Lamenting the wrong pronunciation

Writer’s Block

My next door neighbor recently told me that he began to ‘horripilate’ while watching local TV news last week. I said, “Gee, that’s too bad” – and then immediately ducked into my house to look up the word “horripilate.”

If it was as bad as it sounded, my neighbor might be doing something illegal.

Horripilate: v. The bristling of the body hair as from fear or cold. To tremble.

The next day, when I saw the neighbor in his yard again, I casually called over, “Say, I forgot to ask you exactly what on the TV news made you horripilate?”

“Oh,” he replied. “I figured you didn’t know what horripilate meant.” He then went on to explain that the thing that had given him such a chill was when he heard a reporter pronounce our state name as WARSHington.

“That reporter might as well have held up a sign saying ‘I’m not from here,’” said my neighbor. He started to horripilate all over again.

People, no matter where they’re from, are always ready for a fight when the names of their local towns and institutions are mispronounced. It has the effect of a guy telling his wife that he’s leaving her:

HE: “I’ve met someone else, Marla …”

SHE: “Marlo. My name is pronounced MarLO.”

HE: “Why quibble? I’m leaving you.”

SHE: “What’s the other woman’s name?”

HE: “Doris. Or maybe it’s Dolores. Anyway, I sure do love her.”

SHE: “Where’d you meet her?”

HE: “I bought a pair of shoes from her at Nordstrom’s.”

SHE: “It’s Nordstrom, you boob! There’s no ‘s’ on the end.”

HE: “Darla.”

SHE: “I told you, my name is Marlo.”

HE: “No. I just remembered that the woman I’m leaving you for is named Darla.”

SHE: “I hope your new shoes give you blisters.”

Every politician knows there’s no surer way to alienate an audience than to screw up the names of their home, business, sports teams or kids. Go ahead and make empty promises. Slander the other candidates. Feel free to rob the public coffers. But don’t call Puyallup, Pooey-loop, or you’re a goner.

People in Oregon hate it when their state is pronounced ORY-GONE. They also get pretty annoyed if you put the emphasis on the first syllable of the city of Eugene – so it becomes YOU-gene. If you make that mistake, the citizens of that town will call you a name that is a YOU-phonism for something else. For that matter, the people from Grants Pass insist that the ‘P’ is not silent.

Folks in Boise like their name to be pronounced ‘Boy-see’ – never ‘Boy-zee.’ They are also particular about the pronunciation of Tater Tots.

People in Spokane will go for their firearms if they hear ‘Spo-KANE.’ Most people get Walla Walla correct – after all, if you get the first Walla right, you’re halfway home. And even people who have never seen the name Humptulips before, tend to pronounce it correctly. Good thing.

Oddly, you might think the San Juan Island town of Roche Harbor might prefer something like ROW-CHAY Harbor. But the pronunciation is actually closer to the word “roach.” That’s got to make things tougher for the hotel business there.

Sometimes popular usage is what rules the day – and the people who actually live or work at a place should be able to call it anything they want. That’s why many people who work at Boeing, call it “Boeings,” with an ‘S’ on the end. (Superman, by contrast, had his ‘S’ on his chest, not his end.)

But what about the city of Des Moines? The one here in Washington is pronounced differently than the one in Iowa. That one is pronounced like the French would: DUH-MOIN. Our Des Moines is pronounced as DUH-MOINZ. Well, at least both cities agree on the DUH part.

Meanwhile, my neighbor called the TV station to complain about the reporter who had called our state WARSH-ington. “Oh yea, that guy just moved here from Chicago,” the TV station receptionist told him. “That’s in Ill-a-NOISE, you know.”

Pat Cashman is a writer, actor and public speaker. He can be reached at pat@patcashman.com.