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Ticket to Baaaath

Ooooooh, I never ever thought I’d have a legitimate excuse to tell this story, and now I do! The story took place many years ago, but first I have to tell you what made me think of it:

Rasmus Bååth posted the following comment last month:

On airplane tickets a Swedish “å” is written as “aa” resulting in Rasmus Baaaath. Once I bought a ticket online and five minutes later a guy from Lufthansa calls me and asks if I misspelled my name…

OK, now here’s my story (which is not nearly as good). A long time ago (but when I was already an adult), I was in England for some reason, and I thought I’d take a day trip from London to Bath. So here I am on line, trying to think of what to say at the ticket counter. I remember that in England, they call Bath, Bahth. So, should I ask for “a ticket to Bahth”? I’m not sure, I’m afraid that it will sound silly, like I’m trying to fake an English accent. So, when I get to the front of the line, I say, hesitantly, “I’d like a ticket to Bath?” (with the American pronunciation). The ticket agent replies, slightly contemptuously: “Oh, you’d like a ticket to Baaaaaaath.” I pay for the ticket, take it, and slink away.

This is, like, my favorite story. Ok, not my favorite favorite story—that’s the time I saw this guy in Harvard Square and the back of his head looked just like Michael Keaton—but, still, it’s one of my best. Among linguistic-themed stories, it’s second only to the “I speak only English” story (see third paragraph here). Also, both of these are what might be called “reverse Feynman stories” in that they make me look like a fool.


  1. Andy says:

    Well, it’s only pronounced “Bahth” by soft southerners :)

    • Tom says:

      Aghh someone got there first

    • It’s not just the south. It’s a vowel shift compared to the U.S. where British “a” sounds like an American “o”. I went to grad school in Edinburgh. I was introduced as “Bab with an ‘o'” by my classmates because everyone pronounced “Bab” the way a midwesterner like me pronounces “Bob”. There was a guy on my floor at Micighan State named Bob and he was from New York. He so hated how us midwesterners pronounced his name that he wrote “Bōb” on his door.

      My favorite instance of this during my time in Edinburgh was when trying to find a mop at Boots (huge chemist, aka drug store). I tracked someone down and asked where the mops were. She asked if I wanted a map of Edinburgh or of the entire UK. Number two was getting connected to Perth when trying to call Paris (this is accent plus prior at work!). Number three was getting lager every time I ordered water in a pub (also accent plus prior!). I have the same trouble ordering things in Australia—it often takes a back-and-forth. And I noticed Lauren having the same sort of issues ordering in the U.S.

      But I know what you feel, Andrew. It seems weird to lean into what sounds like an American caricature of a French accent. But it works better at a French café than my midwestern one.

  2. Rahul says:

    The most impressive part of Rasmus Bååth’s story is that someone from Lufthansa actually noticed & then cared enough to give him a call.

    • When I think of it i could have been Air Berlin, but it is nevertheless true that they called me ~5 minutes after I made my booking online. I actually think it was really nice of them to call, usually it is the opposite, the cheap airlines want you to misspell your name (Ryan air…) so they can charge 50 € to correct it…

      • Rahul says:

        Out of curiosity, if you spell it as “Baath” do they object when they notice Bååth on your passport / ID?

        Also are there systems that actually accept “Bååth” as an entry, as is?

        • Rasmus Baath says:

          Most systems accept Bååth, however, it might later show up as Baath, Baaaath, B??th, or Bååth. I guess they would accept if I just wrote Baath from the beginning, but why do it the easy way when you can do it the hard way?

  3. Jim Hatton says:

    I was in England talking to an Englishman and the subject of the city of Bath came up. I said that we (Americans) had named a room after it. He fell for it and said “bathroom?”

    Another time I asked why Bath is pronounced “bahth” when to my ears all the sheep (I was cycling through the countryside) said “baa” instead of “bah”.

  4. afeman says:

    I never know how to order a Spaten beer in the US. “Shpahtn” gets funny looks.

  5. Robert Grant says:

    The whole country has some many anomalies of pronunciation seemingly designed purely to trip up Nazi spies (my favourite is Kilconquhar) that I rather enjoy taking odd names that are pronounced just the way they’re written (Cockfosters for example), and convincing people that those in the know say it in a wacky way of my own invention (“Coasters”). Endless fun. And one day I’ll inadvertently get it right.

  6. I was in Boots in Edinburgh and asked for a mop. With my midwestern American vowels, they asked if I wanted a map of Edinburgh or all of the UK.

    I also got frustrated trying to call Paris through an operator (it was the mid-80s) and being connected to Perth (sounds like Pair-eth in Scots dialect) rather than Paris.

    And my classmates called me “Bob with an ‘O'” because of the way I pronounced “Bob” (which to them sounded like “Bab”, hence the “with an ‘O'”).

  7. Jacob H. says:

    So, what’s the Keaton story?

  8. Peter Chapman says:

    Your ticket is from Bradford on Avon, not London. Bradford on Avon to Bath is only 7.5 miles so you could have walked and enjoyed the English countryside. It would have been lovely in early September.

    I was having breakfast at a motel in Greensboro, North Carolina, and asked the waitress for some butter. She had no idea what I was talking about so I picked up a bread roll and a knife and pretended I was spreading butter. The waitress responded “Oh you mean buddderr”. Because, from an early age, I was force fed US TV (or telly as we say) programmes (or programs) I usually have no difficulty understanding US accents but it doesn’t seem to work the other way round.

    • Peter Chapman says:

      I have a southern England, west London, accent. But when I visit the US it is quite common for people to assume that I’m Australian (although this has never happened in San Francisco). I find this very odd. A Pakistani taxi drives in Washington DC once asked if I was Australian. I said “no, why do you ask”. He replied that he was desperate to talk to someone about cricket.

      • Rob says:

        Interesting. As an Australian post-doc in the US (in Montgomery County, MD, just outside of DC), I was often asked if I was English. (I do not believe I have a particularly English-sounding accent.) Few if any asked me if I was Australian.

        If ever I wanted to know about the cricket, the male Indian PhD students and post-docs at the institute I worked at would tell me, often before I thought to ask. They do love cricket on the subcontinent.

    • Andrew says:


      That’s not my ticket. I don’t have my ticket; it was from decades ago. I searched for *ticket to Bath* on google to get the image.

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