The Rain in Spain

Today is the anniversary of the 1956 Broadway debut of the musical “My Fair Lady“.
It was based on George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion”, I title I never understood except as a possible reference to the attitudes of the misogynistic and patronizing main character, Henry Higgins, who was both a pig, and male. At least that’s how we see him today. Shaw actually took the title from mythology and the story of a sculptor who fell in love with his own creation.

Higgins is full of himself, to believe that he can shape the guttersnipe Eliza Doolittle into something new and superior and then convince everyone that she is, in fact, well born.

The musical was a huge success, ran for years, is regularly revived, and was made into a movie that won an Oscar in 1964. The music is catchy, and the existence today of a thriving self-improvement industry confirms that the theme has enduring appeal.

Here’s my favorite moment.

After all that coaching, Audrey Hepburn, as Eliza, finally produces a “perfect” sound. From this moment on, she is cured of her Cockney background, only dropping her H’s a few times in the rest of the show. A miracle!

For the film, Hepburn was cast as an “improvement” over the Broadway star, Julie Andrews, who had never made a movie before and didn’t have the box office power of an established commodity like Hepburn. That’s OK – it freed Andrews up to do a different project that year – a film called “Mary Poppins”. Another miracle! Guess which one won the best actress Oscar? (Hint: Audrey Hepburn wasn’t nominated).

Do you have an accent? Can you do an accent?

50 thoughts on “The Rain in Spain”

  1. Good morning to all. I’m sure I have an accent which I think could be called Midwestern. I don’t think it is a typical accent for Minnesota or any particular state. I never lived outside of the Midwest. I was born in Wisconsin, grew up in Michigan and have spent many years both in Indiana and Minnesota.

    I can do a little of a few accents, none of them very well. I would really like to do a Hoosier accent. When I Iived in Indiana I often heard people who had very strong Hoosier accents. Somehow, I can’t seem get a handle on it. The old radio and TV personality, Herb Shriner, had this accent. I would like to get a recording of Herb that I could use as a learning tool for mastering the Hoosier accent.


  2. A woman I was dating once tried to be clever by speaking in a dripping Southern accent. The acute embarrassment I felt cured me forever of attempting such a thing. Some people do accents well and are paid handsomely for it. I know better than to compete with them.

    I remember giggling uncontrollably many years ago when some Minnesotans dialed into a MPR call-in show and protested that they had no accent at all . . . saying that in a Scandihoovian accent straight out of the Coen Brothers’ “Fargo.”

    Have a lovely day, fellow Baboons. May those of you who are wounded return quickly to health.


  3. I know I have the Minnesota Scandinavian “lilt.” Was told the one time I did voice over work (they were looking for non-professionals on purpose) that I didn’t need to fret about not being able to manage a Swedish accent as my normal speaking voice had enough lilt on its own that it would work just fine. Yah sure. There were machinations with making my voice more “breathy” and moving the mic around to make me sound younger, but nothing for the actual accent. Probably for the best, any accents I attempt sound like caricatures of the real thing.


  4. Due to my mother’s efforts, I do not sound North Shore, which is more about words like “yous” and these days “youses” than about sounds. I do not sound very Scandinavian, except when I say “Minnesota.” I do sound a bit German, use my “t” and “d” sounds differently that other people. Germans hear it right away.
    Cannot do accents at all, except when my father, who was raised speaking Low German, got excited he would use German sentence structures, such as his verbs at the of the sentence he would put. Readily do that I can. My children nuts it always drove them when it I did. See, like Yoda I sound when it I do.
    Wish I could do accents. Always loved that the first silent Daryl on Newhart is actually an expert in dialects and accents.


  5. I retain my German lilt from my Minnesota childhood, with a smattering of Canadian from our years there. Many western North Dakotans tend to speak with Czech or other eastern European lilts, and I don’t think I have picked those up, but us is hard not to be a cultural chameleon.


  6. Of course I have a bit of MInnesotan, and can do a pretty convincing Scandahoovian, since my grandfather was 100% Swedish/Norwegian (I used to believe he was 100% Swedish until recently my mom told me SHE just found out he was part Norwegian).

    I love “British Empire” accents of all sorts: Australian, Cockney, Scottish, Irish, Aristocratic, etc.,and can do them well enough to elicit a laugh. The variety of southern accents are tricky due to all the subtle differences, but if I concentrate, I can at least do Texas, Deep South, and southwestern-type cowboy.

    And who can’t do a passable Brooklyn or “Bahhstahn” accent? I worked on my Chicago white working class accent (Da Bearss!) when I lived in Chicago.

    I’ll pretty much try any accent I hear, just because it’s fun to mess around with sound.

    Last but not least, a female French accent buckles my knees, makes my heart race, and causes me to get all googly-eyed over the madamoiselle who’s speaking.



  7. Actually, my voice coach was constantly amazed that I did not have ~much~ of an accent and certainly not a typical Minnesota accent. He told me (-told me,- mind you) that he could tell at least 6 different accents among just the Twin Cities. He told me that he could absolutely tell someone from Edina apart from someone from North St. Paul. Wasn’t ever sure whether to believe him or not because I certainly can’t hear it.

    I have a pretty good ear. It usually takes me a little bit to get all of the ‘software’ of my brain, mouth, and throat working together to start getting into an accent but it doesn’t take very long. My nephew is pretty good too. One of us will spontaneously start speaking with a thick Russian accent and the other will quickly follow suit. Or Scottish, Cockney, Canadian, Spanish, Clouseau/Chevalier French, etc, etc, etc. We’ll occasionally have a ‘Sean Connery impersonation’ competition. He thinks he does a better Connery than me. He’s wrong.


    1. Ah Russian – there’s an accent I can handle. After 4 years of Russian language instruction, that is one I can manage without sounding awful. I have been told that my spoken Russian has a Moscow accent – though how that would be different than St. Petersburg, I have no idea. I can hear the difference between that and Eastern European Russian (and back in the day, could hear the difference between my Finnish Russian teacher and her Hungarian counterpart).


  8. Rise and Shine Baboons!

    I am sure that I speak with some mix of Midwestern locations–Minnesota/Iowa German,Norwegian influence. When my husband would visit his Norwegian Grandpa John in Decorah, Iowa he would come sounding like he just got off the boat.

    My two Great Aunts in Iowa spoke with accents similar to Lawrence Welk’s accent and speech pattern. When people would imitate Mr. Welk’s I could never hear the accent or laugh. He sounded just like my rallies!


  9. Morning–

    I’ve got the typical Minnesota accent, but curiously, my phones’ ‘voice dial’ feature only understands me when set to “English (United Kingdom)”. And then I get a nice response from the English Gentleman in my phone.

    My wife, Kelly, is acting in a play that is set in Dublin so she’s been working on her Irish accent. Listening to Irish radio stations. They had a dialect coach come in to help the cast. Kelly is enjoying it and it’s fun to hear the Irish come out at home in certain words.


    1. My credit union’s ATM speaks with a clipped British accent. She always says “Please enter your secret code,” when asking for my PIN number. Maybe they don’t call them PIN numbers in Britain.


  10. My mother had bought the entire music score to My Fair Lady – still love the music, and the lyrics are stellar:
    “Every duke and earl and peer is here
    Everyone who should be here is here
    What a dashing, positvely smashing spectacle,
    The Acsot opening day…”

    I can do a truly pitiful cockney, French, and Brooklyn accent (Kwaw-fee = coffee), but only use them when joking around. On vacation in Estes Park once, my sister and I pretended to be French (I was immersed in French pronunciation classes at the time, so who knows – it may have been a French accent) as we were making our way through the shops. And a former co-worker, who is really good at accents, would regularly slip into “Julia Child”, which can be a lot of fun.


  11. OT – Anyone else running into a message that says you need to log into WordPress before you can comment? I kinda feel like WP is watching me now…


      1. I did too; had to just close the page and re-open. (copy your response if you’ve already typed it as I had done. And then copied something else so had to retype anyway. And the second draft was more concise.)


  12. I haven’t run into any one in Clarks Grove than has an unusual accent that is part of the orginal Danish hertiage of this town. I did hear that an old time resident was called old Who Ha because he used this phrase. I have heard this phrase used in a movie and I’m not sure if it is of Danish origin. Who Ha is used as exclaimation similar to the way Uff Dah is used.


  13. Accents amuse me! 🙂 I hear an accent and my first instinct is to give it a go… Julia Child, the Swedish chef, pretty much every character from Princess Bride, and the list goes on. Even when I’m not trying, I’m an accent chameleon… plop me in the deep south for a few days and I slip into some crazy drawl with Midwest undertones. I’m not even from Minnesota but have a heavy Fargo-like accent that my native southern California family & friends find very entertaining. I have an affinity for mimicking the sounds I hear…. names of baseball or hockey players, and animal sounds (especially cows & goats) are my favorites.


    1. I do the mimicking thing, too, unintentionally picking up on the accents of people to whom I’m speaking. They probably don’t appreciate it much. So I guess you could say I have many faux accents and one huge, annoyiing habit.


  14. Mostly natives in this group, it seems. I’m originally from Connecticut (39 years ago). People tell me I don’t have an “East coast” accent by which i assume they mean Boston or NY. I used to say that i didn’t think that Connecticutters (or whatever they are called) had an accent until I went back to visit and paid attention to voices outside of my parents’ circle. Then I could hear it – sort of a Beantown/NYC cross.

    One advantage I’ve found is in choir. Our directors have to work to get rid of the Scandihoovian O (ooo) and other diphthongs. Either because I don’t have an accent or because of earlier choir directors pounding it into my head, singing the “right” vowels comes pretty naturally.
    Another issue for directors is final Rs. Our new director just tells us that there is NEVER a final or internal R, only at the beginnings of words. Thus “star”, for example, would be sung more like “stah”. Much less harsh.

    Diphthong – an interesting word I’ve never typed before – ph and then th.

    (I’m getting the wordpress login issue, too)


    1. Now I understand, a little better, why choir music sounds a certain way to me. I sometimes find that it sound a like formal and I guess that might be partly due to the attention paid to correct ways of sing. I guess it is important to sing choir music properly and it does have a nice clear sound. I tend to prefer more “down home” sounding music which does not pay as much attention to singing words any one way.


  15. When my family and I moved to the north shore from Lake Elmo area at age 10, I was told that I had an “eastern” accent (meaning, presumably, the eastern U.S.). Of course, it wasn’t told to me like that. It was “You talk funny. You sound like you’re from out east.” Since my parents were from Iowa and Kansas, I don’t know where this “eastern” accent came from.

    I’m always a little irked by the people who move to Minnesota and then talk about how weird, funny, and wrong Minnesotans talk. Some of them can talk for hours about it. Lately, I’ve started asking them who besides them decides that their way of talking (from Virginia, Indiana, whatever) is right and our way is wrong?


    1. To this day, I can rarely hear the Minnesota accent unless it’s exaggerated à la “Fargo”.
      My cousin (who moved here from New Hampshire a number of years after I did) said that she could hear the accent in my son’s voices. They were born in MN but raised by someone from CT and someone from NJ so I don’t know how that could be. And, of course, I can’t hear it.


  16. Some random thoughts:
    1) When we say “accent” we mean an amalgam of pronunciation, inflection, sentence rhythm, word choice and even grammar.
    2) We all speak with an accent, but we can’t hear it. It takes an outsider from another region to sense how our accent differs from what they expect, just as we cannot usually smell our own smell or taste the flavor of our kisses without another person to inform us.
    3) Some regional accents are more easily heard (and parodied) than others. Distinctive accents usually follow from geographical/social isolation. The speech of Cajuns or people from Georgian offshore islands or urban ghettos are more distinctive than the speech of someone from Iowa.
    4) I’ve heard that agencies seeking a pure, “neutral” accent generally look for it in places like Kansas. This would be for businesses that record messages (such as telephone companies) and want their instructions delivered in the most neutral possible way. People who do a lot of recording for agencies desiring neutrality must be trained, no matter where they were raised.
    5) Accent has never been the preoccupation in the US that it is in the UK because the US–for all of its many faults–is relatively free of the obsession with class that is one of the peculiar burdens of folks in the UK. “Pygmalion” would not have been written in the US, even though we certainly have issues of class and the language peculiarities that mark class.


  17. Mr. B, we never said, “Youse” in our house growing up, but I know a lot of people did. The one I had to teach myself to eliminate was from junior high: “Oh, fer cute!” “Oh, fer nice!”


    1. My mom and my aunt are both prone to, “oh fer dumb.” I have endeavored to keep this one out of my vocabulary mostly because of how it would mark me, once and for all, as a dyed-in-the-wool Scandinavian Minnesotan.


    2. When I left the THHS classroom in 91, “youse” was singular so some kids were saying “youses” as the plural. But the lack of a plural “you” is a rather large hole in English.


  18. P.S. I don’t think I ever responded last night about the QE2 launch – for the record, that was 1967. So you can do the math to figure out how old I am if I was a one-year-old when the QE2 launched. 🙂


  19. I discovered my best French accent while singing along with country music during a bout of laryngitis. I could roll my r’s and tap into a lovely nasal quality. For one afternoon, it was so much fun; of course, the next morning my voice was completely gone and I couldn’t talk for a week.

    I was born a Yooper, UP Michigan, and can slide back into that accent on extended visits with large groups of relatives, eh.

    I do have a knack for understanding people who speak English with thick immigrant accents and communicating with those who speak little English. When bus drivers and store clerks get impatient, I always step in.


  20. I can’t do accents, more’s the pity, only the one that comes naturally to me. Those Kevin Kling O’s will slip out when I let my guard down.


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