Pronunciation

Please note the following – you all pronounce ‘Magdalen’ wrongly.

We have to take the pronunciation from the fact that the estate was named after Magdalen College, Oxford – the original owners of the land.

The Oxford spelling of Magdalen is a corruption of Magdalena, which occurs in various Latin languages: Italian,Spanish, Portugese. At Cambridge, the college is spelled Magdalene and this is the literal transcription of the Hebrew name. There has been an assumption that the name means “woman from Magdala” (Aramaic מגדלא, meaning “tower”) which is the old name of two places in present-day Israel, now called Migdal. However, this interpretation is disputed since the name was in such wide use, it could not really have been limited in that way. On the other hand, Paris Hilton wasn’t born in Paris – was she?

In French it is spelt Madeleine and that has become an English girls’ name now, as well. In Eastern Europe, the name is often shortened to Magda.

In the Middle Ages in England (1100-1550, say), there was a widespread French influence on the pronunciation of names and places. Vowels became lengthened, especially the “a”. So, for example, the word “fall” came to be pronounced “fawl” instead of its earlier “fahler”. Magdalen came under the same influence at about the time the colleges were being founded in Oxford (1448) and Cambridge (1552). You try to say Magdalen with a long “a” as in “Fall” and it comes out as Maudlin. The “g” disappears in a tricky diphthong.

That – as they say – is that.

ps. Thanks for Fiona Smith for pointing out other idiosyncrasies of the English language related to dropped o’s and misspelling. And for pointing out “you try to get a black cab back home late at night using the correct pronunciation – you won’t get very far”.

We must educate these taxi drivers rather than letting them wallow in their own ignorance.