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 661.


  • rate this

    Comment number 660.

    Sigh. What has the Falklands and whether or not you are a socialist got to do with the original article; it seemed to me to be asking whether it is right for a tabloid newspaper to mock the way that someone speaks. The answer is: probably not but since the Sun is a continuation of playground bullying, it is to be expected. History and politics don't come into it

  • rate this

    Comment number 659.

    I don't read The Sun as it is generally awful and should be closed down for trying to pass itself off as a newspaper - however on this occasion I find myself defending it - c'mon people is this all you have to worry about?

    We have a glut of weather presenters on TV who often say bwight etc..

    If we all mocked their speech impediments, then maybe they would do something about it just a thought ;)

  • rate this

    Comment number 658.

    It's wong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 657.

    Is it wrong to mock people who don't know how to use the apostrophe?

  • rate this

    Comment number 656.

    This is just one big hissy fit from the Harry for England brigade. To be honest, and I say this as a Hammers fan, I always thought Harry was overrated. Mid-table or fighting against relegation is his comfort zone. The brilliant mix of experienced, skilled, intelligent players at Spurs gifted him a good few years, but when it was his turn to carry the team, he failed. Hodgson is a gent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 655.

    For goodnes sake, get a life. The UK has lost its humour and ability to laugh at itself. I'm not a Sun lover but I've worked and still do work with people who 'rib each other'. I'm frequently on the wrong end of jokes and quite often do the same to others. Having fun doesn't mean you lack respect for the individual. What's wrong with the world these days?

  • rate this

    Comment number 654.

    the sun are idiot's , no wonder i stopped buying their papers years ago. ha

  • rate this

    Comment number 653.

    True to The Sun's age old form...another trashy, pointless headline. Aimed at grabbing the attention of short sighted Brit's who are unable to see the wrong in mocking someone in this way. I wonder if this under-hand snipe is because the 'people's favourite' and presumably the Sun's first choice, Harry Redknapp didn't get the knod over Hodgson for the England job!

  • rate this

    Comment number 652.


    "I guess the speech impediment group don't have as powerful a lobby to that sort of thing illegal"

    It's not a speech impediment, perhaps the BBC should hi-light that in bold and underlined in their article. I've typed this about 5 times now

  • rate this

    Comment number 651.

    ''644, indeed he did survive, I've seen an interview with him. Is it really a good idea to try and be sarcastic when you clearly do not know what you are talking about. Go away, silly person, this is about a tabloid's treatment of people, not your petty little resentments.''

    Sob, wail, howl ..

  • rate this

    Comment number 650.

    All comments noted, what is more worrying is that in spewing infantile bile like this ensures The Sun remains a popular if not best-selling newspaper.

  • rate this

    Comment number 649.


    As well as the native Argentinians of course.History is a complicated thing isn't it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 648.

    Well Roy Hodgeson is a gentleman (one of the few in football) and generally have mixed emotions about this kind of thing. As a black man why are we outraged when a person's race is mocked but not when certain other physical conditions are mocked. I guess the speech impediment group don't have as powerful a lobby to that sort of thing illegal

  • rate this

    Comment number 647.

    644, indeed he did survive, I've seen an interview with him. Is it really a good idea to try and be sarcastic when you clearly do not know what you are talking about. Go away, silly person, this is about a tabloid's treatment of people, not your petty little resentments.

  • rate this

    Comment number 646.

    Mockery is mockery, not humour, no matter what twist you try and give it. Mockery is a low form of entertainment, it comes from resentment, it's an outlet for frustration, as opposed to genuine, transcendent humour. End of.

  • rate this

    Comment number 645.

    When Ronnie Barker played Arkwright in Open all hours with a stammer he received a lot of complaints about this from well meaning people across the country, only one letter was ever recieved however from a person who did stammer, who said they found it absolutely hilarious.

    I am not saying Roy Hodgson feels the same way but before people fly off the handle shouldnt we here what he thinks?

  • rate this

    Comment number 644.

    636.Free Willy
    ''...but I think what matters is the will of the current inhabitants & who they wish to be governed by...''

    The Native Americans and the Aboriginees could well have agreed with that sentiment. Alas .....

    639.Sonicboomer. Ah,the Captain, he survived didn't he? mellowed, has he?
    Ignorant? Wrong? .. shall just run upstairs, throw myself onto the bed and cry into my pillow .. beast!

  • rate this

    Comment number 643.

    I don't think it's offensive, it's just stupid and unfunny.

  • rate this

    Comment number 642.

    The problem with All censorship, whoever it is by. it that there are ultimately no limits. It is almost impossible not to offend someone when an opinion is stated. Mentioning any part of human behaviour, looks or style is bound to upset someone, especially those who wish to be upset. We all need to accept that life is not fair, and sometimes we can be hurt. Otherwise life becomes meaningless.


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