Say what?

Most Northwesterners I know become just a little bit owie when they hear a newscaster mispronounce one of our regional place names – especially the names of places that are large enough or newsworthy enough to warrant a headline on prime-time television.  Spokane said with a long ‘a’ is the most common transgression, but Willamette with the accent on the third syllable runs a close second.

When my great Aunt Dora took her children East to visit the relatives, her oldest daughter Julia was first grade age and was lucky enough to visit the local school with her cousin.  Asked by the teacher to tell where she was from, she said “Portland, Oregon.”  The teacher promptly corrected her: “You mean Or-e-gone,” she said, much to little Julia’s mortification.

The next morning before school began, Aunt Dora marched into the teacher’s classroom and explained the proper pronunciation in no uncertain terms.  “But,” she said, “your ignorance of Western place names can be forgiven.  That you humiliated a child is unconscionable.”

I try to keep that story in mind when I start to get too uppity about mispronunciations – especially of those mystifying names derived from our diverse ethnic backgrounds.  The other day, I heard a programmer on my all-time favorite radio station, KMUN, pronounce Nahcotta so that it rhymed with Dakota.  I imagine he is new to our area and it occurred to me that there should be a Pronunciation Guide or a quickie workshop for newcomers – especially if they have access to the airwaves.

I think one of the best Community Historian projects I’ve heard of was proposed by a recently retired couple, new to our area.  “Our first idea in taking this course was simply to learn how to pronounce many of the names in the area.  We’ve just learned that Willapa is not said with the accent on the second syllable!  We are thinking a simple pronunciation guide might be a good project.”

I do hope that their idea comes to fruition!  It might even be a money maker!

3 Responses to “Say what?”

  1. Nancy Holden says:

    Being born in Oregon, all my life when someone says it wrong I can not help my self in correcting them. ORE-GUN !!!!

  2. Cuzzin Ralph says:

    I remember a similar instance when I was in the 4th grade—but with roles reversed. Our new teacher in Sunnyside was not from the Pacific NW and had pronounced “Pend Oreille” as “Penned Oriole.” I told Mom after school that I had corrected the teacher’s pronunciation and I got the reprimand!

  3. Betty/Jan Paxton says:

    Try saying Puyallup!

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