Not long ago, I was listening to an audiobook of Emily of New Moon, one of my favourite of L.M. Montgomery’s novels. In chapter 22, the sensitive, poetic Emily must leave New Moon to visit her Great-Aunt Nancy Priest in her somewhat impressive, somewhat faded home, Wyther Grange. Given Aunt Nancy’s wealth, there is a sense that Emily’s adoptive family hopes that she might be able to win over this unconventional and eccentric old lady, and thus secure Emily’s future. Emily truly is winsome, and projects her own unconventional individuality that intrigues Aunt Nancy. Although there is no way to separate Aunt Nancy with her fortune, dead or alive, Emily does inherit two things from her–though one of these is something that Nancy has stolen from Emily.
The audiobook reader was generally pretty good–though I have yet to find an absolutely brilliant reading of the novel. I did have hopes of a new discovery last summer. Because I was a child of the last century, Megan Follows was for me the “voice” of Anne, since she starred in the 1980s Kevin Sullivan Anne of Green Gables films. Last summer, Follows released her reading of an audiobook production of Emily of New Moon. It is well done as a performance, and I particularly like Megan Follows’ reading of Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 novella, Carmilla. However, the abridgement of Emily was so strange and egregious, that it became the subject of my discussion in the 2021 Emily of New Moon Roundtable (read more here).
Until the great performance comes along, my dog-eared paperback and this other audio reader will have to do.
However, there is one moment in the audiobook that I just cannot get past. When we come to Emily’s critical encounter with Aunt Nancy at Wyther Grange, the reader pronounces “Wyther” as “Why-there” (to rhyme with eye-ther), rather than a soft “wi” sound. I had to stop the tape. I just couldn’t imagine “Weye-ther” to be the correct pronunciation. Though I had never in my life looked up the word, I was certain that “wyther” was most likely a variant of “wither”–as in “shrivelled up,” or “dried up,” like how a vine slowly withers at summer’s end, turning slowly brown after a season where it has reached great heights clinging to some grand wall.
It was, I presumed, an aptly chosen name for Great-Aunt Nancy Priest’s home and the encounter Emily is to have there:
“What do you think of us?” demanded Aunt Nancy. “Come now, what do you think of us?”
Emily was dreadfully embarrassed. She had just been thinking of writing that Aunt Nancy looked “withered and shrivelled;” but one couldn’t say that—one couldn’t.
“Tell the truth and shame the devil,” said Aunt Nancy.
“That isn’t a fair question,” cried Emily.
“You think,” said Aunt Nancy, grinning, “that I’m a hideous old hag and that Caroline isn’t quite human. She isn’t. She never was—but you should have seen me seventy years ago….”
The archaic spelling of “Wyther” would add to the atmosphere of the home for Montgomery and for readers. The word “Grange” as a country home also has an oldish feel, even a century ago. Other uses in her short stories, “Ingelow Grange” and “Penhallow Grange,” have the same kind of old-timey feel. Even the homonymic adverb “whither” evokes a lost world, and is usually used in whimsy and quotation in Montgomery’s prose.
But then … “Why-there?” is kind of an interesting question for the novel at this point….
Ultimately, I did look it up, as I often do with words once I have used them to find out how I have guessed aright or made a fool of myself.
Even though the etymology is not terribly impressive in the OED, “wyther” is indeed a variety of “Wither”–and there are a goodly number of variants, though not nearly as many as the adverbial “whither.” Figuratively, “wither” spelled as “wyther” in the Coverdale Bible (Ecclesiasticus 10:17) makes a good counterpoint to our image of Aunt Nancy in the text.
However, while my instinct was correct, I had to ask myself: why was I so certain and so judgy? After all, the “y” in “judgy” and “Emily” is an “ee” sounds. And “tyre” rhymes with “buyer” and is pronounced like “tie,” being a UK variant of “tire.” “Y” can easily go long…. As in the word “why,” right? And it is sitting right there in WHYther Grange. Still, I can’t imagine there is any such thing as a “wythe”–though “whyȝt” is a kind of wind in Middle English.
So why all this confusion about “y”? How do I know when I am supposed to pronounce “y” a certain way?
Perhaps it comes down to whether the “y” comes to us from the Greek Upsilon (lowercase υ, though some transliterate as Ypsilon and the uppercase form is Υ), or from the Greek through Latin, or from the Old English rune “yr” (ᚣ), or evolved in vowel shifts both great and small…. Sometimes pronunciation works this way, like how “-ize” and “-ise” words are distinguished in British English because of their etymologies (while Americans have picked a side and Canadians remain confused).
And obviously, this all works differently when “Y” works as a consonant than when it works as a vowel or semivowel. That whole “a, e, i, o, u and sometimes ‘y’” vowel rhyme is a bit of a bust when it comes to a letter like “w,” isn’t it? And what about “h” in “ah!”, or “gh” in “thigh”? And then there are all those umlauts and accents and ligatures and digraphs. There is the æ in “mediæval” or “dæmon,” but lost in “archaeology” in any spelling I’ve seen. Or the œ that is everywhere in beautiful French words but nearly lost in English, except occasionally, like in “œdipal” or (rarely) all the “pœia” words I like, and remembered in names like “Phoebe” or “Phoenix,” but lost in most œ technical words. What do we do with those?
I feel let down Sesame Street on this one.
So as I dig into it, I still am amazed to find that “y” can have a history of letters/sounds as broad as ɘ, i, ɨ, ɪ, j, u, ʊi, v, w, ʏ, or ȝ. It can even steal thorn’s thunder–the þ that we might find in “whyþer”–an offence that you can still see in signs like “Ye Olde Bookshoppe.”
(which, though I mock, looks pretty great as a bookstore)
I would normally blame the Welsh for vowel/consonant complexity, but we can’t even do that here.
So, in forming this complaynt, and though I might be as hypocritical as yon lady or need hypodermic treatment, and there is a long distance from sylvan wonderlands to the psych ward, I am happy to say that, all myths, sound systems, and lyrical gymnastics aside, and beyond every journey in a canyon of doubt or literary martyrdom, it’s not always clear, even reading Wycliffe and Tyndale–or Emily of New Moon–boy, it’s hard to know how to pronounce “y”–even on a typical day like this.
And still, the audiobook was wrong.
I wonder if the spelling is intended to be recognized as a kind of “Ye Olde Bookshoppe” artsy pseudo-archaic one. Then again, the instance you give of “Ye Olde Bookshoppe” seems a deliberately playful spelling – might that be in character for Great-Aunt Nancy Priest? (Something similar might be asked with respect to ‘Grange’.) Or, could it preserve a pre-standardized-spelling version of the surname ‘Wither’? (How possible is that, for PEI?) Returning to “Ye Olde Bookshoppe”, how does one tend to pronounce that? ‘The Old Bookshop’? Or ‘Yee Oldee Bookshop-pee’? One can see how this might become an audiobook question – do I try to indicate the unusual spelling in an audible way? (Do I intrude a parenthetical ‘reader’s note’? “Wither Grange (spelt ‘W-y-t-h-e-r’)”…) I still have not read (or listened to) the Emily books – do we ever get an idea of who named it that, or how it came to be named that, in that way? An interesting possible comparison is ‘wyvern’ (of the various spellings, including ‘wivern’ and ‘wyfern’) – the 1929 ed. 2 COD gives it with a long i, as does a 1972 US dictionary I have, but I have somehow had the habit of pronouncing it with a short i – did I hear that? did I figure it out for myself as a ‘spelling pronunciation’?
Maybe … artsy pseudo-archaic one is a good term. A couple of thoughts.
I think given Montgomery’s Scot-rootedness, it could be that either or both of Wyther and Grange could be a bit more common. I can’t take time to figure it out now.
Except to say that the McNeill/MacNeil family in Montgomery’s family line in Scotch-settled Prince Edward Island spelled the name variously on documents with no seeming concern to specify, even on tombstones. And there is some MacDonald/Macdonald fluidity when Montgomery got married. But I suspect that she chooses particular spellings for effect in her literature, even if not in everyday life.
I don’t know that Wither is a name I’ve ever heard…. I suspect that we are supposed to imagine that this book (perhaps set around 1890) makes Aunt Nancy born in the early 1800s, 1815 or 1820 maybe. And I think we’re supposed to think the house is at least “old” when she takes it over–an estate feeling. Historically speaking, it couldn’t be much older than 1780s, as a Scot or Irish settlement of wealth, anyway.
However, all my pondering might be moot. https://www.islandregister.com/islander.htm records a “Wyther Grange” here in PEI in the mid-1800s: “JUN. 04, 1850, BIRTH AT WYTHER GRANGE ON THE 18TH ULT., THE LADY OF JOSEPH HOLROYD, A SON.” “Lady” is funny there, an actual Lady & Lord? The other “Lady” refs on the page are for ministers and esquires and honourables, so perhaps. Elsewhere it’s listed as “At Wyther Grange, on the 18th ultimo, the Lady of Joseph Holroyd, Esq., of a Son.”
It could be Montgomery visited “The Grange” in Toronto, an historic home that became part of our gallery there.
Montgomery has other “Wyther Grange” stories as well, taken up into the Emily world, perhaps.
I suspect that bookstores today are winking at the fake “y” in “Ye.” I don’ know if antique shops are, though.
And, of course, used enough and it is a correct usage in the sense that language is what language does in culture.
I have thought about Wyvern/Wivern … when? I think when I was at the Downton Abbey house, where they film, Highclere Castle. It was open and friend took me and one of the rooms had images of wyverns, the winged two-legged dragons, stylized in a trim or decoration. I believe I asked how to pronounce it. I forget the answer, but I think the guide said I was the only one to ask.
I have listened to a handful of Discworld audiobooks, and they have chosen to pronounce the extra syllables and letters for oldish terms–and it is funny, works well as it does on the page. But I think in this book, it would intrude–and in most. However, the chapter before this there is a deeply accented person and reading the text requires that accent as the text spells the words unique to his voice. So that works, I think.
Brief follow-up (I should edit the above but I’m writing in haste as I’m about to disappear for a few days).
Joseph Holroyd was appointed by the queen to legislative council, acc. to the London Gazette, so the esquire works, and the lady.
There were kids born to him and the lady, a daughter in ’48 and boy in ’50. He is probably this dead guy in 1854: https://billiongraves.com/grave/Joseph-Holroyd/26960082.
The cemetery is near Charlottetown. Montgomery would have passed that way every time she went by horse/cart from home to Charlottetown, but the cemetery is off the road.
It notes that Wyther Hall is in Yorkshire. Is Wyther Grange a PEI replacement/renamed house? The “mini-me” version?
Here Wyther Hall and Wyther grange are equated: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Gott_(industrialist). Might be a different one, but if the same it is now a golf clubhouse.
Also, I recall that Lesley Clement has somewhere explored the Gothic of Wyther Grange in Montgomery. And I think most readers of a particular bent would put Jane Eyre’s gothic atmosphere and houses behind Emily of New Moon. Epperly’s gorgeous Frangrance of Sweet-grass book specifically does so. Does Bronte (or do they) every “Wyther” the “Wyther”? And it’s hard not to think of the Lintons’ Thrushcross Grange in Wuthering Heights.
Someone has probably researched all this. I just meant to complain about “Y”!
Having also enjoyed John Gough’s comment, I loop back here to say, thanks for the fascinating historical matter about Wyther Grange or Hall – and variant spelling in PEI. The Wikipedia article, “Withers (surname)”, begins “Withers – earlier Wither, Wyther” and has a box insert with “Variant form(s) Wither, Wyther, Withars, Wider, Wythe, Weathers”. In the way of Wikipedia articles, the main text has “It seems to be a personal name, rather than a place name or occupational name, of unknown meaning: suggestions have included ‘wood’, ‘withstand’, ‘warrior’ or ‘willow'” while the box has “Meaning ‘Son of Ƿithar (Víðarr)’, for proper earlier form”. The first person who springs to my mind is George Wither (1588-1667), whose Wikipedia article describes him as “a prolific English poet, pamphleteer, satirist and writer of hymns.” (I’ve always pronounced him with a short i.) The “Withers” article has among its References Reginald Fitz Hugh Bigg-Wither’s book, Materials for a History of the Wither Family (Winchester, 1907), of which there are two scans in the Internet Archive – the first two chapter titles include the spelling “Wyther”. One may add that Lewis is playing with two real surnames with Frost and Wither in That Hideous Strength.
Dean Priest is an interestingly double ‘clerical office-holder’ name…
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This comment shows a lot of wherewythal.
It’s intriguing that a tyrant operates a tyranny.
Of course, “tyrant” and “tyranny” (cognates) both derive from Ancient Greek, whose original pronunciation I can only guess at. But the words, from Greek, through Latin, then French, to English, have been so accommodated to English that any original phonetic value “y” (or the Greek counterpart) may have had is now irrelevant. (I say all this speculatively, without pausing to Google any etymologies. So I could be HOPELESSLY wrong. It happens.)
Searching an online text of Emily for ‘Wyther’ references the other day, I read something that seems to have stuck – and worked – in my mind (ch. 2) – “They live up on the old north shore at Blair Water on New Moon Farm—always have lived there since the first Murray came out from the Old Country in 1790. The ship he came on was called the New Moon and he named his farm after her.” By contrast, there have apparently not always been Wythers at Wyther Grange – for whatever reason – but presumably it is an old name, and the name has not ‘withered’ any more than the Grange has been empty, has decayed, has been pulled down, or even renamed. And ‘grange’ is itself a rich old sort of noun in its relation to ‘grain’ as a barn word (via mediaeval Latin: COD, ed. 2). So, it now strikes me there is likely to be a serious positive sense in the continuity of Wyther Grange, its survival, the respect for the old name – and even the old spelling. (There may be the danger of pride in this – snootiness, poshness – but I do not get the impression from your post and further comments that that is the case.)
That’s a nice connection, David. I think that’s precisely the kind of thing.
On our farm, we had not a grange but we did have a granary. I never made the connection. I love the word “Grange,” and Wyther Grange has flourished for me imaginatively in our discussion.
This is another excellent rumination, Brenton. Well done, and congratulations!
(David Llewellyn Dodds’ comment is also insightful! Incidentally, is it possible that Montgomery’s fictional name “Wyther Grange” conflates “Wuthering Heights” and “Thrushcross Grange”? Could there be an actual estate or house, known as “Grange”, or some version of “Whatever Grange”, that Montgomery based her fictional place on? Did Montgomery have a wealthy great-aunt?)
First, you direct our attention to L.M. Montgomery’s marvellous “Emily” trilogy. It is a sustained exploration of a character, a life-vocation, and a community-situation that seems, to me, more focused than the equally wonderful but different “Anne” saga. And, I think, “Emily” is more autobiographical, but I would be interested in an expert’s opinion.
(I will say little about your quest for, and appreciation of, audio book versions. My preference is my own reading, unless, for example, we have the author reading — such as the cherished recordings of Tolkien reading some of his work. Nonetheless, many children first experience “Narnia” or “The Hobbit” or “Prydain” or “Earthsea” — et cetera — mediated through the reading-aloud of a parent. As an adult, and parent, I prefer my own reading. As the Roman saying puts it, you can’t argue about taste: de gustibus non est disputandem — a relic of my final year of high school and lessons in English Expression.)
That “Ye Olde Tea Shoppe” thing is simultaneously trivial and complicated. The capital “Y” is a clumsy, but understandable rendering of the obsolete Anglo-Saxon letter “thorn”, used to distinguish the voiced digraph “-th-“, as in “they” from the unvoiced alternative, as in “thin”. Similarly, the final-letter “-e” is meant to represent the Old French-influenced Middle English spelling (as with Chaucer’s English), before English spelling was regularised (by the invention of dictionaries). So far, so good. But when this is rendered phonetically as “yee old-ee tea shopp-ee”, it becomes a twee parody, betokening something that is belittled simply by being old. As a promotional name for the shop, potential customers are invited to imagine an old-fashioned cosy parlour-room with a warm hearth, and a purling kettle, and scones and jam and cream (UK: biscuits and preserves in US and Canada, maybe) …
How to pronounce it? If you are reasonably educated, you might read it aloud as “thee old tea shop”, but this completely omits the author’s deliberate pseudo-archaic spelling for anyone listening to you reading. (You might actually pause to comment, parenthetically, on the author’s deliberate use of bogus spelling — and share what is actually a joke in the text.) If your reading is based on a narrator-persona who is not so well educated you would render it “yee oldee tea shopp-ee”, just as a not so well educated reader may render “champagne” as “sham-pag-knee”.
I don’t think I have added anything to your thoughts on “Y” = “thorn”.
But actually, I don’t think “Y” = “thorn” has anything to do with Montgomery’s world of “Emily” and “Wyther Grange”. Wherever, and for whatever reason, Montgomery got “wyther” as a name for a grange, I don’t think she would have pronounced it “why – thuh”, but “wither” (and maybe “whither” — why not? this was the era of Samuel Butler’s “Erewhon”, and placenames were things an author could play with — Dickens’ “Dotheboys Hall” is an extreme example).
That is, I think you are right to read, and hear, Montgomery’s “Wyther” as “wither”. And the audiobook reader was wrong, but trying hard.
But this raises a more general issue: pronunciation of unusual names in fiction, especially fantasy.
In my childhood (1950s), reading Walt Disney comics, with very limited access to Disney cartoons, was Mickey Mouse’s dog-friend pronounced “Goo-fee” (the “-oo-” rhyming with the vowel in “shoe”) or “Gu-fee” (the “-oo-” rhyming with the vowel in “put” or “book”)?
(Actually, “-oo-” words are sometimes diabolical in the diversity of their pronunciation. Some regional accents in Northern England rhyme “-oo-” in “book / look / hook” with the vowel-sound in “boot”. But that is an aside.)
Is the dragon in “The Hobbit” pronounced “Smaug” (my first choice) or “Smowg” (the vowel sound the same as in “cow”)? I believe this became an issue for many people when they saw Peter Jackson’s film version of “The Hobbit”, and heard somebody else pronounce “Smaug” as “Smowg”.
I also believe that Tolkien favoured the latter “cow” pronunciation.
This is where the author’s audio-recorded reading (or carefully written answers to a correspondent) can be invaluable.
I wonder if Montgomery ever commented on her choice of the name “Wyther Grange”? Some written note in a manuscript, diary, or letter, that could settle the matter?
Finally, do you have any thoughts on the name of Emily’s great aunt — “Priest”?
And is there special significance in “New Moon” as the name of Emily’s initial location?
Well John, I respond too late! You beat me there and I didn’t see i. Well done.
Yes, “Wyther Grange” conflates “Wuthering Heights” and “Thrushcross Grange” –> well spotted, I got partway there.
Did Montgomery have a wealthy great-aunt? –> I don’t know. Her family had substance but not a lot of wealth. And I think of her great-uncles more than great-aunts. I don’t have an Aunt Nancy that matches up with a family member in my mind, though.
Yes on Emily and vocation, totally. “Emily” is more autobiographical … I have a post in a couple of weeks that says so, but not argued, just a quote from her journals.
I totally prefer my own reading, but audiobooks help fill in a new sensual experience of the text and world and characters for me.
Y-thorn and twee parody all, you capture it well. I say “yee old shop” when pronouncing.
We say “biscuits” in PEI for baking powder biscuits, scones for baking powder biscuits with things in them like fruit or nuts or creamy toppings, cookies for UK biscuits, desert for UK pudding, sitting room or parlour for parlour-room, hearth for hearth (but we don’t have them now, so metaphorical), tea is the actual tea, tea-time is mid-afternoon but not a full meal and really a coffee-break, but we might have a “lunch” if we are old before bed, a “snack” if young.
How to pronounce archaisms in audiobook reading must be a whole conference of debate somewhere … or a special hearth?
By “thorn” in “wyther” I meant the “th,” but that might be another “th” sound, not thorn, right?
Great pronunciation thoughts. Think of how “move” and “love” rhymed just a few centuries ago and we know we have a problem in poetry.
Is the dragon in “The Hobbit” pronounced “Smaug” (my first choice) or “Smowg” (the vowel sound the same as in “cow”)? –> that’s how I say it aloud; it is “smog” (like fog) in my head when reading.
I wonder if Montgomery ever commented on her choice of the name “Wyther Grange”? Some written note in a manuscript, diary, or letter, that could settle the matter? –> I just can’t think it would be anything other than “wither,” but Montgomery’s journals are not fully indexed. It’s a hard thing to track down. And I have never even heard a recording of her voice.
“Priest” was another name in pre-editing … “Deacon” or “Kirk” or “Church.” I don’t know, but someone has written on it. I’m just out of time this week.
But I think that Wyther Grange is most certainly meant to draw Emily’s character into a certain set of challenges that lead to her independence. That she connects with Dean Priest is critical–not least because he conceptualized her as a Priestess.
I haven’t heard anyone talk about “New Moon” … In my mind it is a lovely image of New Beginnings, and yet the moon is ancient, of presence and absence both, and of an inexpert glance at a new moon, how we don’t know if it is waxing or waning (sp?).
“Americans have picked a side and Canadians remain confused.” I laughed at that because it’s so true. The amount of times I second guess “-ize” and “-ise” endings is ridiculous.
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I’ve long had a strong impression that Noah Webster as lexicographer had a big influence on Americans picking a ‘ back-to-Latin’ side against an ‘as-it-came-through-French’ side, where -or versus -our and -er versus -re endings were concerned, and -ize versus -ise, too – though I wonder how much things like the success of the BBC television series “Civilisation” (1970) and the increasing availability of Penguin books got a number of Americans wobbling about -ize versus -ise at least.
Checking my 1950 reprint of H.W. Fowler’s 1926 Dictionary of Modern English Usage, I was therefore a bit surprised to find him saying “the OED of the Oxford University Press, the Encyclopedia Britannica of the Cambridge University Press, the Times & American usage, in all of which -ize is the accepted form, carry authority enough to outweigh superior numbers” of “Most English printers” who ” follow the French practice”, though he also notes that “a small number of verbs, some of them in very frequent use, […] must be spelt with -s-” (and lists them). The whole entry is worth reading, as is that on “-our & -or”. Now quite curious, I went to the Internet Archive and found there scans of Sir Ernest Gowers Revised Second Edition of ‘Fowler’ (as well as scans of different printings of the original) – and find that the Second Edition left these articles largely as written in 1926… All more complicated – and interesting – than I had any idea of!
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Webster might have been right about the colOR vs. colOUR issue. Unless we want to stay closer to the French. In which case, the Americans are more right than the Brits on “Lieutenant.”
This is interesting, Brenton. Of course, “lieutenant” is spelled the same in British English and North American (USA and Canada), unlike the German “Leutnant”. I presume you are referring to the USA/Canadian pronunciation as “loo-tenant”, contrasted with the British “leff-tenant”. However, the Royal Navy (British) pronounces it “loo-tenant”, in an Anglicised version of the original French. (The Royal Navy is also, traditionally referred to as the Senior Service, because an English navy existed as a permanent military force before a permanent army was established. (The term “Senior” suggests the Royal Navy preserves the original borrowing from the French.) Traditionally, before this, an English army was raised (by the king and his leading aristocrats who had soldiers and potential soldiers as their underlings) for a specific conflict, and then disbanded. I am not an expert on the history and evolution of the English army, but think it was not established in a permanent way until after the English Civil War when England began a more or less permanent state of active war, against the Dutch, French, and sub-continental Indians, and others.
By the end of the 15th century, the Dutch – both variously French-influenced and the source of many a nautical term – had some how ended up with the spelling ‘luitenant’, with a (to many non-Dutch – like me!) very difficult-to-pronounce ‘ui’, also found in the words for ‘lute’ (‘luit’), ‘onion’ (‘ui’), and ‘out’ (‘uit’ – so that the spelling ‘uitje’ can mean both ‘small excursion’ and ‘small onion’).
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I wonder if the spelling is intended to be recognized as a kind of “Ye Olde Bookshoppe” artsy pseudo-archaic one Akira Jacket
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I think there is definitely a desire to make it feel archaic.
This is interesting, Brenton. Of course, “lieutenant” is spelled the same in British English and North American (USA and Canada), unlike the German “Leutnant”. Even the spelling is quite different. Mass Effect N7 Jacket
Ah, just a bit of fun nonsense! Knowing French, it took me a long time to say “leftenant” instead of lieu-tenant (like in lieu of), but I got there. I still can’t pronounce “foyer” like Americans do!
But this raises a more general issue: pronunciation of unusual names in fiction, especially fantasy. well, I can pronounce it very easily. Ben 10 Jacket