It’s Royal Ascot week, and today was the Ascot Gold Cup, a.k.a. Ladies’ Day. Apparently a horse race is involved, but nobody really talks about that much; it’s mainly the fillies in the stands who get the attention, with assorted confections fastened to their heads – hats and fascinators galore, in colours from lilac to apricot, some more like mascots than millinery. Have a look at this year’s crop at Many a North American might think, “I would never have my Ascot in that.”

Such hats, mind you, are not called Ascot hats. On the other hand, the ladies’ escorts have ascots, for it happens that a type of cravat suitable for wearing with a morning coat – what gentlemen are to wear in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot, plus top hat – is now called an Ascot tie, or, particularly in North America, just an ascot (it’s lost the capital A, which actually looks a bit like an ascot).

I should say that various of the wordplays one may give in to the temptation to make on Ascot actually don’t work if you pronounce it the British way. The cot, you see, is reduced entirely (somewhat like the base of a fascinator), making Ascot sound rather like ask it and go nicely with waistcoat (“weskit”). So it’s a tisket, a tasket, a basket worn at Ascot; the lid of it hangs before her bangs, and her head looks like a casket. (How does it stay on? Perhaps with an elastic.) The word comes from east cot, “east cottage”. It is, as it looks, an English word of thoroughbred pedigree.

That pre-empts the more impolite double entendres, which is just as well, as there is a clear code of formality and decorum – and attire – for the Royal Enclosure. (Many in attendance stretch the rules some, exposing more flesh than recommended, perhaps including tattoos and bottle tans, and this year there was something of a dust-up among some of the blokes in one of the enclosures, with a champers bottle being wielded as a weapon. How infra dig.) A race, after all, is an occasion for one’s best behaviour and one’s best attire, as I demonstrated a few years ago:

2 responses to “Ascot

  1. Unless my grasp of American pronunciation is seriously awry, the American pronunciation of ‘basket’ (băskit) is not like the British pronunciation of ‘Ascot’ (ăskǝt). To a Briton of a certain age, ‘an Ascot’ is a type of gas-powered instant water heater, part of the primitive plumbing system of the traditional British house. It had a large white-enamelled metal casing fixed vertically to the wall above the bath. When you turned on the hot tap, there was a loud roaring noise followed by a trickle of lukewarm water. They often broke down and sometimes exploded, and are now illegal; not before time.

    ‘Basket’ is an interesting word, I think unique in having got from the ancient British language into classical Latin as bascauda. British basketwork goods were imported to Rome as a bit of ethnic frippery, and are mentioned by the satirical poets Juvenal (12.46) and Martial (14.99.1).

    • It’s true that the American pronunciation of basket is not exactly the same as that of British Ascot, but it is rather like it. Both end in a reduced vowel in normal speech, and while the reduced vowel in basket is generally a bit more forward and a bit higher than the one in Ascot, reduced vowels have a considerable variability and even (at times) fungibility (consider the last syllable of, for instance, Connecticut, which can be heard as one or the other, sometimes from the same speaker in different instances). So I figured it was a suitable thing to say, though I did wonder whether someone would take issue with it.

      Thanks for the additional information!

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