Roy Hodgson: Is it wrong to mock the way he speaks?

A man reads a copy of the Sun with the headline "Bwing on the Euwos!"

There's been furious debate over newspaper headlines highlighting England manager Roy Hodgson's pronunciation of the letter "r". So is it inappropriate to make fun of this?

For several years headline writers have jovially referred to Roy Hodgson as "Woy".

On Wednesday, a Sun newspaper headline was the source of complaints to the Football Association and the Press Complaints Commission.

Hodgson's pronunciation is a form of rhotacism - shared by politician Roy Jenkins and broadcaster Jonathan Ross.

Ross told the Sun newspaper: "I can see it's a joke, everyone can see it's a joke. Life's too short."

And fans at Hodgson's former employer, Fulham FC, had an affectionate banner bearing the legend "In Woy We Twust" without ever drawing the same criticism.

Newly appointed England football manager Roy Hodgson in the dressing room at Wembley Stadium Roy Hodgson pronounces his "r" differently to many

So is it acceptable to mock how people speak?

"It sends a really worrying message that it's OK to poke fun at some people if they sound slightly different," says Claire Mitchell, a speech and language therapist based in Manchester.

Mitchell, who has been working with people with speech difficulties for the past 17 years, was concerned about the possible knock-on effect.

"Nobody wants to be the one without a sense of humour but where do we draw the line? What are the implications? Will it make people more likely to be bullied?

"What about a child in the school playground?"

What is rhotacism?

  • "Idiosyncratic pronunciation of r," says Collins Dictionary
  • 4.5m people in UK have some sort of speech impediment, says British Stammering Association
  • These range from rhotacism to aphasia - inability to speak that can follow a stroke

Although Hodgson's way of speaking has been widely described as an "impediment", Mitchell points out that "rhotacism" is not classed as an impairment. Instead, it's merely a variation in use of "r".

There is no real difference in the way Hodgson says the words "range rover" than a person with an Irish, American or French accent who uses another, slightly different variation of the sound we associate with an "r".

So if it's simply a variety of pronunciation, rather than an impediment, is it open season for humour?

In his blog, children's' book author Michael Rosen wrote: "Many of the comments that people make about other people's speech are really comments about the status of one's own speech or the perceived status of what sounds educated."

He says that a great deal of comments about non-standard ways of speaking are "prejudiced" and can make people feel "self-conscious and inadequate" if they don't conform to the norm.

Even though Hodgson does not have a speech impediment, Leys Geddes, chair of the British Stammering Association feels that the general attitude towards people who do is unhelpful and "wrong".

Start Quote

Jonathan Ross

It hasn't ever bothered me. I'm used to it. And I'm sure it doesn't bother Roy. He is an incredibly well-read, intelligent man, he will take it as a joke”

End Quote Jonathan Ross (aka Wossy)

Geddes feels that people don't understand the day-to-day difficulties that people with speech impediments face when trying to communicate.

"People think it's OK to take the mickey out of speech impediments. They don't with other disabilities, it's a no-go area. They don't understand what it is like when you struggle to speak, how tiring it is physically and emotionally."

While the newspaper mockery is not of a genuine speech impediment, for some there's a sense that it might encourage that type of behaviour.

"That article in the Sun gives people permission to behave like that," says Geddes.

Geddes is 63 and has been struggling with a stammer for most of his life, and his speech problem even cost him his job in marketing when he was in his thirties.

And of course, the consequences for any children who pronounce an "r" in the same way as Hodgson could be unpleasant.

"Jonathan Ross may not mind having his rhotacism mocked, but the average child will," Geddes argues.

Making fun of stammering was once common, with Ronnie Barker's grocer Albert Arkwright in Open All Hours a classic example.

Now many comedians would consider openly mocking a stammer to be in poor taste. Times change.

Stand-up comic Tony Jameson, who has an occasional, slight stammer, says that if a comedian has a structure and a routine that includes someone who speaks in a different way, it can be sometimes be acceptable.

Leys Geddes Leys Geddes says mocking Hodgson's speech may make life harder for children who speak similarly

But he thinks it is "unfair" solely to poke fun at people with speech impediments and making fun of it in isolation is "lazy".

There will be plenty of people who think the row overblown. As Ross said: "Really it's not a big deal. I wish we weren't part of such a judgemental culture."

In the meantime, Geddes thinks that solely concentrating on how people speak distracts from the message they are trying to communicate.

"The important thing is not how you say things but the things you say."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 641.

    Mocking the way Roy Hodgson speaks is wong

  • rate this

    Comment number 640.


    How do you know her name is not actually Marylyn, as in an amalgamtion of Mary and Lynn and not Marilyn as in Monroe?

  • rate this

    Comment number 639.

    Well it was The Sun, recently an ex MP died, who back in 1986 castigated that rag for naming a rape victim, worth reminding ourselves of it's many nasty moments, soon we may be rid of it and the hostile foreigner who owns it. 631 - Argentina long ago accepted that attack was legitimate, the Belgrano's own Capt said he'd have done the same. Your not only off topic but ignorant and just wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 638.

    @ 635. Knarf :
    Right. "", is plural, and media usually represent several people. So, some media call this remark racist. Your friend, i.e. 1 person puts that message on his answering machine, and that makes a case as far as you are concerned? Do you know what black people call an Uncle Tom?

  • rate this

    Comment number 637.

    526.Marylyn-''It-th not fair you people. I have a lithp and people are alwayth taking the pith out of my pwedicament. I twy to be thucthethful in life but it hinderth me tho.''

    You're taking a risk,Marilyn, daring to write to this forum not being able to spell your own name correctly. You have my sympathy!

  • rate this

    Comment number 636.


    I agree that all the killing was unnecessary,There are a lot of historical instances where land changed hands by force,Argentina being one example,as well as our own country if you go back far enough in history,but I think what matters is the will of the current inhabitants & who they wish to be governed by.Argentina is unstable & unpredictable-U.K. not so,easy choice really.

  • rate this

    Comment number 635.

    An Australian politician once used an old pronunciation joke about "Two Wongs not making a White" There was quite a fuss in some Chinese media about it being racist, insulting etc. My son's friend is Chinese and if you call him, his answer machine reassures you that "You have weached the Wong number", deliberately! His spoken English is perfect. Humour can transend race or impediment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 634.

    The sun is one of the most read papers in Britain, but seem to think that, avoiding all the offensive connotations towards the vocally impedimented for one moment, they can be rude and offensive to a man and claim that they have done nothing wrong. Amongst friends it is ok to poke fun. But they are not friends with Roy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 633.

    625. Paul Henry
    Is it right to mock anyone?
    Personally, I regularly mock the week.

    The Sun itself is a mockery, init. Murmock mocks it as well as its readers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 632.

    7 Hours ago

    Would have thought NI papers could do without further bad publicity at the moment. Suspect this was motivated by Hodgson getting the England job over a certain twitchy feller with a face like a distressed blancmange that the press had chosen.
    ***The BBC made it obvious that Roy was not their choice either.
    Hope he is a big success. Best of luck Roy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 631.

    627.Free Willy
    ''Their ship was in international waters,according to international law,our ships were in British territorial waters according to international law.What's your point?Can you tell me why this should be & what their claim is?''

    My opinion: The sinking of the Belgrano was an unnecessary mass killing, as was HMS Sheffield attack.
    Neither country declared war!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 630.


    "To mock someone because they have a speech impediment is disgusting. I am not surprised that the Sun "newspaper" did that.."

    They didn't, Rhotacism is not a speech impediment. It's simply an alternative way of speaking, like regional accents.

  • rate this

    Comment number 629.

    To mock someone because they have a speech impediment is disgusting. I am not surprised that the Sun "newspaper" did that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 628.

    So the King's Speech was a funny movie then? I didn't see it because I thought it was a bit serious, didn't realise it was a comedy. So people came out rolling laughing?

  • rate this

    Comment number 627.


    Their ship was in international waters,according to international law,our ships were in British territorial waters according to international law.What's your point?You obviously think the Falklands should be the Malvinas.Can you tell me why this should be & what their claim is?

  • rate this

    Comment number 626.

    Gutter wit by the gutter press demonstrating gutter intellect!

    And, write the Euros off, he has no opportunity to have any impact on them at all. We should be looking forward to and preparing for the next World Cup.

  • rate this

    Comment number 625.

    Is it right to mock anyone?

  • rate this

    Comment number 624.

    616 - Can we call a job with the FA a serious position??

  • rate this

    Comment number 623.

    605.Mo Strummer

    "Out of interest, what do you call a hypocrite that accuses others of being hypocrites?"

    An idiot.

  • rate this

    Comment number 622.

    615.Free Willy
    To be in that area,exclusion zone or not,in a time of war that you started yourself & not expect to be sunk is ridiculous folly.Tell me,do you think our ships were sunk 'legally' by the Argentinian air-force?We weren't threatening Argentinian territory were we?''

    Their ship was not in 'British' waters, by our 'rules'.
    Our ships were in Argentinian waters, by their rules.


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