Friday, October 5, 2012


"...it is usually a fool’s mission to blame people for how they pronounce words."

"I don’t blame all the people who say Eye-rack and Eye-ran, first, because it is usually a fool’s mission to blame people for how they pronounce words. In this case as in others, the “wrong” way is the only way many of them have ever heard. The military aspect is itself a fascinating and potent phenomenon. As the authors of the more recent American Speech article observe, this pronunciation has somehow become “the military’s linguistic norm…. A current or former member of the U.S. military would adopt these variants not as a matter of signaling political attitude, but as a reflection of his experience as a member of this particular speech community.”

—Ben Yagoda on being "Eye-rate About Eye-ran". (Thanks, Liora!)

73 Comments / Post A Comment


Intelligence coming from a place of respect and peace is more accurate than dehumanizing assumptions from wartimes?? Whaaaaaat.


just made my day.@l


The problem is also that, if you pronounce Iraq incorrectly, my favorite pun doesn't work - someone in Jordan once told me that he likes to joke that Jordan's always stuck between "Iraq and a hard place."


@Ophelia I just laughed and did the double finger guns of approval.

Beatrix Kiddo

@Ophelia I think I remember that joke from the movie Hot Shots.


@Ophelia I heard that joke a lot in Jordan, and I kept waiting for Jon Stewart to make it when he talked to King Abdallah about Jordan's geographical location last week (he didn't, I was gravely disappointed)


I remember when the POTUS would say Pahkistan while running for his first term. I'd always yell "Nooooo, you'll scare the dummies with your pretty pronunciation! Say PACK! PAAACCCKKKK."

fondue with cheddar

@JessicaLovejoy SAH-dum Hussein.


In Arizona, we pronounce Casa Grande "Ka (as in Kathy)-suh Grand." I always thought that was weird, but, shibboleths and all.


@Emby I hate when places (cities, streets, etc.) in the US that have names in another language (which is probably 75% of them, but anyways...) are pronounced in a super Americanized way. It's probably because I love words and their etymology, but I usually get twitchy when I hear people pronounce these names the way the rest of America does. For example, there is a Chicago suburb called Des Plaines, and I loathe how it's pronounced "dehz playnes." When I first moved to Chicago, I had to drive out there for some furniture, and I was telling someone where I was going. I pronounced it the French way since I hadn't ever heard it's "real" pronunciation before, and that person looked at me like I had 7 heads.


@olivebee I always forget which it is too! I don't get why Des Plaines is "dez planes" and Des Moines (only one state over!) is "de moyne."



I'm sort of the opposite. I'm currently working at a deli and we have croissants. It drives my crazy when people go, "I would like an egg salad sandwich on a CRUH SAUNT" it always sounds super douchey.


@Emby Yes, in Austin they say "Guadelupe" (major street name) to rhyme with "soup" and it took me a while to get used to, there's another one like that I forget. Then I just went to Santa Fe and kept wanting to pronounce things wrong.

I actually kind of like these shibboleths, as Emby put it.

Astronaut Mermaid

@Weasley aaaahhhh I refuse to say "pain au chocolat" or "croissant" anywhere that isn't francophone. I just point awkwardly or say something stupid like "cocolate bread".

Astronaut Mermaid

@olivebee Haha, there are a million places in New Orleans that are called things that look like they ought to be French, but somehow aren't pronounced like French but also aren't pronounced how they look in English. It's like a secret code!


@Ellie Yeah, they generally don't annoy me. They're just snippets of culture and history. I admit a few make me twitch, but I try to shut up about it.


@Astronaut Mermaid

I think where people go wrong when they try to pronounce words from another language they don't speak is they don't know where to put the right emphasis. So like "croissant" there is a breathiness to the pronunciation when a French person says it. But when someone who doesn't speak French and tries to pronounce "croissant" the way a French speaker would they just sound really affected and like they're trying way to hard (which they are).


@Weasley In DC, no two metro announcers have quite the same pronunciation of L'Enfant Plaza.


@Weasley Wait, how else would you pronounce "croissant" though? I can't even think of an "Americanized" way.


@olivebee You will be very annoyed if you ever travel to Havre de Grace, MD.


@Emby Cur-sont, or I guess.


@mustelid Let me guess... "Harve duh Grayse"?

I blame Brett Favre for a great deal of the v-r-e screwups.


@Scandyhoovian My friends and I still call him Fahv-ruh.


@olivebee You'd love western PA! Town of Versailles = Ver-sails. Du Bois = Due Boys. Duquesne = ..Well, we actually all say Due-Cain like I guess you're supposed to, but we make up the weirdness by all being able to inexplicably spell it correctly from birth.

RK Fire

@mustelid: That is my favorite MD-ism. Mostly because we have nothing else, I suppose.. Patuxent, Potomac, and many of other names that might seem phonetically challenging to anglophones aren't.

Although I had an exboyfriend who would pronounce "Severn" as "Sevrin" and that drove me straight up crazy.


@Scandyhoovian "Havertygrayse." It took months in Maryland for me to realize that Havre de Grace and Havertygrayse were the same place.


@breccia Hah! I grew up in Western PA (just north of Pittsburgh), and my mom (who is not originally from there) and I would always cringe when we heard those town names on the news. Versayles! Ugh!

RK Fire

@frenz.lo: I guess I would soften the "t" to a "d" but yup, congratulations, you win the Murriland linguistic quirks. For a prize you a free trip downyoshun!

RK Fire

@RK Fire: *"you win a..." Ugh, I can't stand leaving out words.


@mustelid my dad is from Havre de Grace, I didn't realize until my 30s that there was anything strange about the way it's pronounced.

An area of the suburb I'm from is called 'Riviera Beach' but pronounced 'Riverra', I didn't know until college that it was actually 'Riviera', I somehow mentally blocked the 'i' from the big sign I drove past every day for decades. Ah, Maryland.

RK Fire

@pdflibrarian: You know, if it wasn't for the fact that you just pointed out the second "i" in "Riviera Beach," I wouldn't have caught on to that.


@Ellie Is it San Jacinto with the soft j like Judge? That one always gets me. Austin, I love you but you could also learn some Spanish pronunciation.


@olivebee There's a town in Missouri called Milan, and it's pronounced MY-len.


@RK Fire ahaha I just died at downyoshun. So true.

Also, my boyfriend is from Ohio and has shared some good wtf town names with me. Russia, OH? ROO-she. Yep.


@olivebee I would recommend staying away from Prairie du Chien, then. Also Chili and Lima in Upstate NY.

Tragically Ludicrous

@olivebee The longer I've been here in Nederland, the more I pronounce cities like Dutch people- "Ahm-ster-dahm," "Rotter-dahm," etc, although I don't tend to do it around non-Dutch people because it makes me sound really affected. (Although I still tend to say 'den Haag" instead of "The Hague" because I got used to it.) Basically, everywhere has a wrong prononciation, and unless you're from there or have spent a lot of time working on the prononciation, you're probably doing it wrong.

jane lane

@olivebee Cairo, GA is pronounced "kay-row." KAY-ROW.

Ham Snadwich

@Scandyhoovian - have-a-duh-grace, or if you've really got the maryland fat tongue it's sometimes harvuh-duh-grace (although I've also heard have-a-duh-grass).

There's also a street in Baltimore called Thames Street. It is not pronounced temz.

fondue with cheddar

@Ham Snadwich There's a town in NJ near where I grew up called Buena Vista which everyone pronounces BYOO-na.


I'm in Atlanta, where Ponce de Leon Ave. is "Pawns duh Lee-on."


@Scandyhoovian I have a Hispanic surname that is moderately common but not as popular as, say, Lopez or Sanchez. Usually I give out a slightly Americanized pronunciation. In my last job I did a lot of phone work to various states, and it was always interesting to see what places would have people who knew the correct pronunciation.

Also, I come from Massachusetts, where you can tell an outsider by asking them to say Worcester.

Nicole Cliffe

"The name is 'Worcester.' 'Bertie Worcester.'"


@Nicole Cliffe pronounced "Fanshaw"


Woosta ... right?
True fact. The city of Worcester MA was founded by two brothers from England, last name of Worcester. However, back then, spelling wasn't quite as fine tuned as it is today. Eventually, the brothers quarrelled and one decamped to Connecticut where he changed his name to Wooster (according to family legend and current spelling).

maybe partying will help


Oh my gaaaah my stepfather one time was talking about this spring in Florida and he had to repeat it about four times before I realized that no, there isn't a spring called "Dillion" and I'd just never heard of it, he meant "De Leon."

On the other hand, my sister and I were snobby children who listened to NPR in the car with our grandmother and had our pronunciations of foreign countries shaped by British correspondents. o.O

Upshot: accents are neat and pronunciations are interesting? People who are from a place are welcome to school me as to the correct pronunciation.


@anachronistique I spent a long car ride to Boston repeating "Worcester" to myself to figure out how it made it to its current pronunciation.

Ham Snadwich

@anachronistique - I work with a guy named Julio that pronounces it Jewl-ee-o


Well, I'm pretty damn liberal (and midwestern), and frankly I don't even know how I say "Iraq" after reading that article. I'd like it read to me by the author.

Beatrix Kiddo

@whateverlolawants Honestly, it's pretty hard to say for anyone who doesn't speak Arabic. The Q symbolizes a weird letter that's not in our alphabet at all.

Astronaut Mermaid

@Beatrix Kiddo There are so many useful sounds that aren't represented in the English alphabet (but clearly should be)! Like that zh sound in measure and all of the French things ever, and that sound that's between y and w but definitely isn't represented by either, and the Arabic 'q' which is more like a really delicate kg thing? We clearly need more letters.

the roughest toughest frail

@whateverlolawants "Ih-rahk" is the closest to the Arabic pronunciation, if that's what you mean. Like @Astronaut Mermaid says, the "q" is something like a soft "kgh" sound that doesn't exist in English.

Springtime for Voldemort

@whateverlolawants Yeah, I want the piece to end with "and now, if you will all click on the YouTube link, you can hear me pronounce all of these".


@whateverlolawants - It's all Stevie Wonder's fault.


My general feeling about this is, Germans call Germany Deutschland, so everybody shut up.


@highfivesforall Also, every single person in America says France, not Frahnce, and no one is getting their underthings in a twist about it.


@highfivesforall yep. I feel like Italy at one point was like "Ok, you know what? You can't say our names right, here, have your own." and hence Florence/Firenze Venice/Venezia etc etc.
But the Italians have Italian words for every other countries' names, so we're even?


@highfivesforall Haha, yeah, my family comes from Suomi, damnit, why is everyone insisting on calling it Finland? But hey.


@highfivesforall I GENERALLY agree, except that there doesn't seem to be a consistent English/American pronunciation for Iraq or Iran. And the fact that pronunciation cleaves so strongly to perspective is perhaps different.

Many languages have different names for different locations. And I don't think the author was complaining about other Arab countries that are identified differently in English (for example, Jordan is actually pronounced and written as "al-oordan" in Arabic, Morrocco is "al-maghreb").


@MissMushkila Also we have not recently invaded/are intimating that we may invade France or Germany. Which is the other thing.

Tragically Ludicrous

@highfivesforall München/Monaco di Baviera/Munich. Or my favorite, Köln/Keulen/Colonia/Cologne.

Redheads have even more fun

My mom still says Eye-talian. After years of trying to tell her that Nonna and Papa did not come over here from Eye-taly, we just try not to snicker too loud when she mentions the new Eye-talian place in the neighborhood.


Solid as Iraq!

RK Fire

Oh oh oh! I also get regularly annoyed when people say "Vietmanese" instead of "Vietnamese." I don't even know why people transpose the "m" and the "n."

conniving little shit

@RK Fire If I heard people do that "regularly" I would pretend Vietnam didn't exist to stop that happening

RK Fire

@conniving little shit: I am ethnically Vietnamese so sometimes I can't really avoid it. Also, point of clarification: it doesn't happen regularly but when it does I am always annoyed.


@RK Fire Whaaat! I had no idea people got this mixed up! I would have thought there were enough people in movies saying stuff like 'back in 'Nam' that everyone would be pretty clear about it being n before m.

I think I may pronounce it incorrectly myself though because I stress the last syllable (viet-NAM), when I think in fact the stress should be on the 'et'? As in vi- ET- nam.

conniving little shit

@RK Fire Yeah, come to think of it I seem to have the same problem (or not similar but maybe related problem) with Okinawa. People constantly pronounce it "oh kuh na wa" and it sets my teeth on edge.


@RK Fire I didn't know people did this! But it seems like people switch m and n all the time when they say words aloud, so I guess it shouldn't surprise me, says the girl who just realized it's "enmity" not "emnity".


I've always been mildly fascinated by the strange ways that people pronounce certain names. My dad is a truck driver and once had regular runs to Terre Haute. He told me that everyone there pronounced it like "Tara Hoot."

I also come from a city that seems completely unable to pronounce anything in French. Ouellette turns into Oooh-let, Grand Marais turns into GrAND (emphasis on the and sound) Marris, etc. Mostly it just bothers me because this is Canada and we are supposed to be a bilingual country/have a basic grasp on French.


@coconuts I forgot my favourite one. Somehow, the people in my hometown believe that Pierre is pronounced like Peer-eee.


@coconuts Ha! I was at a conference in Terre Haute a few years back and the keynote speaker pronounced it as it if were French, then started laughing and admitted he knew it wasn't in fact pronounced that way.

Ladies Who Punch

It's pronounced "EE-run" if you want to say it with a Persian accent. None of this EYE biz.

At least according to my 3 decades of being raised a Persian.

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