This was the first summer in nearly a decade that Pythagoras and I did not get on a plane and journey to some exotic foreign locale. Instead, we agreed to spend time exploring our own backyard.
Once we got tired of spying on the neighbors and stepping in dog poo, we broadened our travels and set out to explore some other Oregon locales we hadn’t seen for awhile.
An unexpected benefit of this sort of travel is that we didn't have to learn to pronounce new cities. Instead of bumbling the pronunciation of Essaouira, Morocco or Moloolaba, Australia, we boldly shouted the names of familiar places like Sweet Home and Seaside and Newberg.
We were both born and raised in Oregon, so we probably have an unfair advantage when it comes to pronunciations here. That’s not always the case for visitors.
I was at a concert once where the performer made the mistake of telling us how glad she was to be in “OREY-gone.”
The crowd would have reacted more kindly if she’d slit a puppy’s throat onstage and then peed on the carcass.
They booed. They chanted “OR-uh-gun! OR-uh-gun! OR-uh-gun!” Someone threw a pack of gum. I swear I saw the guy next to me pull a switchblade.
Mispronunciations like that aren’t limited to the name of the state. A friend told me about a time she and some pals journeyed through the coastal town of Yachats. When a debate broke out about how to say the name of the place, the camps were split between YAH-hots and YEAH-chats.
Outside intervention soon became necessary, so they pulled in at the local ice cream parlor and approached the cash register.
“Excuse me,” said one of the guys. “Settle a bet for us – how do you pronounce the name of this place?”
The girl behind the register studied them, then frowned. “Dairy Queen.”
I’ve been thinking about this a lot this summer in light of the fact that all three of my contracted novels have ties to Oregon. Most of the places I describe are easy to pronounce, like Portland and Dundee and McMinnville.
Others might prove more challenging for readers unfamiliar with the region. How about the Willamette Valley? It’s the setting for the make-believe vineyard in LET IT BREATHE, but I’m certain at least one reader will stumble over its pronunciation.
Fortunately, a recent visit to Willamette Valley Vineyards outside Salem took care of this problem for me. I think this clears it right up, don’t you?
Are there places in your books or in your state that are tough to pronounce? Do you snicker at out-of-towners who trip over the words? If you’re a writer, what do you do to make sure your readers know the correct pronunciation of your settings?
Please share in the comments. I’ll be busy trying to figure out how to set my next novel in Garibaldi. Or Scio. Or Yoncalla. Or—