite* what I and, no doubt, y'all, have
heard and read about people of mixed European and African ancestry
being despised by full-blooded people of *both* races. I don't know
how white people feel when they see the Joes Louis, the Lenas Horne,
the Johnny's Mathis, etc., but amongst ordinary colored people, being
light, bright, and damned near white makes one a person of privilege.
My own clan, the Frasers, of which the Garretts are a sept, was pretty
powerful, also having a strong, mainly-European genetic base, too, but
not powerful enough to keep my cousin, Lewis Garrett, whose mother is
a Rambo, from being commonly known as "Lewis _Rambo_," much to our

Recently, I was shocked! *shocked!* when Google Maps showed me that
there really *is* a Rambo, TX. I had though that Rambo was merely an
enclave in Harrison County where Rambos lived, just as East L.A. is
merely an enclave in L.A. County where Chicanos live.


On Fri, Aug 28, 2009 at 9:57 AM, Benjamin
Zimmer<bgzimmer at babel.ling.upenn.edu> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: "Norval" ... How do *you* pronounce it?
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On Fri, Aug 28, 2009 at 2:31 AM, Wilson Gray<hwgray at gmail.com> wrote:
>> I got a note from Facebook telling me that Norval [Surname] had become
>> my Fb-friend. That reminded me of a grade-school classmate of mine
>> down home in Texas. His name was Norval Moore, pronounced
>> approximately [na:ve at l mo].
> The only place I've run across that name is in the great Preston
> Sturges movie "The Miracle of Morgan's Creek" (1944). Eddie Bracken
> plays Norval Jones, who ends up posing as Ignatz Ratzkiwatzki to get
> his beloved Trudy Kockenlocker out of a jam... Anyway, I'm pretty sure
> it's pronounced ['nOrv at l] (rhymes with "Orville") in the film.
> --Ben Zimmer
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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