Posted by: Footler PJ1 MAY 2013
One amusing if sometimes frustrating aspect of working in pharmacy is the way drug names are mispronounced. Generic names seem to cause most trouble but even short brand names can come out in odd ways. While untangling wrongly pronounced names I have often mused on a guide to the proper pronunciation of prescription products — perhaps one with a similar concept to that used by John Harris 200 years ago.
‘Peter Piper’s practical principles of plain and perfect pronunciation’ was published in London in 1813. The preface alone has 52 words beginning with the letter P in just two sentences. Most of the book consists of tongue-twisters featuring each letter of the alphabet. The one that begins with “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers” is probably the best known. The rest, including those about Enoch Elkrig’s empty eggshell, Gaffer Gilpin’s goose and gander, Neddy Noodle’s nutmegs and Quixote Quicksight’s queerish Quidbox, are long forgotten.
The Peter Piper tongue-twister was at least 30 years old when Harris used it in his book. It is thought to have been inspired by Pierre Poivre, a French horticulturalist. Poivre was a missionary in the Far East before becoming administrator of Isle de France and Île Bourbon (now Mauritius and Réunion) in the Indian Ocean. During the 1760s he founded the famous botanical garden of Pamplemousses on Mauritius and introduced spices such as clove and nutmeg to the islands. Because the Dutch had a virtual monopoly on these spices in the East Indies at the time, Poivre had to organise clandestine smuggling expeditions to obtain the plants and seeds he required.
Poivre is French for pepper, and pepper plants are in the genus Piper. Hence, it seems, Pierre Poivre became Peter Piper.