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Italian Englished

I was asked this week to explain why The Sun refers to the site of the Olympics as Turin rather than its Italian name, Torino. As my children discovered long ago, asking me a question runs the hazard of yielding more than the questioner ever wished to know.

There are long-standing conventions of using Anglicized versions of foreign place names, of which Turin for Torino is one. Similarly, English-language publications refer to Rome, not Roma; Milan, not Milano; Venice, not Venezia; Florence, not Firenze; Naples, not Napoli.

These conventions are not limited to Italian place names. We write about Vienna, not Wien; Moscow, not Moskva; Prague, not Praha; Warsaw, not Warszawa. We write Munich, not Muenchen — but if we did, we would substitute the diphthong ue for the u with an umlaut in the original German, which is another convention of English practice.

The Olympic Movement refers to "the XX Olympic Winter Games — Torino 2006" as its title for the event, but its Web site routinely refers to the city as Turin.

Where there are multiple legitimate ways of saying a thing, such as alternative names or alternative spellings, the choice of which one to use is a matter of a publication's house style, and house style is a matter of arbitrary choice to encourage consistency and avoid distracting the reader. The Sun's house style favors using the conventional English versions of foreign place names, and so we are using Turin. Other publications are free to make other choices.

One underlying reason for this preference in house style is that extensive use of foreign terms risks the appearance of pretension, like the finicky hyper-pronunciation favored by some announcers on classical music stations.

Our preference for Anglicizing extends to the vexatious questions of diacritical marks, such as umlauts and accents, grave or acute. Yes, they are part of proper spelling of names in their languages, but using them in English-language publications presents problems. For one thing, wire services do not transmit accent marks. For another, inserting them would prove laborious for editors. For still another, where would one stop? Spanish, French, German, OK. But what about the Scandinavian languages? Czech? Polish? Hungarian? Lacking a battery of linguists, how could we even be sure that we were getting them right?

On most days, English is a sufficient challenge for us.

Posted by John McIntyre at 1:55 PM | | Comments (4)


Do you use "Leghorn" for Livorno?

No, we do not. Neither do we use "Cathay" for "China" or "Muscovy" for "Russia."

On the other hand, we do use "Munich" for "Muenchen" and other generally accepted English versions of foreign place names in current use.

I'm browsing through unread archive posts to make the most of free access before the paywall goes up, hence the comment on such an old post, but:
'ue' for 'u-with-an-umlaut' isn't a diphthong. A diphthong is a sound, not a writing mark (the word we write with the single letter 'I' is one, for instance), and the sound indicated by 'ue' in 'Muenchen' isn't a diphthong in any case. You meant to say digraph, I think.


Just ignore my recent post on the "Prepare to pay toll" article page, claiming this article "'Italian Englished', seemed to have vanished into thin air. Clearly, it's very much alive and well. (Doh!)

Must have just experienced a login glitch, or didn't back-arrow far enough, and stopped at yesterdays postings, and "Most Recent Comments" sidebar. Mea culpa.

What ever.


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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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