Thursday, September 2, 2010

Places that twist your tongue

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—


Claire Dawn said...

Half the places in Harry Potter. lol.

Fantasy is really bad about unpronounceable names and places.

All the places in WIP2 are Indian (from India) names or places, so people will probably mess them up.

Sharon Axline said...

I'll always remember Mexia, Texas (pronouced Mah-HEY-huh), of course after moving out to the land of rain and moss I got to have fun trying to pronounce Puyallup, Snohomish. And of course Portland has to have it's version of New York's Houston street (pronounced How-ston) I was soundly corrected when I called Couch street - well COUCH - it's Cooch I was told. I refrained from saying "WELL SPELL IT THAT WAY!"

Linda G. said...

Let's see...I live near Manassass, which isn't difficult to pronounce for anyone familiar with the Civil War, but which, for some reason, I keep calling "Man-asses."

Manassass is close to another small town, Dumfries. Personally, I think the two should merge and become known as "Dumassass," but maybe that's just me. ;)

Patty Blount said...

It seems every place on Long Island has a native American name, which means it's as hard to say as it is to spell. The train from NYC goes to Ronkonkoma. (ron-KONK-uh-ma).
The town where I work is called Hauppauge (Hop-pog).

I tend to set my stories in fictionalized versions of my home town. For example, there is no Holtsville High School, but there is a town called Holtsville.

I hate mispronouncing things I read. It wasn't until the first Harry Potter movie came out that I could actually say Hermione's name properly.

Unknown said...

I'm from Washington state, so I'd love to set a novel in Puyallup, Snoqualmie, or Sammamish.
But I'd settle for people not saying "WAR-shington." Where does the "R" come from??

Jessica Lemmon said...

I say the town I live in: Miamisburg as Mi-am-MISS-burg and it really creases me when people say Mi-am-MEES-burg. Though, they might be right. My mom says "Gar-beej" and "Cab-beej" instead of garbage and cabbage... who can say who's right? ;)

Jessica Lemmon said...

I say the town I live in: Miamisburg as Mi-am-MISS-burg and it really creases me when people say Mi-am-MEES-burg. Though, they might be right. My mom says "Gar-beej" and "Cab-beej" instead of garbage and cabbage... who can say who's right? ;)

Summer Frey said...

There's a tourist town close by called Dahlonega. Most tourists say "Dall-o-nay-guh," but it's actually "Duh-LAWN-uh-guh." And then there's Dacula. Doesn't look weird, but it's a fifty-fifty camp too on pronunciation. Some say "DACK-you-la" (like Dracula); others "Duh-CUE-la" (I'm in the latter camp).

Unknown said...

I live in the county that boarders Oconee County, GA. When I moved here, I was telling a native Georgian that I looked at real estate in Oc-KEN-nee county. She said, "Is that in Texas?"

After she realized my mistake and could control her Yankees-are-so-stupid induced hilarity, she tilted her head and mustered as much condescendence as possible, and informed me it was O-CONE-nee. Screw her.

"Dairy Queen." Love that!

Anonymous said...

I was born and raised the Show-Me State, and within its borders there exists a battle: do you pronounce it "Missouree" or "Missourah." Those who live in the St. Louis area and around Jeff City, say "Missourah." The rest of us pronounce it the way it's spelled. Do you say "Mississipah?" Or "Cincinnatah?" That's just wrong.

'nough said.

Génette Wood said...

Arizona doesn't have too many odd names, surprisingly enough. My novel is set in Gilbert and Phoenix, which are pronounced just like they look.

Colorado, on the other hand, has names that even native Coloradans can't pronounce: Bijou, Limon, Buena Vista. Since I'm from AZ, I mispronounced Limon as LEE-moan--how we would say it in Spanish. Whoops.

Melissa Gill said...

I live just over the border of the Show-Me State, in Kansas. We always laugh at people from Missouri, who call it Missourah. There's a town near here called Olathe (Oh-Lay-Tha). But people who aren't from here usually call it Oh-Lath, or Oh-Layth, and who could blame them?

Touch of Ink said...

I have a street in my WiP named "Badillo". It's a real street in my home town and people are split as to how to pronounce it.

Because it's Southern California, many people pronounce it "bad-EE-oh", which would normally be correct.

However, this street is named after the Badillo Brothers (early ranchers) and they changed the pronunciation of their name to "bad-ILL-oh". So that's how it's pronounced in my book.

Dang, it never even occurred to me to think how my readers would pronounce it!

Unknown said...

You made me laugh this morning. And that's no small feat, seeing as I'm home with an unbearable migraine. (Yeah, so what am I doing on the computer?) So first off, thank you.

I've always been determined never to pick up a specific dialect, regardless of where I am at the time. I cringe at the Texan "twang", the northern "you's guys", ad nauseum. Perhaps that's why I'd much rather write than speak. :)

But I had to comment, because you made me laugh. Thank you!

Bonnie C said...

I'm a native Southern Californian who lived in Seattle for 2 years and while I managed to conquer (most) of the pronunciations fairly quickly and navigate downtown and Queen Anne like a pro the thing that always gave me away as a non-native was the fact the I put "the" in front of the freeway numbers: The 5, The 405, etc. Apparently in the Great Wet North it's *I*5, *I*405. Yeesh. You'd think from some of the reactions I got I peed on a state monument or something. They only have 2 real freeways up there so I guess it's easier for them to keep those designations straight. :P

(I jest. I LOVED the GWN and would move back there in a heartbeat.)

Matthew MacNish said...

Well being from Seattle I am familiar with many of the places you mention, plus the sort of weird naming convention that sometimes crosses Native American with Scandinavian for some reason. In Washington we have Sequim and Enumclaw and Entiat ...

I do love Oregon though ... except for so lame Salem.

Danica Avet said...

Oh Tawna, you have no idea. I'm from south Louisiana. You know, Cajun Country. Outsiders always mispronounce town names and surnames. New Orleans is New Awluns...not New Or-leans. Houma, is Home-a, not Hooma. It's A-vay, not A-vet. Thibodaux is pronounced Tib-o-doe, not Thigh-ba-dux.

I understand, not everyone gets the French pronunciations, I really do. Hell, there are even corrections by PARISH! One parish pronounces Belanger as Bell-anger (heathens), we pronounce it Ba-lahn-jay. And I use all of this in my writing, using real Cajun last names, town names, first names, and a lot of Cajun French words.

Because that's how I roll. Of course, I know I probably mispronounce a lot of "normal" English sounding words, so I don't ride anyone's butts too hard about things down here...unless they're born here, in which case, I mock.

K.A. Krantz said...

I'm all about phonetic pronunciations, which created the bad habit of not asking for directions in ... just about every where.

Sage Ravenwood said...

I'm a stickler with pronunciation on just about anything. Since I can't hear, whomever is with me gets the lovely job of lip syncing the right way to say something.

I didn't suffer through years of speech therapy for nothing.

Poor Paul gets dirty looks from strangers for stopping me and correcting something I might of said wrong. Me? I'd rather talk with a hint of intelligence and eloquence than - not.

Then again maybe it's the devious nature of my personality. I love confusing the hell out of people when they hear me talk and know I'm deaf. (Hugs)Indigo

gea said...

I live in Illinois, which occasionally gets pronounced ill-a-noise by people who aren't clued in. I pronounce it el-annoy', but I also hear it called ill'-annoy. People in different parts of the state have different accents, I guess.

In the south suburbs of Chicago, there's a town called Matteson. Some residents there insist it's pronounced mat'-son, while others insist it's more like mat'-uh-son. It's technically pronounced the latter way, as the town is named for someone, but that won't to seem to convince the first group.

Stephanie said...

I live outside Buffalo, NY and with towns like Cheektowaga and Depew and a highway named the Scajaquada Express, I find myself correcting out of towners frequently! :)

In my own writing, I usually keep things simple...I know how I feel while reading and come to a name of a town that is hard to is a bit distracting. And I feel a bit dumb. I would never want a reader to feel that way while reading my book.

A.T. Post said...

I used to live in Wyoming, not far from a town called Vedauwoo. Yeah, I know, you're thinking, "VED-ow-wooh," right? Nope. It's pronounced "VEED-ah-voo." Figures.

Anonymous said...

Well, you'll have one reader who will understand your towns perfectly. My dad and grandparents - heck, the whole half of my dad's side of the family - live in Oregon. Scapoose and St Helens to be precise. I've got far bigger town name probs to deal with since moving to the UK though! Wouldn't you know it, I up and moved myself to the most mispronounced county in all the world; Worcestershire.


Claire Dawn, LOL, maybe this is why I've never liked reading fantasy!

Sharon, funny, my brother actually lived on Couch Street in Portland. I thought he was teasing me when he insisted it was pronounced "Cooch."

Linda G, I would move from Oregon just for the pleasure of living in Man-Asses.

Patty, you'll have to clue me in about the pronunciation of Hermione -- I've only read the first book, and haven't watched any of the movies.

Sarah, I've always been baffled by the "R" in "WaRshington," too! Where does it come from?

Jessica, you're in Ohio, right? I've seen a couple Miami-related towns (Miamiville? Can't remember off the top of my head) pop up on my Google Analytics map and always thought it was funny there's a Miami in Ohio.

Summer, I'd probably say DACK-you-la, too, just because it's more fun that way!

Nicole, when we were stuck in the Atlanta airport once, Pythagoras struck up a conversation with a guy who was obviously local. "Where are you coming from?" Pythag asked. The guy replied, and it sounded to Pythag's ears like "Jackson Hole." Pythagoras went on and on and on about skiing in Wyoming. When the guy finally got a word in edgewise, it was to repeat -- more slowly, and without the Southern accent -- that he'd said "Jacksonville."

kdmccrite2, why is it called the "show me state?"

LadyGenette, I would have pronounced Limon exactly the same way! How is it really pronounced?

Melissa, I would say "Oh-Lay-Thee," just because it would make me giggle.

Suzi, now you'll have to figure out a way to slip a phonetic clue into your WIP!

Stormy, now I'm wondering which part made you laugh. I wasn't feeling all that funny today.

Bonnie, I'm a third generation Oregonian, and I'd probably raise an eyebrow, too, if someone called it "The I5."

Matthew, did you just dis my hometown? I was born and raised in Salem, you know! (Yeah, is lame. Probably why I don't live there now. Sorry, Mom & Dad!)

Danica, Cajun names always throw me off in books. I need a pronunciation key or something!

KAK, we do a lot of mumbling in foreign countries. I swear we never pronounced anything right in Morocco. Or Greece. Or Fiji. Or...

Indigo, I'm totally fascinated by your take on things. I hadn't thought about picking up pronunciation clues from lip-reading, but that makes sense.

Gea, so do locals have regular fistfights over the correct pronunciation?

Stephanie, I had to read those town names four or five times and still can't figure out how to pronounce them!

Postman, where is that town in Wyoming? Used to live in Montana, so we'd visit your fine state from time to time.

Suz, well now you've got to clue me in -- how DO you pronounce the name of your town?!?

Thanks for reading, guys!

Patrick Alan said...

Suz - I love your Sauce!

Anonymous said...

Oooh yeah...I have dealt with that most of my life. I grew up in (and came back to) Port Neches, TX. That is NAY-chez, and out of towners never say it right. My name is Sharla, and if I have to give someone my name on a form I immediately have to say "with an S" before they write a C. And then say "la...Shar-LA" because people automatically fill in the blanks in their hearing and assume "lette".

And my maiden name is Lovelace. Aside from the obvious fun I had growing up with that one in the 70's, and constant questions about "Linda", there was ALWAYS someone who'd pronounce it Loveless. Rrrrr.

adam.purple said...

Coming from New England, I can vouch that Worcester, Leicester, Billerica, Petersham, and Coos often give visitors fits.

Anonymous said...

Oh and as far as names in my names and towns are fictional and always easy. I don't want my reader fighting it! The worst name I've ever had to fight when reading a book was "Siobhan".

Anonymous said...

Agree with adam.purple about New England (I grew up on Monatiquot Ave), and I'll add:


For extra credit: Ponkapoag and Assinippi

Expat mum said...

I come from England where Leicester is pronounced Lester and Alnwick is pronounced Annik. (I could go on.)
Live in Chicago where nearly every road and place name is not pronounced as it should be - Des Moines (if you study French, it should more sound like Day Mwan than Day Moyn), Kankekee (emphasis on last syllable) and Joliet, which technically shouldn't sound the last "T".

Expat mum said...

@ first commenter - Harry Potter was actually shot at Alnwick Castle (see my comment above).

Unknown said...

I laugh when visitors feign an over done accent and call where I live "Lawn Gy-land," not Long Island. Oh, yes there are those who have a more pronounced NY accent, but those of us who have roots in the area,(2+ generations)don't sound like that. One more thing...I live ON Long Island not IN Long Island. Sheesh.

As far as the writing goes, the heroine in my book lives in Pennsylvania. Her home is in Bryn Mawr. Fun, right? It means 'big hill' in Welsh.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I love my sauce too, Alan. Oh! You mean Worcestershire (pronounced WORE-SEH-STER-SHIRE) sauce ;)

Elizabeth Ryann said...

Haha, one of the very first fan letters I ever wrote was to Lloyd Alexander, and a big chunk of it was concerned with the proper pronunciation of "Eilonwy." I think I was about 9, but I was very frustrated that I didn't know how it was supposed to sound, so it seemed logical to me to ask the author. He wrote back a very nice letter, and included a pamphlet with a pronunciation guide. I used to study it very carefully as I continued on my word journey with him. Turns out it's I-lawn-wee. Which is not how I was pronouncing it, incidentally.

Heidi W said...

I don't have any difficult to pronounce names in my own life, but I often create them when writing.

I'm embarrassed to admit this--but I don't know how to pronounce some of my character and setting names. I usually just wait and watch my critique group grapple with them until they hit on a pronunciation I like.

April said...

This was a fun post. I love trying to guess how names are pronounced. I hate when people don't correct you and you say it wrong for a long time. When I first moved to Nashville, I constantly mispronounced the name of a street called Demonbreun. I pronounced it demon- brew- un. It's actually da- mun - bree- un. Go figure.

April said...

This was a fun post. I love trying to guess how names are pronounced. I hate when people don't correct you and you say it wrong for a long time. When I first moved to Nashville, I constantly mispronounced the name of a street called Demonbreun. I pronounced it demon- brew- un. It's actually da- mun - bree- un. Go figure.

Patty Blount said...

Tawna, Hermione is pronounced "her-my-oh-knee".

I'd read the first several HP books aloud to my youngest son when he was about six or so. (Maybe ten years now?)

I kept saying, "her-me-own."

And a special thanks to Michelle Wolfson, who recently tweeted that Kiersten White's character is "eh-vee" and not "ee-vee". I hate "bonding" with characters only to learn years later that I've been mispronouncing their names wrong.

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

Your blog is always an adventure to read. Love it!

The Merry said...

@Bonnie C, actually the "the 405" issue starts when you hit the Sacramento Delta. In Northern California, if you refer to a freeway by its number, there was no "the" in front, e.g. 101 not "the 101". On the other hand, if you refer to a freeway by name, it's "the Bayshore freeway."

When I moved up to Oregon, I tended to simply ask a native how to pronounce town names like Tualatin, state forests like Siuslaw, or street names like Glissan (Gleason) or Couch (Cooch).

Still looking for a native to confirm the right way to say Puyallap.

Glynis said...

When I first moved to Oregon, I was flummoxed by Tigard. Traveling up to Seattle, I was stymied by Puyallup. Fortunately, I was traveling with Mr.X and another friend, both of whom grew up in the area.

(Oh yeah, I was straightened right out by locals when I first moved here.)

On the other hand, I grew up in the mid-Atlantic region--a very small area of linguistic similarities. I say things like, Bawl'mer, Murilin for the place where "Wired" is set. I also say Warshin'nun--y'know the capital of the US.

Mr.X takes unholy glee in how I pronounce water. I say, "Water," and he hears, "Warder."

One of my favorite place names is Woonsocket, RI. Brilliant.

Glynis said...

@The Merry


According to my husband and our friend--both native to the Pacific Northwest.

And yeah, my husband is amused at how I pronounce Glisan and Couch. I pronounce them like you do.


Patrick, leave it to you.

Sharla, I'd never thought of that with your name, but I can see how confusion would arise. No matter how carefully I spell my first name for people, they always hear it and write "Tanya." They're fine when they see it written, but it just doesn't translate orally (snicker)

Adam, I have no idea how to pronounce any of those things!, I think "Assinippi" is my new favorite word.

Expat Mum, I'm writing those pronunciations down for future use!

Jeannie, I love your phonetic spelling of "Lawn Gy-land." I can totally hear that in my head.

Elizabeth Ryann, a pamphlet of pronunciations? That is so cool.

Heidi, that's too funny about not knowing for sure how your character names are pronounced. Do you ever dislike how your CPs say something?

April, I had a teacher once who called my name as "Tanya" every day during roll call. I corrected him for the first few weeks, but then gave up and just stopped answering. When I got summoned to the principal's office for being absent for several weeks, I assured him I'd been there every day. "He's just calling me the wrong name, so I don't answer," I assured him. The teacher called me the right name after that.

Patty, that's exactly how I always thought Hermione's name was pronounced. I was also thinking "Eeevie" instead of "Ehvie" and I'll probably have a tough time remembering that.

Kathi, aw, thanks!

The Merry, too funny -- as a third generation Oregonian, I looked at every one of those words you wrote and thought, "you mean not everyone knows how to say those?"

Glynis, my husband grew up in Tigard, and though we obviously know how to say it (like the animal, "tiger," with a "d" on the end) we jokingly pronounce it like "tigger" with a "d" when we're talking with each other. I have no idea why that's funny, and I'd really never considered that some people might think that's the way it's pronounced.

Thanks for reading, guys!

Kadi Easley said...

Late to the party. Oh well, how about Auxvasse or Rochporte.

Ah Vahs

Roach Port

LOL You can always tell if the new weather dude or dudette is from out of state by the way they pronounce these two.

We also have Frankenstein. Not hard to pronounce, but fun anyway.

Anonymous said...

Just kidding! Worcestershire is pronounced wuh-ster-sher

Trisha Leigh said...

People who pronounce Missouri Missoura - Not only is there no A in the word, but I's never make UH sounds. GAH.

The sad part is that its mostly people who actually reside in the Southern part of the state. I prefer to go with my grandfather's pronunciation, which sounds like Misery.

Génette Wood said...

Tawna - Limon is pronounced LIE-mihn. Basically, I looked ridiculous for not saying it like an uneducated American, haha.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I grew up in New Zealand where we have places like Pukekohe said pook-heh-co-heh and Whakatane fock-a-taa-nae and the best of all Waikikamukau, Why-key-car-moo-koh, pronounced as if saying "Why kick a moo-cow