Miles Kington: Agent 007 gets in touch with his feminine side

It's a bit like the word for 'royal' in Spanish, which is 'real'. As in 'Ray-al Madrid', not 'real ale' or 'get real'
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The Independent Online

There's one puzzling thing about the film Casino Royale that I do not think has been mentioned anywhere. Not just about the film, but about the original Ian Fleming novel as well.

The title. Casino Royale. Or, to give it its full quotation marks, "Casino Royale".

Here's the funny thing. The word "casino" in French is masculine. But the word "royale" is the feminine form of royal.

So why has "Royale" wrongly been given an -e on the end?

I think it should be "Casino Royal", because all adjectives in French agree with the gender of the noun. After all, it's "Palais Royal", isn't it? Because "Palais" is masculine and therefore royal doesn't take an -e on the end.

So why not "Casino Royal" ?

I'll tell you why not.

Because if Fleming had called it "Casino Royal", everyone would have pronounced it English style, as "Casino Royal"|, with the stress on the first syllable of "Royal".

But if it is spelled as "Casino Royale", everyone instinctively gives it a sort of smart, sophisticated French pronunciation with the stress on the last syllable. Roy-ale.

So it had to be spelled wrong to be pronounced right.

In English the word "royal" is a disappointingly monosyllabic sort of a word, rhyming with "oil" and "soil" and "toil".

In French, "royal" is brightly and dynamically bisyllabic, thrillingly different.

It's a bit like the word for "royal" in Spanish, which is real. In English, "real" is dully monosyllabic, as in the "Campaign For Real Ale", or "get real!". But in Spain, real ( derived from Latin regalis) is indubitably bisyllabic. Ray-al. Ray-al Madrid. Royal Madrid. I guess that's why they gave the name real to a coin, in the same way that we called our big coin a "sovereign".

It's all part of the long slow process whereby the British learn to pronounce foreign words correctly. The importance of having the footballer Eric Cantona play in England was not so much that he was a good footballer, a bad poet, or a moderate kung-fu fighter. It was that his name was stressed on the last syllable - Canton-ah - and so by getting used to this, we started to get used to the idea that if we stress most French words at the end, the French will understand us better.

But it comes very slowly, in dribs and drabs. When Ruud Gullit came to Britain and revealed that his surname began with a sound like an H-, people learnt something new about Dutch. Maybe one day that will help them to learn the proper Dutch pronunciation of Van Gogh, in which the last consonant sounds like -ch in Scottish "loch" and so does the first. It's more like the German word "hoch" than the limp "Gough" we normally use.

(The British did pick up a basic knowledge of German during and after the war, even if only limited to the sort of conversation heard in war films. "Hande hoch" and "Schnell" and "achtung" and "jawohl" and "bitte" were part of my vocabulary long before I ever started learning German properly.)

Yesterday war, today football, and another huge advance has recently been made thanks to Italian football and the fact that their top division is called "Serie A". We have learnt to pronounce this Italian-style as "Serry-Ay Ah", and it has suddenly dawned on us that if the letter "A" is pronounced as "Ah", then all the other letters in the Italian alphabet must be pronounced differently too. I can remember to this day the excitement of mastering the French alphabet (Ah, Bay, Say, Day, Er, Eff...) though I have never quite got over the discovery that the French pronounce "G" as "jay" and "J" as "Gee"...

Excitement? Certainly. I had it to keep it a secret at school, of course, for fear of being lynched, but I really did enjoy learning languages. Alas, it is a pleasure which, for most people today, is restricted to picking up little hints from footballers' names. Why? Because we have a philistine government in office which considers it vital to make casinos compulsory and the learning of languages voluntary.

"A la lanterne!"* I say.

(*"String 'em up ...!")