The Great Scone Map of the UK and Ireland

Delicious. But how do you pronounce it?

Few things unite the Great British public more than its willingness to debate ad infinitum its serious differences on silly questions.


No, this is not a post about Brexit – although the result is equally close. This is about how to pronounce the word scone. That's a culinary conundrum on a par with other very British dilemmas, such as: Should milk or tea go first into the cup?  Or: Are jaffa cakes really cakes or are they really biscuits (1)? And, to return to that most divisive of baker's confectioneries: What should you put on scones first, the cream or the jam (2)?

Scones are an essential component of the high tea – a booming business in the UK, currently worth £63 ($50) billion a year – as well as a popular snack on their own. However, widespread popularity has not generated unanimous pronunciation.

Two main, and often viciously opposing camps exist. Some are under the apprehension that the word is pronounced /ˈskɒn/, to rhyme with gone. Others cling to the notion that the correct way of saying the word is /ˈskoʊn/, which rhymes with bone

Differences of opinion in the matter have been enough, according to the Oxford Dictionaries blog, “to end friendships, destroy marriages, and tear families asunder”. That sounds a bit too harsh – must be the philology talking.

But still: the belief in the justness of their cause is deeply entrenched on either side of the scone/scone issue. There are three reasons for the ferocity of the debate: (a) both variants are right, or at least, neither is wrong; (b) in Britain, your preference is fuelled by both geography and class; and (c) both sides are almost equally strong. 

A recent poll by market researchers YouGov showed a slight, Brexit-like majority (51%) for scones of the gone-variety, with 42% going for scones like bones. But that is a national average. As this map shows – and like Brexit – there are large regional variations in the result. 

Generally, the North of Britain and Ireland prefers the scone-as-gone variety, while the South goes for the scone-as-bone option. The division is clearest in Ireland, with the North gone-red and the South cone-green, and a relatively small yellow transitional zone in between.

In Britain, Scotland and the North of England are post-box red, with clear majorities for the gone variety (80% vs. 16% and 60% vs. 35%, respectively).

According to the YouGov poll, gone is teetering on the brink of a majority in Wales (50% vs. 46%) and the South of England (49% vs. 44%), but bone is clearly ahead in the Midlands (56% vs. 38%), London (50% vs. 43%) and the East of England (49% vs. 44%).

The map clarifies that the divisions are much less clear-cut in Britain than in Ireland. A green barrier, from Stoke-on-Trent to Hull, is keeping the red zone at bay. This is the scone-as-cone heartland of Britain.

But Northern Wales is red, and although there is a green spot in and near Cardiff, the middle is a muddle of yellows, where the two varieties of scones are more or less equally widespread.

The yellow zone covers most of the South, with the other two colours peeking through here and there. Green-leaning areas are to be found in Cornwall, and in London and Essex. Red-led zones appear in Norfolk, Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire, Hampshire and East Sussex. 

Here, the battle is less geographical than social. For the entire area examined, YouGov determined that the lower classes preferred bone-scones over gone-scones  45% to 26%, while the middle classes had a bigger preference for gone-scones (55%) – but were more evenly divided (40% of middle-class respondents preferring bone-scones).

The spread seems more homogenous in other English-speaking countries. Australians and Canadians tend to follow the British preference for the short-o version, while Americans follow the Irish in their option for the long-o version. 

A survey by Oxford Dictionaries shows the divide between Britain and America. In results similar to the ones presented on the map, the British voters show a slight preference for scones that rhyme with con, while a large minority prefer cone. A smaller group – about 15% is fine with either pronunciation.

In the U.S., over three quarters is pro cone scones, about 10% likes con ones, and an almost equally large slice is fine with either variety. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a word with such a strong dual pronunciation, scone has multiple etymologies. One theory holds that is derives from Dutch schoonbrood (literally, pure/clean bread), another that it comes from sgonn, Scots Gaelic for a large mouthful.

Intriguingly, a third version links the confectionery to the town of Scone – the name of which is not pronounced to rhyme with either gone or bone, but like this. Perhaps at your next high tea, you could ask for some extra /ˈskuːnz/.  

Many thanks to Andy Redfern for sending me this map, found here at Reddit's Mapporn section. Andy is squarely in the gone-scone camp. Here is the relevant entry on the Oxford Dictionaries blog.

Strange Maps #814 

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

(1) In the UK, VAT is due on chocolate-covered biscuits, but not on chocolate-covered cakes. Although Jaffa Cakes have the size and shape of biscuits, in 1991 a tribunal ruled that Jaffa Cakes should be considered cakes – for tax purposes at least.

(2) in the YouGov survey cited above, 61% said jam first, only 21% said cream first – as it should, in a traditional Devonshire tea. 

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Why Epicurean ideas suit the challenges of modern secular life

Sure, Epicureans focused on seeking pleasure – but they also did so much more.

Antonio Masiello/Getty Images
Culture & Religion

'The pursuit of Happiness' is a famous phrase in a famous document, the United States Declaration of Independence (1776). But few know that its author was inspired by an ancient Greek philosopher, Epicurus. Thomas Jefferson considered himself an Epicurean. He probably found the phrase in John Locke, who, like Thomas Hobbes, David Hume and Adam Smith, had also been influenced by Epicurus.

Nowadays, educated English-speaking urbanites might call you an epicure if you complain to a waiter about over-salted soup, and stoical if you don't. In the popular mind, an epicure fine-tunes pleasure, consuming beautifully, while a stoic lives a life of virtue, pleasure sublimated for good. But this doesn't do justice to Epicurus, who came closest of all the ancient philosophers to understanding the challenges of modern secular life.

Epicureanism competed with Stoicism to dominate Greek and Roman culture. Born in 341 BCE, only six years after Plato's death, Epicurus came of age at a good time to achieve influence. He was 18 when Alexander the Great died at the tail end of classical Greece – identified through its collection of independent city-states – and the emergence of the dynastic rule that spread across the Persian Empire. Zeno, who founded Stoicism in Cyprus and later taught it in Athens, lived during the same period. Later, the Roman Stoic Seneca both critiqued Epicurus and quoted him favourably.

Today, these two great contesting philosophies of ancient times have been reduced to attitudes about comfort and pleasure – will you send back the soup or not? That very misunderstanding tells me that Epicurean ideas won, hands down, though bowdlerised, without the full logic of the philosophy. Epicureans were concerned with how people felt. The Stoics focused on a hierarchy of value. If the Stoics had won, stoical would now mean noble and an epicure would be trivial.

Epicureans did focus on seeking pleasure – but they did so much more. They talked as much about reducing pain – and even more about being rational. They were interested in intelligent living, an idea that has evolved in our day to mean knowledgeable consumption. But equating knowing what will make you happiest with knowing the best wine means Epicurus is misunderstood.

The rationality he wedded to democracy relied on science. We now know Epicurus mainly through a poem, De rerum natura, or 'On the Nature of Things', a 7,400 line exposition by the Roman philosopher Lucretius, who lived c250 years after Epicurus. The poem was circulated only among a small number of people of letters until it was said to be rediscovered in the 15th century, when it radically challenged Christianity.

Its principles read as astonishingly modern, down to the physics. In six books, Lucretius states that everything is made of invisible particles, space and time are infinite, nature is an endless experiment, human society began as a battle to survive, there is no afterlife, religions are cruel delusions, and the universe has no clear purpose. The world is material – with a smidgen of free will. How should we live? Rationally, by dropping illusion. False ideas largely make us unhappy. If we minimise the pain they cause, we maximise our pleasure.

Secular moderns are so Epicurean that we might not hear this thunderclap. He didn't stress perfectionism or fine discriminations in pleasure – sending back the soup. He understood what the Buddhists call samsara, the suffering of endless craving. Pleasures are poisoned when we require that they do not end. So, for example, it is natural to enjoy sex, but sex will make you unhappy if you hope to possess your lover for all time.

Epicurus also seems uncannily modern in his attitude to parenting. Children are likely to bring at least as much pain as pleasure, he noted, so you might want to skip it. Modern couples who choose to be 'child-free' fit within the largely Epicurean culture we have today. Does it make sense to tell people to pursue their happiness and then expect them to take on decades of responsibility for other humans? Well, maybe, if you seek meaning. Our idea of meaning is something like the virtue embraced by the Stoics, who claimed it would bring you happiness.

Both the Stoics and the Epicureans understood that some good things are better than others. Thus you necessarily run into choices, and the need to forgo one good to protect or gain another. When you make those choices wisely, you'll be happier. But the Stoics think you'll be acting in line with a grand plan by a just grand designer, and the Epicureans don't.

As secular moderns, we pursue short-term happiness and achieve deeper pleasure in work well done. We seek the esteem of peers. It all makes sense in the light of science, which has documented that happiness for most of us arises from social ties – not the perfect rose garden or a closet of haute couture. Epicurus would not only appreciate the science, but was a big fan of friendship.

The Stoics and Epicureans diverge when it comes to politics. Epicurus thought politics brought only frustration. The Stoics believed that you should engage in politics as virtuously as you can. Here in the US where I live, half the country refrains from voting in non-presidential years, which seems Epicurean at heart.

Yet Epicurus was a democrat. In a garden on the outskirts of Athens, he set up a school scandalously open to women and slaves – a practice that his contemporaries saw as proof of his depravity. When Jefferson advocated education for American slaves, he might have had Epicurus in mind.

I imagine Epicurus would see far more consumption than necessary in my own American life and too little self-discipline. Above all, he wanted us to take responsibility for our choices. Here he is in his Letter to Menoeceus:

For it is not drinking bouts and continuous partying and enjoying boys and women, or consuming fish and the other dainties of an extravagant table, which produce the pleasant life, but sober calculation which searches out the reasons for every choice and avoidance and drives out the opinions which are the source of the greatest turmoil for men's souls.

Do you see the 'pursuit of happiness' as a tough research project and kick yourself when you're glum? You're Epicurean. We think of the Stoics as tougher, but they provided the comfort of faith. Accept your fate, they said. Epicurus said: It's a mess. Be smarter than the rest of them. How modern can you get?Aeon counter – do not remove

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons. Read the original article.


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