(PS I don’t like giving any free publicity to corporate entities, but in this case it’s impossible not to.)

Some years ago (soon after I returned from Korea the first time, I think), I bought a quiz game made by a company called BrainBox. The shop had several in stock, but the one which I bought was of the countries of the world, which seemed most applicable to English language classes.

IMG_4069lowresI have used it several times a year since. On Tuesday I was browsing through a local shop and saw another game from the same company, about Australia. I went back and bought it on Thursday morning and used it that evening in class.



One card caught my eye. The card about major geographical features says that Australia’s highest mountain, Mount Kosciuszko, is pronounced ‘ko-shoos-ko’. Oh no, it’s not, game company people in England. ‘kozzy-ossko’ may be bad Polish, but it’s good Australian English. ‘ko-shoos-ko’ is attempted Polish.


Wikipedia reports that the Polish pronunciation of Tadeusz Kościuszko’s surname is /kɔɕˈt͡ɕuʂkɔ/, and that the pronunciation /kɒˈʃʊʃkoʊ/ (approx ko-shoush-ko (the first vowel as in cough, the second as in should and the third as in know)) is ‘now sometimes used’ for the mountain. Not anywhere I’ve heard it. The Geographical Names Board specifies spellings, but not pronunciations. Previously, the spelling Kosciusko was used, but in 1997 it adopted Kosciuszko. I learned the name at school (or maybe at home), but never knew the exact spelling. Fortunately, a major interweb search engine takes a good guess at interpreting my spellings. Even with the spelling directly in front of me on Wikipedia, it is still very easy to mis-spell it.

Why does Australia’s highest mountain have a Polish name? The first European to climb it was Polish man named Edmund Strzelecki (Polish pronunciation /stʂɛˈlɛt͡skʲi/, Australian English pronunciation approx ‘strez-lecky’), and he just happened to name it that.* Australians aren’t very good with Polish pronunciation. We also aren’t very good with Australian indigenous language pronunciation, either. Wikipedia reports that the name of the mountain in the local language (Ngarigo) has been recorded as ‘Jagungal, Jar-gan-gil, Tar-gan-gil, [and] Tackingal’, all of which mean ‘Table Top Mountain’.

The pronunciation of geographical features sometimes differs from the pronunciation of the name(s) of the person/people they are named after. Sir George Everest’s surname was pronounced ‘eve-rist’. The names for Mount Everest in the local languages are even more difficult for English speakers than Polish and Australian indigenous language names. (That’s our fault, not theirs.)

Between the release of the The World quiz box and the Australia one, BrainBox’s artist either flew to Australia and actually saw the Sydney Opera House, or worked from a much better photograph. The first rendition looks more like the Bahá’í Lotus Temple in Delhi. (I can’t draw at all, as my students would no doubt tell you.)

* It’s actually more complicated than that. He named the one he climbed Mount Townsend (I can’t find any information about who Townsend was) and the next one Mount Koscuiszko, thinking it was higher and wanting his countryman/national hero to have the honour. It wasn’t until 1892 that the New South Wales Lands Department accurately measured the two and found that the other one was 19 metres shorter, and swapped the names. The other one is (relatively) more difficult to climb, as well as less accessible. (See also: Second Seven Summits.)


2 thoughts on “Kosciuszko

  1. Pingback: Mountain high | Never Pure and Rarely Simple

  2. Pingback: 999th post – A tale of two cities | Never Pure and Rarely Simple

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