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Local pronunciations of place names...

A forum for discussing US dialects (accents).

Local pronunciations of place names...

Postby cremepuff » Tue May 02, 2006 4:53 pm

Someone in another thread talked about the local pronunciations of street names in New Orleans, and it reminded me of town name pronunciations in Illinois. I've lived in the suburbs south of Chicago my entire life, and certain things have always amused me. For one thing, the town of Bourbonnais actually put a law into effect declaring that the town's name should be pronounced as "Burr-ba-NAY," which is (or is at least close to) the proper French pronunciation of it. They did this because they got sick of hearing people call it "Burr-BONUS." Also, when my friends and I were in Florida one year, we were rather annoyed to hear some locals pronounce the silent "S" at the end of our state name.

But is this adherence to the original French pronunciation uniform? Not one bit! The west Chicago suburb of Des Plaines is, for whatever reason, always pronounced exactly as it's spelled: "Dess Plains." This drives my roommate from the West Coast nuts. Not to mention the fact that she can't for the life of her understand why that famous Catholic university in South Bend, IN is "Noter Daym" and not "Notra Dahm."

One question...is pronouncing Chicago as "Chi-CAW-go" a suburban thing, or am I just an anomaly?? I've heard 3 different ways to say it and I'm not sure where mine originates from...
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Postby Brazilian dude » Tue May 02, 2006 5:44 pm

Yeah, I've heard several ways to pronounce Chicago as well. Another town close to Chicago that lots of outsiders get wrong is Mazon (pronounced muh-ZAHN), not MAY-zun.

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Postby Stargzer » Thu May 04, 2006 9:54 pm

A pair of rhymes from my youth:

Chicken in the car and the car won't go,
And that's how you spell Chicago.

Knife and a fork and a bottle and a cork,
And that's how you spell New York.


Granted, that's spelling, not pronunciation, but the mention of Chicago dragged it up from the dungeon . . .
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Postby AdoAnnie » Fri May 05, 2006 12:12 am

Chicken in the car and the car won't go,
And that's how you spell Chicago.


My mom (in her 70's) has always pronounced the city name as Shih Car Go with the emphasis on Car.

Local pronunciations are a hoot. I mentioned in another thread that I made a trip to England and stayed for quite a while with several different families in several different parts of the country. I can not for the life of me begin to figure out how some of those written town names got those oral pronunciations. For instance: Leicester is pronounced 'lester' or something that should be easy like Warwick. Seeing the word I said War Wick and got some gentle laughter from the locals. I can't pronounce what they said but it is a little like Warik and you have to slur the r to make the word into one syllable. Made some of our American town names sound down right normal. But I loved my stay and would enjoy to go back again someday.
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Postby Perry » Fri May 05, 2006 9:13 am

We have a Leicester right outside of Asheville, and there is a big disagreement here about how it should be pronounced. I always go for "Lester", which is the way it is pronounced in England. But there are scads of folks that insist on calling it "Lee sester". In the end, one needs to be aware of both pronounciations, just so that it is possible to know what township is being referred to.
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Postby tcward » Fri May 05, 2006 4:05 pm

Yes, Leicester and Glocester both follow the same pronunciation logic. I think of it is as a -ster suffix.

Waitaminnit... apparently, I wasn't the only one who thought of it this way. For some reason, it never occurred to me before to check on the Internet for "ster suffix".

Online Etymology Dictionary:

O.E. -istre, from P.Gmc. *-istrijon, feminine agent suffix used as the equivalent of masculine -ere. Also used in M.E. to form nouns of action (meaning "a person who ...") without regard for gender. The genderless agent noun use apparently was a broader application of the original feminine suffix, beginning in the north of England, but linguists disagree over whether this indicates female domination of weaving and baking trades, as represented in names like Webster, Baxter, Brewster, etc. (though spinster clearly represents a female ending). In Modern Eng., the suffix has been productive in forming derivative nouns (gamester, punster, etc.).


The American Heritage Dictionary:

The suffix –ster is nowadays most familiar in words like pollster, jokester, huckster, where it forms agent nouns that typically denote males. Originally in Old English, however, the suffix (then spelled –estre) was used to form feminine agent nouns. Hoppestre, for example, meant “female dancer.” It was occasionally applied to men, but mostly to translate Latin masculine nouns denoting occupations that were usually held by women in Anglo-Saxon society. An example is bæcester, “baker,” glossing Latin pistor; it survives as the Modern English name Baxter. In Middle English its use as a masculine suffix became more common in northern England, while in the south it remained limited to feminines. In time the masculine usage became dominant throughout the country, and old feminines in –ster were refashioned by adding the newer feminine suffix –ess (borrowed from French) to them, such as seamstress remade from seamster. In Modern English, the only noun ending in –ster with a feminine referent is spinster, which originally meant “a woman who spins thread.”


And someone replied to a Berkeley student's blog site with the corresponding article on the -ster suffix from the OED.

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Postby Stargzer » Fri May 05, 2006 5:30 pm

Worcester, Massachusetts, home of my alma mater, is not pronounced "war-sess-ter" or "war-ches-ter" unless one is trying to be funny or trying to tweak someone's tail. It's prounounced more like "Woo-ster," where the double-o is normally pronounced like the "oo" in "book," although sometimes like "Wuh-ster." Think of Worcestershire sauce. :) Sometimes some of the DamnYankees would pronounce it more like "Woo-stah," often mimiced by holding one's nose to accentuate the nasal.

The Miss Worcester Diner was often called the Miss Woo or The Woo for short, as in, "Hey, let's go down the Woo for a VC with Red Sauce." (No, even though this was during the late sixties and early seventies, we were not practicing cannibalism on Southeast Asian guerrillas; we were going for one of the Miss Woo's specialities, a deep-fried Veal Cutlet sandwich with Red sauce (spaghetti sauce) as opposed to a VC with Brown Sauce (beef gravy). Walking to the Woo entailed a dangerous trip underneath the infamous Pigeon Bridge. 'Nuff said! :wink:

For Italian food I preferred the Parkway Diner ("Macaroni One-And-One"), but that's another story . . .
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Postby Perry » Sat May 06, 2006 4:21 pm

Yes, Leicester and Glocester both follow the same pronunciation logic. I think of it is as a -ster suffix.


Tim, are you sterring things up?
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Pronounciations

Postby Don 1 » Mon May 08, 2006 2:50 pm

OK everyone,
I visited Glocester and had to have a pronounciation correction because I was making it a 'chester'. But can you tell me how you get 'Swum-scutt' out of 'Swampscott' :?:
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Postby Perry » Mon May 08, 2006 9:04 pm

Well either the "p" sank in the swamp, or else it scooted off.
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Re: Local pronunciations of place names...

Postby SLS216 » Thu May 18, 2006 3:19 am

cremepuff wrote:Someone in another thread talked about the local pronunciations of street names in New Orleans, and it reminded me of town name pronunciations in Illinois. I've lived in the suburbs south of Chicago my entire life, and certain things have always amused me. For one thing, the town of Bourbonnais actually put a law into effect declaring that the town's name should be pronounced as "Burr-ba-NAY," which is (or is at least close to) the proper French pronunciation of it. They did this because they got sick of hearing people call it "Burr-BONUS." Also, when my friends and I were in Florida one year, we were rather annoyed to hear some locals pronounce the silent "S" at the end of our state name.

But is this adherence to the original French pronunciation uniform? Not one bit! The west Chicago suburb of Des Plaines is, for whatever reason, always pronounced exactly as it's spelled: "Dess Plains." This drives my roommate from the West Coast nuts. Not to mention the fact that she can't for the life of her understand why that famous Catholic university in South Bend, IN is "Noter Daym" and not "Notra Dahm."

One question...is pronouncing Chicago as "Chi-CAW-go" a suburban thing, or am I just an anomaly?? I've heard 3 different ways to say it and I'm not sure where mine originates from...


I'm from the suburbs, born and raised, but North Suburbs (Lake County)- I've always said Chicago the way its stereotyped for chicagoans. I think that is only because my dad says it that way. My mom and my brother have always said it "Chi-Caw-go" though so i guess it just depends. I live in FAR south eastern WI now (locals claim that it is still IL for the most part though) and there are some town names here that I always say wrong becuase of their spelling and it drives locals nuts. For example "trevor". To me that looks like the name "Trevor" But its pronounce TreeVor so I try hard to remind myself to say it right. I think the proper names of local places and cities is based on a persons knowledge of the area because of how some things could be pronounced a ton of different ways. All I know is the pronunciation of the 's' at the end of Illinois drives me crazy sometimes.
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Postby AdoAnnie » Thu May 18, 2006 7:37 am

I think the proper names of local places and cities is based on a persons knowledge of the area because of how some things could be pronounced a ton of different ways.


And you would think that maybe towns would post the pronunciation of the town along with the town name and population. That would help out a lot. But I really think it is one of those "us and them" things. You know who is one of us if you know the local pronunciation. :wink:
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Postby Huny » Fri Jun 02, 2006 2:58 am

I live in GA but am originally from CA. There is a small town here in GA called Martinez. Well, where I'm from, it is pronounced "mar-TEEN-ez", like the latin name. Well, here in GA they pronounce it "MARTIN-ez". Drives me crazy. Also, there is a town called McRae that the locals pronounce like "mah-cray" not "Mic-Ray". It really is regional as I am fast learning. They also pronounce Houston "HOUSE-ton" not "HUE-ston". What ever. I just try to go with the flow and "keep an open mind" about the culture here in the south or I'll go insane. As my southern mom always says, "Save your Dixie cups folks...."
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Postby Stargzer » Tue Jun 06, 2006 3:33 pm

Many a newcomer to the Baltimore area has looked in vain on street signs and maps for Blair Road. That's the native pronuciation for Belair Road. One priest reportedly took a year to make the connection.
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Postby Huny » Wed Jun 07, 2006 3:29 am

That reminds me,the town that I was born in is called Lompoc. I lived there 20 years. It is a Chumash Indian word meaning something about where the river runs (the Santa Yenez river). When people see the name Lompoc(pronounced Lom-poke) they pronounce it Lom-pock. Well, that's fine if you don't know the difference. Once, when telling a coworker down here in GA about Lompoc and how it's pronounced, his reply was, "Are you sure your not saying it wrong? Maybe it really is pronounced Lom-pock". :shock:

'nuf said?
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