vase vs. vase

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Sat Mar 12 19:42:09 UTC 2005

Some fin-de-siècle "vase" humor:

(Mansfield, Ohio) Weekly News, June 2, 1892, p. 3
Queensware Merchant-- What made that lady go out of the store so hurriedly?
Clerk-- I don't know. I was showing her a vase --
"Was that what you called it?"
(With a groan.) "We have lost her custom forever. You should have called
it a vawz. She's from Boston." -- Chicago Tribune.
Newark (Ohio) Daily Advocate, Dec. 15, 1895, p. 5
Jinks-- I am always embarrassed when I want to say the word v-a-s-e.  I
don't know whether to say vaze, vace, vahz, or vawse.
Binks-- You might take a hint from our hired girl. She simply speaks of
all ornaments as "them there." -- Truth.

And half a century later, from Frank Colby's "Take My Word For It" column:

Los Angeles Times, Jun 5, 1942, p. 12

Please send us a RHYMOGRAM that will teach us the correct pronunciation of
that vexatious word VASE. -- Mrs. H.M.
Answer: As a Rhymogram, let me quote part of a clever verse written many
years ago by James Jeffrey Roche, in which he tells of four young ladies
visiting an art museum. They are from Kalamazoo, New York, Philadelphia,
and Boston, respectively. They stand admiring a rare and beautiful vase:

Long they worshiped, but no one broke
The sacred stillness, until up spoke
The western one from the nameless place,
Who blushing said, "What a lovely vase!"
Over three faces a sad smile flew.
And they edged away from Kalamazoo.
But Gotham's haughty soul was stirred
To crush the stanger with one small word,
Deftly hiding reproof in praise,
She cries, "'Tis indeed a lovely vaze!"
But brief her unworthy triumph when
The lofty one from the home of Penn,
With the consciousness of two grandpapas,
Exclaims, "It is quite a lovely vahz!"
And glances around with an anxious thrill
Awaiting the word of Beacon Hill.
But the Boston maiden smiles courteously,
And gently murmurs, "Oh, pardon me,
I did not catch your remark because
I was so entranced with that charming vawz!"

--Ben Zimmer

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