Being an opera singer, I’m something of a pronunciation nerd. We all are. It comes with the territory.
I actually feel a jab of pain and stress when someone who should know better calls Don Giovanni “Don Jee-oh-vahn-ee” or sounds the g in tagliatelle. When a pretentious American – and I have no idea why it’s only pretentious Americans who do this – pronounces the great tenor’s name “Pah-va-roh-ti” I want to slap them. I can’t help myself. We singers spend so much of our working lives perfecting this stuff that when someone cocks it up, it seriously grates.
Which is why I pronounce the massive Swedish furniture store ICK-É-A. I pronounce it this way because a Swede told me that it is the correct way to pronounce IKEA and who am I to disagree? Besides, it’s Scandinavian. It makes sense. It absolutely flabbergasts me that simply because most Brits and Americans incorrectly pronounce it EYE-KEY-A (and I have absolutely no idea why they do as it’s clearly WRONG!!), even IKEA itself now calls its English-speaking stores EYE-KEY-A. And that just gets on my tits. IKEA has simply given in. They’re just not trying hard enough to put people right.
Which brings me to Santa Claus.
I’m no authority on this and some of my history may be a bit smudgy, but bear with me. St Nicholas is called Sint Nikolaas in the Low Countries, where his name has become shortened to Sinterklaas. Sint Nikolaas is dressed as a bishop, all in red with white hair and a big white beard, and he hands out toys.
“Santa Claus” was apparently dreamt up by some Dutchmen in New York in the late 19th century, eager to reproduce some old home customs. I like to imagine Sint Nikolaas aka Sinterklaas arriving at US Immigration. He only speaks Dutch, so the immigration officer makes a bash at spelling his name and comes up with “Santa Claus”. If you say Sint Nikolaas rapidly, you can hear the connection. It’s easy-peasy if you say Sinterklaas.
But this is where I become confused. How is Claus a good phonetic spelling of Klaas? Why do we now pronounce Claus “Claws”? To be fair, “Claws” pronounced by an American is not that far from the Dutch “Klaas” so it’s we Brits who are the worst offenders there, but normally if you saw the name Claus, wouldn’t you assume it was pronounced the same way as the German name Klaus? Perhaps two world wars put a stop to that.
Oddly we are left with the idea these days that Santa is a christian name and Claus a surname, which is, frankly, total bollocks. Saint Peter, by the same logic, would become Sanpa Duh.
I’m trying to remember if, in 1960s London, we ever used to talk about Santa Claus. I’m pretty sure it was just Father Christmas back then, but I’m willing to admit I’m wrong.
The real villain is, of course, Coca-Cola. They gave us the modern version of Santa Claus while, God help us all, advocating that fizzy water, sugar syrup and vegetable sludge combine to make the one drink that defines Christmas, an idea so baffling and outrageous that I resolutely refuse to drink the stuff, ever. Well, it’s not just that, I just can’t see what the fuss is about fizzy water, sugar syrup and vegetable sludge. It strikes me as rather disgusting.
Anyway, from now on, if ever called upon to utter the words Santa Claus I shall not be pronouncing him Santa “Claws” but Santa “Class”. And who’s going to stop me?

Comments (2)

  1. Reply

    When I was in London in the 1970s it was Father Christmas (and Happy Christmas!). Two years ago when I was there for Christmas, it was Santa Claus, and the BT Tower had a huge electronic sign that said Merry Christmas.

    This is just so wrong. When did it happen?

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