How They Know You're Not a Local

My old college English professor Don Norton had a love for the nuances of English usage like nobody I have ever met before or since. He was particularly interested in the way dialects and usage affected our daily existence. He was a storyteller, too, which made a possibly mundane topic interesting to everyone else.

One of my favorite stories Professor Norton related was about a petty criminal who was being chased down by cops in rural Utah. The local police officers had gotten a call describing the suspect, and they thought they saw him so they pulled him over. The suspect said, "No officer, I'm not the man you're looking for, I've lived in Hurricane all my life." Immediately the cops knew they had their man. How did they know? He pronounced Hurricane like the tropical storm, instead of the way the locals did, "Her-uh-kin"

When we moved to Arizona, we encountered similar issues with pronouncing the name of a historic town north of Wickenburg, where I lived for six years. The name of the town was Prescott. But if you pronounced it Press-cot, that marked you as an outsider. The locals call the place Presskit (rhymes with biscuit). Arizona is full of unusual place names. One of these names is Tempe. My husband told me about a coworker who was recently sharing a desire to go to college at Arizona State University in Temp. She wondered if Temp was anywhere near the airport, because she would probably want to come home quite a lot. My husband responded, "You'll have no problem, Temp-EE is only about 10 minutes from Sky Harbor International."

In Arizona, a basic knowledge of Spanish may also help you fit in, since the Spanish conquerers who made Arizona a Spanish, then Mexican territory hundreds of years ago gave it its glorious names. But many a snowbird arrives in style, ready to fire up the barbeque and the air conditioner, only to massacre the pronunciation of Native American or Spanish place names. Ajo is pronounced Ah-hoh, not A-joe, and saguaro is pronounced sa-wa-roh. Of course that usually doesn't last long, and most Arizonans have been there, done that, and bought the t-shirt. It's part of what separates the locals from the tourists.

Southwesterners don't have a corner on the massacred place name market, though. When I was growing up in Abilene, Texas, we lived near a street called Chachalacha. And how was THAT pronounced? Chuck-uh-luck-uh. And what about Chillicothe. Will someone please tell me how to pronounce the name of this town in central Illinois?

Nathan, my husband, thinks the easiest place to tell the natives from the visitors is Louisiana. New Orleans? Oh no, it's NAHlins, mes cheres. And while you're visiting Lafayette, a place Nathan used to call home, make sure to go out and see the Christmas lights in Nacogdoches just over the border in far eastern Texas. But remember Nacogdoches isn't pronounced NACHO-DOE-CHEESE, it's Nack-Uh-Dish. And thank goodness. Of course, the locals there have had a long time to get the name right. It's the oldest town in Texas, after all.

We are still attempting to get the pronunciation right on several places here in Iowa. One is Menard's, a local large-scale tool company. MAY-nerds or Min-NARDS? The cajun in my husband votes for the second pronunciation, but since this is an area where a town called Milan is pronounced MY-lan, I'll vote for the first.

Then there is the pronuciation of people's names, which I addressed once in a hub titled What Should I Name My Daughter? Siobahn and Other Baby Naming Disasters . We named my third child Evangeline. A beautiful flowing name and the heroine of a lovely poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. But how to pronounce it? Evangel-LYNN, Evangel-LINE, or Evangel-LEEN? Well, truth be told, in our family it depends on the day and the person. We never quite decided. My husband calls her EvangeLINE and I waver back and forth between the first two. My new friend who is from the South actually brought up the third pronunciation. She has a good friend back home by that name.

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Comments 18 comments

diogenes profile image

diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico

Charming article. She would be Avangelin in UK. I actually like the Spanish "Evangelina" by far the best (as I like Roberto more than Robert...but not "Bob," as the Spanish for a twit is "Bobo!") But how would I know, I live in a country (England) that pronounces "Mousehole," (in Cornwall) "Muzzle!"

Bob(o)


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

When we lived in Kansas City, Missouri we were had an "e" sound at the end, others pronounced it like an "a" at the end.When we moved from St.Paul, Minnesota to the Quad cities my kids noted local pronunciations like wash became warsh.


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Bob, thank you. My dad's name is also Robert and when we were naming our last son Ezra, my grandmother said casually, why not Robert? We have five in the family so far! I said "Uh oh, not another Bobby!" and she got into a bit of a huff and said, well, it worked for the rest of them! By the way, I spent four years of my childhood in East Anglia. I would love to go back some day.

Dahoglund, we grew up teasing my dad about saying warsh. He warshed the dishes and the clothes. He didn't like that much because other people among his travels had teased him about that particular pronunciation and he had come to associate warsh with a lack of education. He's from Indiana.


lorlie6 profile image

lorlie6 6 years ago from Bishop, Ca

As a child, I spent many summers with relatives in St. Joseph, Missouri. All of my uncles and aunts pronounced Missouri as Miss-oo-rah.

I still do!

Fun hub, thanks wannab!


Dim Flaxenwick profile image

Dim Flaxenwick 6 years ago from Great Britain

That was really interesting.When we lived in Spain the little village of Adeje Ad-ehey. was called everything from adeedgee to Aye day jay. hilarious,. It sound s like you are as always making the best of a big change in your life. I admire you. Great hub. Thank you.


eovery profile image

eovery 6 years ago from MIddle of the Boondocks of Iowa

We have a lot of Norwegian influence, but the old strong Norwegion accent is going away as the older population is dying off.

Keep on hubbing!


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

Interesting. Thank you for a great read.


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

Sounds like old Professor Don taught you well, Wannab. I lived in Miami Florida growing up. Our relatives and other natives called it My-amma. (Whose amma?) My amma. Our town which was then known as Perrine (Pee rhine or Per rhine, accent on either syllable) is now called South Miami. Fun read.


debbiesdailyviews profile image

debbiesdailyviews 6 years ago

I agree with peg, as this was going to be my added comment.

You had a great teacher, you made this really interesting with your style of writing.

I really enjoyed not only a geography lesson, but also a history lesson too.

I am going to look forward to more of your Hubs.


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Wow, the comments are piling up! I will be back soon to respond, but right now I'm running off to the store to get some ginger ale to help settle a sick kid's stomach! I forget sometimes that I am surrounded by other writers who relish the language as much as I do. Kudos!


Old Poolman profile image

Old Poolman 6 years ago from Rural Arizona

I once saw a fellow on TV who had people from the audiance read a paragraph off a card. He then told them where they were born, and what other parts of the country they had lived in. I assume there were certain key words he used to make this determination.

You will find some completely different names back there in Iowa based on some of the Indian Tribes that occupied that area.

Some other subtle differences. In AZ we have Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner. In Iowa we had Breakfast, Dinner, and Supper. Go figure.

By now I am sure your favorite meal is Made-Rite's. Dang, I miss them.

Great Hub, and by the way, it was 78 degrees in Tucson today.


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Old Pool Man, when I am sitting in 5 degree weather at Maid-Rites having some dinner this winter, how will I not think of you?


Old Poolman profile image

Old Poolman 6 years ago from Rural Arizona

wannabwestern - Not to worry, you will come back to Arizona. Everyone who has ever lived here eventually comes back. Meanwhile, enjoy your new life and all the new things you will learn by living in Iowa. They make plenty of warm clothing to get you through the winter. Also, practice makes perfect. Just one Maid-Rite per week and it will soon become your favorite food.


ohnonebraska profile image

ohnonebraska 6 years ago from all over

I'm from the hometown of Menards and the family behind it, and I just wanted to let you know that your husband is right in this case!

Farther south in Wisconsin, there's a town that definitely separates natives from out-of-staters: Oconomowoc. A lot of non-Wisconsinites want to say something like OH-kuh-NO-mah-wahk, but it's actually uh-KAH-nuh-muh-wahk.


shellyakins profile image

shellyakins 5 years ago from Illinois

What bugs me is when people name a city San Jose (ho-say in my book) and insist on calling it San Joes (as in multiple people named Joe.) Why put the San in the front and then not use the Spanish pronunciation?


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 5 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Amen!


jaykevin profile image

jaykevin 2 years ago

You confused Nacogdoches (nac-a-doches), Texas with Natchitoches (nac-a-dish) Louisiana. Christmas lights are in the Louisiana city. Very nice article.


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 2 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Thank you jaykevin for the correction! The Christmas lights in Natchitoches are a treasure. That's another place I look forward to seeing again, some day.

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