I was breaking fast (having breakfast, as we might more commonly say) with Montgomery Starling-Byrd, ex Oxon, certified toff, than whom I can no more pretentious be, try though I may, and with Grace Sherman, a model of manners from Mobile. I was biting a butty (a buttered bun, to you) while he scarfed a crumpet and Grace had just java (i.e., coffee), and between chews he was regaling us with accounts of his various peregrinations (you know, wanderings).
“In Wales, then, we found our way to Snowdonia, where, although it is served by a picturesque train, we chose shank’s mare –” he looked over at Grace and, for the benefit of one not a subject of Elizabeth II, added, “anglice, we walked.”
“You walked to it from Snowdonia?” Grace asked.
“To what?” Montgomery cocked his head slightly.
“Anglesey,” Grace replied.
“No, no, we walked up Snowdon. It would be too far to walk to Ynys Môn.”
“To what, honey?” Grace said, drawing out her vowels in that charming Southern way that suggested she thought him crazy, adorable, irritating, or some combination thereof.
“Honey?” Montgomery said, looking at his crumpet and the table’s contents. “I have some, thank you. To Ynys Môn, anglice Anglesey, as you say.”
“Well, I can say Ong-glissee, as you say it, or Ang-glissee, as I say it.”
“But I don’t say anglice ‘Anglesey’ or Anglesey ‘anglice.’ Although I would imagine, being American, you say anglice ‘ang-glissee.’ …I say,” said Montgomery, turning to me, “what do you find so amusing?”
I couldn’t bring myself to say “The pitfalls of pomposity,” though I had it in mind. Montgomery was right that those in North America who say anglice at all say it with the first syllable of anger, while the British standard is with the vowel of on. But Grace, respectable word taster though she is, and familiar with parts of Welsh geography though she might be – such as the peak of Snowdon and the island of Anglesey (“angla-see”) – was quite innocent of the word anglice. It’s not a polite enough word, you see, even though it seems oh-so-very-polite, because it really tends to mean “in case you didn’t get that.”
Well, it means, first of all, “in English.” That’s its Latin meaning, and it was originally used to introduce translations of words and phrases: “Qui mihi amat et amat canem meam, anglice ‘love me, love my dog.'” It has since come to be used more often to introduce plain English versions of idioms and fancy speech. We have a variety of other ways of doing the same, but of course they don’t bespeak classicist erudition so pungently.
I should not say that it is only used to suggest that one’s listener is insufficiently knowledgeable; one may also use it to suggest that the source one is quoting is unnecessarily obfuscatory or jargony, or even, in that faux-modest way, to suggest that one is being simply too erudite or, conversely, too slangy or jargony. And, of course, if one is in such company as knows the word and appreciates a bit of abstruseness de temps à temps (anglice every so often), it can be a fun little thing to toss in. But, lofty though it be, it is not angelic.
And what a word to look at! Really, the first time I saw it, I had no clear sense of how it ought to be said. It has a certain sense of slipperiness thanks to the glistening glice, which may seem to have the pronunciation of the beginning of glycine or that of glycerine, though in fact it has been shaped by the old-style English tradition of Latin pronunciation. The lice also has an unetymological entomological bent, and the ice tops the cupcake nicely. But that angl puts the right kind of English on it: eyes that know Anglo-Saxon will likely seize on its sense, though its particular angle may entangle them. (Some may, nonetheless, have the grace to overlook it.)
My notes have been getting rather long of late. Do let me know if you find them a bit much to read.