24 September 2008

Gnu Pronunciation

I have been testing a GNU/Linux server recently which has GNOME (pronounced ger-nome) installed. This pronunciation is undoubtedly correct, as is the sounding of the G in Gnu/Linux, because the originators of these systems specified that the G should be sounded. My dictionary has 19 words starting gn, and apparently they should all be pronounced with a silent G, including gnu when referring to the African animal. This reminded me of the song "The Gnu Song" written in the 1950s by Flanders and Swann: the song is a clever satire which very gently pokes fun at those people who did not know that the G is silent. In the song they religeously pronounce all the silent letters in lines such as: You really ought to ker-now w-ho's w-ho's. The also add G's to all the other words beginning with N, as in the first two lines of the song:

I'm a Gnu, I'm a Gnu
The ger-nicest work of ger-nature in the zoo

The song was very popular in the 50's and 60's but I suspect the satire backfired however, as many people now sound the G when referring to the animal. Mind you, in the nearly 50 years since I first heard the song, the only times I can recall needing to use the word is when referencing the song!

I am told that if you go back far enough, the initial letters in words such as gnaw and knife were sounded but gradually over the years the initial letters were dropped in speech, but kept in the spelling. Maybe we should follow Flanders and Swann and start pronouncing all these silent letters; it would cause some ger-nashing of teeth in some circles but you never ker-now - it could catch on.

11 September 2008

"Rabbit Hutch" Britain

An article in today's Guardian reports that houses built in the UK are the smallest in western Europe. I am not surprised: the high cost of land in the UK results in builders having to develop at high density to keep costs down, and this is also a major contributory factor to the fact that we never seem to be able to build enough houses to satisfy demand. Another contributory factor to the rabbit hutch phenomenon is the frequent requirement on developers to build a certain number of affordable homes in any new development. Affordable generally means small and cheaply made, but as today's report indicates we already have enough small starter homes.

Although I am not generally in favour of allowing market forces to decide everything, in this case we should just let builders build the houses they think are most likely to sell. The majority of people in the UK only own one house, so if builders build more of a certain type of house then prices will come down. People often stay in their first house for a long time (though many of them would like a bigger house), because they cannot find the extra money needed to trade up to a significantly better house. House prices in Britain are far too high: the solution is to build more houses so that supply equals demand, and it does not really matter what sort of house you build. Currently the number of houses being built is going down, but maybe builders would come back into the market if we removed the need to build affordable (that is, low profit) homes, and preferably simplified the frequently long drawn out planning procedures in which everyone from the local council to utility services try and get improvements to their infrastructure from the builder.