How To Pronounce “Les Misérables”

I know, I promised to write about Bordeaux, the famed wine-making region of France this week, but one must catch the tide when it comes. It’s a wave that has splashed onto our shores since May 31st with song and dance, lights and spectacle; it’s that long-running musical with a name so baffling, so troublesome, and so whadda whadda what? That’s right: it’s the big blockbuster hit, the Cameron Mackintosh production based on Victor Hugo’s historical novel of the same name, Les Misérables.

2015-Les-Miserables-production

Come on, let’s try and say it: Les Me-zuh-ruh-buhls, Lay Me-zuh-ra-blur, Me-zay-ra-blurs, Me-zuh-rab. But hang on, do I curl the tongue on the “l”? And how come some folks pronounce that last “s” while others don’t? Help!

First things first. “Les” is “lay,” the French plural for “the.”

Now, for our big M word: me-zay-RAB-luh.

Here’s a quick word on the French “r.” It isn’t the typical English “r,” nor the Indian- and Italian-styled ultra-rolling “r,” but a back-of-the-throat “ha” sound, what in phonetics is referred to as a “guttural.”

The sensation is akin to gargling salted water to soothe swollen tonsils or that insistent ahem sound you make when you’re trying to free that gluey, gunky feeling of phlegm stuck in the throat. It isn’t exactly the sexiest way to characterize an otherwise sexy French “r,” but you get the drift. Not a bad idea, certainly, to practice your French with a sore throat. Keep some honey water handy, or barley.

Next, remember, no “s” even though you see it there. Most of the time, the French end-of-the-word “s” is a shy creature who can’t handle undue attention. Give it the spotlight, it’d wilt and put up a terrible show only to embarrass you.

Finally, the “l.” Hum a note, any note, and go la la la la lah. Feel that subtle backward curl of the tongue, the tip tapping gently on the upper palate? Try replicating that “l” sensation. Make it swift and subtle, and stick it at the back of “RAB.”

Put them altogether, and there you have it:

lay-me-zay-RAB-luh

Enjoy the show—without the gay kiss!


I invite you to write to me at  viv@mywritinghome.com if you have any word ideas you’d like to share.

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