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Why is The Mall pronounced differently even though it shares the same spelling as mall (shopping)?

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I second what @z7sg said. As far as I can tell shopping mall and pall mall have the same pronunciation for mall. – JSBձոգչ May 17 '11 at 13:44
How do -you- pronounce 'The Mall' as different from shopping 'mall'? In AmE, I pronounce them the same, so maybe BrE keeps them separate. – Mitch May 17 '11 at 13:45
@Peter Shor I checked this on a BBC clip and they say /ˈmæl/, ie rhymes with pal not maul, likewise it's /ˌpæl ˈmæl/. My comment was the result of confusion so I deleted it. I think there is a lot of variation here. – z7sg Ѫ May 17 '11 at 14:29
For all the Americans who are probably totally confused by this question, Wikipedia says that both words in Pall Mall rhyme with pal and gal. This doesn't seem to be what the answers are saying, so there may be some variation in the pronunciation. Since doll, ball and maul all rhyme in AmE some of the subtleties of British pronunciation are lost on us. – Peter Shor May 17 '11 at 14:35
Related: How to properly pronounce 'mall'. – RegDwigнt May 17 '11 at 14:42
up vote 5 down vote accepted

The street in London actually comes from the French "pêle-mêle" meaning:

From various online dictionaries:

  1. any old how, at random, chaotically
  2. In a jumbled, confused manner; helter-skelter.
  3. In frantic disorderly haste; headlong

The French pronunciation is likely where the "a as in gal" sound comes from.

When the portmanteau pall-mall/pell-mell sprouted up, according to Etymonline mall began meaning "shaded walk serving as a promenade". These walkways/alleys had become common places to play a game similar to croquet by the name of pall-mall. The street in question was originally such an alley.

At the same time usage began to drift from the French sounding "a as in gal" to a, perhaps more British, "a as in ball". When we finally got to the point where mall gained it's current meaning, the common usage was the latter but as the street is a proper name predating this change, so I assume it has simply kept the sounds originally ascribed to it.

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