Niagara Falls = "Niffles"

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Thu Dec 21 18:54:22 UTC 2006

Let's not diss Mario Pei, here. After all, 'twas he who, in addition
to "sinjin," pointed out that _Chalmondelay_ is pronounced "chumly"
and that _Mainwaring_ is pronounced "mannering." And it was Al Capp
who pointed out that the spelling,_Chumly_, is pronounced


On 12/20/06, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at> wrote:
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> Subject:      Niagara Falls = "Niffles"
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>  _Time_ (Dec. 2, 1929) printed this letter from Robert Withington of Northampton, Mass. :
>   Sirs:
>   Mr. Gallagher's letter (TIME, Nov. 18, p. 8) suggests the story of the American who had been constantly corrected in his pronunciation of English proper names, until his patience was well-nigh exhausted: his English friend happening to refer to Niagara Falls, the American was prompt to correct him. "No, no," he said, "at home we pronounce it Niffles."
>   During the War it was an Englishman who said the Americans were worse than the English in the difference between spelling and pronunciation. "You spell it W-i-l-s-o-n and pronounce it 'House,'" he remarked.
>   Shades of Enroughly. . . .
>   Northampton, Mass.
>   A search shows that residents of N.F. still sometimes refer to it as "Niffles," though I didn't know that when HDAS II was being edited pre-Internet.
>   The jest was undoubtedly further popularized by its appearance in the 1933 film, _The Secret of Madame Blanche_.  Informed by Lionel Atwill that the English surname "Saint-John" (sic) is pronounced "Sinjin," Irene Dunne jokingly responds by referring to Niagara Falls as "Niffles."
>   The movie is based on the 1923 Broadway play by Martin Brown. The play may contain the joke as well, but I haven't seen the script.
>   JL
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