Winnie-ther-Pooh

RusEng

Member
Russian
Childish questions, well, but I really want to know:

When I first heard his name, I said, just as you are going to say, "But I thought he was a boy?"
"So did I," said Christopher Robin.
"Then you can't call him Winnie?"
"I don't."
"But you said--"
"He's Winnie-ther-Pooh. Don't you know what 'ther' means?"
"Ah, yes, now I do," I said quickly; and I hope you do too, because it is all the explanation you are going to get.

Can someone, please, explain me what's happening here? Is Winnie a feminine name, or what? And how ther makes the situation different?
 
  • jmichaelm

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Winnie is a female name; "-ther-" is not standard English.

    I believe what's happening has a lot to do with storytelling. The narrator is acceding to Christopher's child-like logic wherein Winnie-ther-Pooh is one long name and therefore the bear is not constrained by traditional gender rules that would have any creature named "Winnie" be female. It's a playfulness in the language that mirrors the playfulness of a child's mind.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    Yes, Winnie is usually a feminine name, short for Winifred (these days a very old-fashioned name).

    I'm not sure about ther-rather-than-the. I expect it's just a way of emphasizing that his name isn't 'Winnie' ~ it's 'Winnie-the-Pooh': you can't separate the parts.
     
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    RusEng

    Member
    Russian
    Funny, in Russian translation it is written something like, "You are probably surpised why he has such name, and if you knew English you would be even more surprised".

    Thanks for your good answers.
     

    pwmeek

    Senior Member
    English - American
    This is the only place (by a quick check) where the extraneous "r" is found. I believe it is to stress how a listener from other parts of the English-speaking world would have heard Christopher Robin's pronunciation of the word "the", especially when included in the name Winnie-the-Pooh.

    I think I pronounce it "th<schwa>" when speaking this name. In normal use, I say "th<schwa>" and "theeee" in different situations. Using the wrong one sounds incorrect to me, so I must have a system for determining which to use, but I can't formulate it.
     

    George French

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    We (i.e. we in the UK) would say Winnie-theeee-Pooh these days
    All I can say to your post ewie is that I'm glad that I don't live in the UK any more if that is happening to the pronunciation....

    GF..

    I must 'learn' phoenetics.....
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    There's a linguistic discussion of this "ther" here. Essentially, it makes three points:
    ~ Christopher Robin is arguing that the "the" in Winnie-the-Pooh makes the whole name masculine, so he wants to stress the word "the"
    ~ italicising "the" would indicate a pronunciation with /i:/, not a stressed schwa, so Milne writes "ther" to represent "the with a stressed schwa"
    ~ "-er" is, for [non-rhotic] BrE speakers, a natural representation of a stressed schwa (compare the frequent respresentation of the hesitation particle as "erm"), but this use of "-er" to represent stressed schwa may well puzzle [rhotic] AmE speakers. (I recall that we had a thread about "erm" raising just that issue.)

    Parla's comment in post 4 above makes me wonder if the "Winnie-ther-Pooh" at this point in the original text was edited in US editions: does anyone know?

    (Oh, and I read ewie's comment at post 5 as saying that a present-day Christopher Robin might well have stressed the "the" by using an /i:/:).)
     
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    Man_from_India

    Senior Member
    Indian English
    There's a linguistic discussion of this "ther" here. Essentially, it makes three points:
    ~ Christopher Robin is arguing that the "the" in Winnie-the-Pooh makes the whole name masculine, so he wants to stress the word "the"
    I really didn't get the point of making it decide the gender. How can 'the" make it masculine? Can anyone please explain?
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    It's not that the "the" decides the gender, ManfI. It's just that the speaker is saying that the bear's name is not Winnie (usually a girl's name) but Winnie-the-Pooh.
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    Winnie Pooh (if such a name existed) would probably be feminine; at least the narrator of this story thinks so.

    However, names with "the" in the middle (William the Conqueror, Alfred the Great, etc.) are mostly titles rather than names, and mostly masculine. In the child's imagination, adding "the" transforms the feminine name into a masculine title. In order to explain this, he stresses the word "the", lengthening (but not altering) the sound of the schwa. In print, in the absence of a phonetic alphabet (such is my case now), he writes the as ther.

    Oh, dear, I'm a bear of very little brain and phonetics bothers me...
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    Indeed I didn't mean that these days we'd pronounce Winnie-the-Pooh as Winnie-theeee-Pooh in ordinary circumstances.
    What I meant was that those of us who habitually pronounce the word a as ay would oh forget it.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    As a life-long fan of Winnie-the-Pooh, owner of many Pooh books, and one who (please don't spread this about) was nicknamed Pooh as a child, I think I can speak with some authority here.

    Whatever the precedents, Pooh is most certainly male.
    I quote from the introduction to Winnie-the-Pooh, the first book.
    Well, when Edward Bear said that he would like an exciting name all to himself, Christopher Robin said at once, without stopping to think, that he was Winnie-the-Pooh. And so he was.
    As for the pronunciation of "ther", it seems to me indisputable that the purpose in making this point, in chapter 1, page 1, is to make clear to us that we must pronounce Winnie-the-Pooh using the kind of "the" we would expect. Winnie-the-Pooh has a "the" with a schwa. I have never, ever, heard it said any differently.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    I think it would have been better to write it thuh, not ther, if the schwa pronunciation was being emphasized.

    (The first album I have of a female recording artist Sade indicated how to pronounce her name as "Shar-day"; for a long time , all the AmE speakers added the R sound in the middle of her name :eek: Of course, the pronunciation "aid" was written by a non-rhotic speaker who never dreamt anyone would actually pronounce the R!)
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Milne was probably envisaging a British reader, and rhotic BrE speakers will no doubt also be familiar with the hesitation marker written er and not attempt to pronounce the 'r'. << off-topic point removed >>
     
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    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Speaking from memory, the canonical written name of the decrepit plantigrade is 'Winnie-the-Pooh'.
    When Christopher Robin wishes to make the point that this is a unitary name of masculine gender, he pronounces it with a stress on 'the' which the author represents by adding on the letter 'r'.
    The explanation of why he represents stress by adding that letter is given by Loob (post 13) and Keith Bradford (post 17).
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Milne was probably envisaging a British reader, and rhotic BrE speakers will no doubt also be familiar with the hesitation marker written er and not attempt to pronounce the 'r'. << off-topic point removed >>
    I agree - I suspect a wide American/rhotic readership was not something Milne had in mind during the writing of the work :D
     
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    pob14

    Senior Member
    American English
    In When We Were Very Young, a book of poems by A. A. Milne, a swan named Pooh was mentioned. As a child, I had always guessed that "Winnie-ther-Pooh" was Christopher's mispronunciation of "Another Pooh," but I see from Wikipedia that there was a bear named Winnie that was at the London Zoo.

    I think it's clear from the last sentences of the quote in the first post that A. A. Milne didn't know either. :D
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    But the r would be present (by "re-insertion" "re-intrusion"?*) in the phrase "Eeyore is upset" because of the following vowel :D

    *Edit: this would be known as a "linking R" - pronounced only when linked to a following vowel.

    if Winne had been "Winne-the-Ooh", Milne would not have used the r in "ther" because even in a non-rhotic accent, the r would probably have been pronounced by many readers.
     
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    Cenzontle

    Senior Member
    English, U.S.
    A modern-day female Winnie is Winnie Mandela.
    It just now occurs to me that in A. A. Milne's (probably) R-less English, "ther" was probably not much different from "the" (with schwa).
     

    Alexsirpooh

    New Member
    English
    It sounds to me as if Christopher Robin was trying to say Winnie-Sir-Pooh, but his lisp makes it sound Winnie-Ther-Pooh. "Don't you know what ther (sir) means?". It seems as though Pooh should have always been referred to as Winnie-Sir-Pooh, but translated by an adult listening to Christopher Robin introduce the bear, it sounded like Winnie-the-Pooh.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Written in modern style, I expect the expression delivered by Christopher Robin would appear simply as:

    'He's Winnie-the-Pooh. Don't you know what "the" means?'

    In other words, italics would have been used for the emphasis instead of the clumsy 'ther'.
     
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    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Written in modern style, I expect the expression delivered by Christopher Robin would appear simply as:

    'He's Winnie-the-Pooh. Don't you know what "the" means?'

    In other words, italics would have been used for the emphasis instead of the clumsy 'ther'.
    But see post # 13. When "the" is pronounced with an emphasis, it is usually pronounced "thee" and that was not the intent here, it seems - the goal was a stressed schwa sound (with no terminal rhoticity)
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Well, there are two regular ways of stressing 'the', which correspond to the two regular ways of pronouncing 'the'.

    The pronunciation as 'thee' is standard before a word beginning with a vowel, while the pronunciation as schwa is standard before an initial consonant.

    In the present instance, 'Pooh' begins with a consonant, so the pronunciation as schwa is natural.
    This remains the case, in my submission, when it is stressed.
     

    RM1(SS)

    Senior Member
    English - US (Midwest)
    Well, there are two regular ways of stressing 'the', which correspond to the two regular ways of pronouncing 'the'.

    The pronunciation as 'thee' is standard before a word beginning with a vowel, while the pronunciation as schwa is standard before an initial consonant.

    In the present instance, 'Pooh' begins with a consonant, so the pronunciation as schwa is natural.
    This remains the case, in my submission, when it is stressed.
    In my case as well.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    My comment was based on my personal use and it is also in the WRF dictionary entry - that's not to say others don't use a schwa form for emphasis, but the entry uses the same thee whether before vowel or consonant - so, to me, the use of the r in ther makes it clear that thee was not intended.
    the /
    (stressed or emphatic) ðiː;
    (unstressed before a consonant) ðə;
    (unstressed before a vowel) ðɪ
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    to me, the use of the r in ther makes it clear that thee was not intended.
    So it does to me, and to ewie, Loob, Keith Bradford, panjandrum, natkretep and anyone else familiar with this peculiar British way of representing a schwa.

    My observation in post 29 that a modern editor would probably use italics for the purpose is intended to help people who are not familiar with that particular British eccentricity to understand what the author meant.
     
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    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    So it does to me, and to ewie, Loob, Keith Bradford, panjandrum, natkretep and anyone else familiar with this peculiar British way of representing a schwa.

    My observation in post 29 that a modern editor would probably use italics for the purpose is intended to help people who are not familiar with that particular British eccentricity to understand what the author meant.
    Perhaps I'm being dense, but such an editor (using the) would cause many people to say thee, while we all agree that Milne wanted people who read the book to "hear" thuh . An editor who wanted to keep the intent would do better to use thuh, and thereby convey the ("eccentric" stressed schwa) sound to rhotic and non-rhotic readers alike.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    we all agree that Milne wanted people who read the book to "hear" thuh ..
    Well, the UK contingent has been unanimous on this all through. The question is how best to convey the point to forum visitors from outside the UK. I was reacting to post 28, which showed that despite the constant repetition in this thread, it still remains unclear to some. I wanted to make the point from a new angle. We are not in an editorial conference for a re-issue of the book!

    If I understand correctly, parla's post 8 means that, in US editions, the phrase has always been presented as 'Winnie-the-Pooh'; in other words, US editors have from the start used italics instead of 'ther'.
    such an editor (using the) would cause many people to say thee
    Some people would read it as 'thee', but when we look outside the UK the number of such people is far smaller than the number who would pronounce the 'r' in 'ther' and be flummoxed as a result.
    the ("eccentric" stressed schwa) sound
    I do not suggest the stressed schwa sound is eccentric. I am sure it occurs constantly all over the English-speaking world. However, using the letters 'er' to convey a schwa is an eccentricity which is not only uniquely British and strange to other people, but also jars on many in the UK and Ireland who regularly pronounce their 'r's.
     
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    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Ahh, I think parla's comment is misleading you/us. The only instance of "ther" is in the cited piece of dialogue. Every other instance the middle word of the name is "the" and that is what I suspect parla meant. Every instance of that dialogue I can find on the net has "ther", even in pages from US sources.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Well, in fact, I was not influenced by that comment; I remarked on it as an afterthought.
    I still think modern editors would be likely to prefer italics and that to most potential readers italics would be a much clearer way to represent a stressed schwa. However, as I have said, this is not a suggestion for altering the text but a way to help people in this forum see that Milne intended a schwa sound.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    That night be a good idea for "younger speakers" for whom the emphatic the (and for some speakers the only way the word is pronounced, even before vowel sounds) is thuh, while the "usual" emphatic is Thee"
    Two American sources:
    Random House
    As an emphatic form (“I didn't say a book—I said the book.”) or a citation form (“The word the is a definite article.”), the usual pronunciation is [thee] although in both of these uses of the stressed form, [thee] is often replaced by [thuh] especially among younger speakers.
    MW
    for emphasis before titles and names or to suggest uniqueness often ˈthē\
     
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    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    I agree - I suspect a wide American/rhotic readership was not something Milne had in mind during the writing of the work :D
    There's a lot of surmise in this thread (and why not ;)), but I'm not so sure about that one, JS (assuming your "/" is an or, not an and – and temporarily ignoring the :D). I don't deny that Milne himself may have been non-rhotic, and it does seem likely that his "ther" was intended to represent a schwa, but I doubt he'd have been unaware of the possibiity of a wide rhotic readership (even in the UK) ...

    Pooh dates from 1926, when rhotic speech was far more widespread than it is today: some degree of rhoticity was common across more than half of England, and it was predominant in the rest of the UK. Milne's father was Scottish, so he would probably have heard rhotic speech in the home. At the time of writing Winnie-the-Pooh, Milne was living in rural Sussex, which was then a rhotic-speech area.

    I'm also a bit doubtful about this one, nat:
    Milne was probably envisaging a British reader, and rhotic BrE speakers will no doubt also be familiar with the hesitation marker written er and not attempt to pronounce the 'r'.
    Milne was writing Winnie-the-Pooh for children (*) — and children tend to read unfamiliar words phonetically, at least until they're 'corrected'. I'm pretty sure that most rhotic speakers, especially kids, would read "ther"as having a pronounced /r/.
    * (That said, I've got even more out of it as an adult :). I'm convinced Douglas Adams was influenced by A A Milne!)

    Ws:)
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    I doubt he'd have been unaware of the possibiity of a wide rhotic readership (even in the UK) ...
    Pooh dates from 1926, when rhotic speech was far more widespread than it is today: some degree of rhoticity was common across more than half of England, and it was predominant in the rest of the UK. Milne's father was Scottish, so he would probably have heard rhotic speech in the home. At the time of writing Winnie-the-Pooh, Milne was living in rural Sussex, which was then a rhotic-speech area.
    I feel certain that Milne would have been very well aware of American, as well as Scottish, Irish and rural English accents which pronounced the 'r', but I do not believe this would have influenced him against using 'ther' to express a stressed schwa. On the contrary, it may well have strengthened him in his decision to write in the idiom of the southern English educated class. He would have relied upon the 'right people' throughout the British Isles knowing what he meant and he may well not have been concerned to seek actively any American readership.

    This, like other features of the book, is to a degree about identity. He wanted to create a gentle English idyll and to present it in the characteristic tone of the English middle class. If others wanted to come to it, that was fine, but he was not going down the road to meet them.

    Another aspect of it is that this and other social and language markers are part of how English children are educated into the middle class. It may be that he found his son rather baffled by the strange social and linguistic rituals he encountered at school and that he told the stories and wrote the book to help ease this transition.

    Does anyone else have a view on my suggestion that an editor today, faced with a new text for first-time publication containing the word 'ther', would be unlikely to accept it and would probably say to the author, 'Oh, if that's just a stressed 'the', we'll simply put it in italics'?
     
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    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    I feel certain that Milne would have been very well aware of American, as well as Scottish, Irish and rural English accents which pronounced the 'r', but I do not believe this would have influenced him against using 'ther' to express a stressed schwa. On the contrary, it may well have strengthened him in his decision to write in the idiom of the southern English educated class. He would have relied upon the 'right people' throughout the British Isles knowing what he meant and he may well not have been concerned to seek actively any American readership.
    I think this says, probably more clearly, what I was trying to say about Milne not "having American or rhotic speakers in mind"

    This, like other features of the book, is to a degree about identity. He wanted to create a gentle English idyll and to present it in the characteristic tone of the English middle class. If others wanted to come to it, that was fine, but he was not going down the road to meet them.

    Another aspect of it is that this and other social and language markers are part of how English children are educated into the middle class. It may be that he found his son rather baffled by the strange social and linguistic rituals he encountered at school and that he told the stories and wrote the book to help ease this transition.

    Does anyone else have a view on my suggestion that an editor today, faced with a new text for first-time publication containing the word 'ther', would be unlikely to accept it and would probably say to the author, 'Oh, if that's just a stressed 'the', we'll simply put it in italics'?
    I'll just restate my view: Only if they were happy with the risk that some/many would read it as thee - i.e. those not from the "southern English educated class" - and therefore possibly miss Milne's intention.
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    I feel certain that Milne would have been very well aware of American, as well as Scottish, Irish and rural English accents which pronounced the 'r', but I do not believe this would have influenced him against using 'ther' to express a stressed schwa. [...]
    Absolutely. wandle. As I said, "... it does seem likely that his "ther" was intended to represent a schwa", but I felt that it wasn't with any lack of awareness of rhoticity amongst his readership ... er, I think we all agree now.

    As a follow-up to nat's view that rhotic BrE speakers would be familiar with the hesitation marker written er and not attempt to pronounce the 'r', I tried a little test on three colleagues, all distinctly rhotic (two from the West Country, one from Northern Ireland). I wrote a sentence containing direct speech with several "er" hesitations, and asked them (separately) to read it. Every one pronounced the r in er. They were all surprised when I suggested that it was a written representation of a schwa. They all had much the same reply: that they'd previously seen "er" written, but assumed that it was because some other people actually say "er" as a hesitation, although they don't use it themselves. One of them explained that if he wrote what he habitually said it would be "uh" or "um".

    I then wrote "Winnie-ther-Pooh" for them: they all pronounced the 'r'. One of them remembered that spelling from having read the book. He assumed that "ther" was meant to represent what Christopher Robin actually said (with the 'r' pronounced), because of the question "Don't you know what 'ther' means?". He believes that a child might well challengingly ask that question about a word he'd invented, whereas saying "Don't you know what 'the' means?" to his father would sound insolently sarcastic. I'm quite attracted by that argument.
    [...] Does anyone else have a view on my suggestion that an editor today, faced with a new text for first-time publication containing the word 'ther', would be unlikely to accept it and would probably say to the author, 'Oh, if that's just a stressed 'the', we'll simply put it in italics'?
    It might well depend on whether the editor was rhotic or not.;)

    Ws:)
     
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