Funiculì, Funiculà? “One-an-threppence”

funicularSnippets 128. When the first funicular cable car on Mount Vesuvius opened in 1880, renowned Neapolitan journalist Peppino Turco came up with the idea of a commemorative song and made the suggestion to composer Luigi Denza that he could put something together. The result was “Funiculì, Funiculà”, which is a very well known song to this day. Two decades later, American travel writer Thomas Rees visited Naples (more about which will follow in later blog posts) and the song made a strong impression on him. Arriving in London, on a later part of his tour, he found the song was still in his mind, and set out to buy the score, but encountered an unexpected language barrier. The following quote is taken from Sixty Days in Europe and What We Saw There (1908):

The pronunciation of the various money terms which are used by the thoroughbred Londoners is very confusing to an American visitor. For instance, when they mean two pennies they say “tuppence,” the u in tuppence having the same sound as it has in the word cup, and the two words, two and pence, being thrown so close together that a stranger can hardly recognize the word “tuppence” as having any meaning in common with the word two pence, or two pennies.

There is a song very popular in Italy called “Funiculi Funicula.” It is also sung in America, but it was drummed into my ears so persistently when I was in Italy that I concluded to get a copy of it if I could. I was told that I could procure it in a certain store in London. This store was on Paternoster Row, which is famous for its book trade, and is located near the Cathedral of St. Paul. I found the little street by going through a narrow alley about six feet wide between two big buildings.

Entering the store, which was full of sheet music, that was being handed out by several clerks, I stepped up to one of the counters and asked the gentleman behind it if he could furnish me with the Italian song with the above title. Without making a move, he replied very promptly, ” One-an-threppence. ” I asked again if he had the song, to which he again made the same reply. I then asked him to tell me in English exactly what he meant, and he explained that he meant that he had the song, that he would get it for me immediately if I wanted it, and that the price was one shilling and three pence. This is very simple when you know it, but it is very difficult when you ask a man if he has got a thing to understand what he means when he comes back at you with the simple proposition, “one-an-threppence.”

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About Roger Pocock

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This entry was posted in 19th Century, 20th Century, Britain, England, History, Humor, Humour, Language, London, Snippets, Travel and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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