Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Say What?

I had a business phone call this morning with someone in Worcester, Massachusetts. Throughout our 15-minute conversation, I kept pronouncing the name of the city as wor-chess-ter (the business entity we were discussing about adopted the name of the city as part of its name, and so it had to be mentioned many times). Towards the end of the call, the guy on the other side sheepishly told me: "Well, just to let you know, but the correct way to pronounce the name of our town is woss-ter, as in woss-ter-sheer sauce." Feeling silly, I thanked him for correcting me, and I mentioned that I have had to learn the hard way to pronounce some US cities the way the locals do.

So I learned today how to correctly pronounce Worcester and Worcestershire. I feel like a better cook already. Some others that I had to learn directly from the locals:

Lodi, CA (low-die. Previously pronounced by me as low-dee)

New Orleans, LA (naw'lins or new'awlins. Previously pronounced new-or-leens...made sense, right? Europeans should refrain from pronouncing it as new-or-lay-yon or new-or-lay-ans if they want to avoid voodoo curses.)

Newark, NJ (noork or nyoo-rk. Previously pronounced new-ark)

Buttzville, NJ (beau-ville. Previously pronounced butts-ville...who would have thought otherwise?!)

On the other hand, no one from New Jersey would say new-joi-see, except for my law professor and jerks from New York.

Any more tricky city names in the USA or other English-speaking countries that I should know how to pronounce like the locals do?


Brent said...

In the south, "ville" (as in Nashville, Huntsville, etc.) is pronounced "vull."

Worcester took me a long time to figure out as well, haha, so don't feel too bad.


Hobbes said...

Most Americans pronounce it "Wo-sess-ter", and I can see why: wor-ce-ster, using the c softly, like in "Cecil".

The key to pronouncing these words is realising that they are Saxon. -Ster is always the ending for the settlement. So let's see what's left: "Worce". It's one syllable, with a soft c again. Worce [wurs] + ster = wurs-ster. Easy.

Take another classic example:


So it ends in -Ster, because it's Saxon (actually, it's original Roman name is Lactodorum = Dairy Fort). So that leaves "Towce". Again, it's one syllable, with a soft c as always. Towce [toas] + ster = toas-ster.

Literally, "toaster". Americans call it "Tow-ses-ster".

Saxon is easy when you know how... :)



P.s. I am firmly against always pronouncing towns the way that the locals pronounce them - it ends up sounding highly affected. I wouldn't call the capital of France "Pa-ree", nor would I call the capital of the Renaissance "fee-or-en-za" (Florence).

I have a southern friend who pronounced Newcastle in the way that natives would (i.e., "New cassel"), which makes him sound rather amusing, because he has a decidedly RP school accent.

We have a place near my hometown of Cambridge called "Stiffkey"... pronounced "Stew-key". Saxon gets strange. :)

~ Phyll said...

Thanks for the insight, as always, Hobbes. This thing about needing to know how to pronounce a name of a place is a balancing act for me.

Seems like exceptions are always granted by the locals or natives when it's in regard to the name of countries, capital cities, famous cities, etc. But those exceptions do not always apply to places of lower hierarchy. They expect us to pronounce them more or less in their tongues, instead of phonetically.

A long time ago, people corrected me for saying /tee-jew-wa-na/ (Tijuana), /la-holla/ (La Jolla), /oak-ca-ka/ (Oaxaca). But no Mexicans ever corrected me for saying /meck-See-koh/.

While it's okay to say Paris and Burgundy instead of Pah-ree and Bourgogne, the French (and even the Americans) likely won't let me get away for saying Boar-dokes, Sow-tern-nes or Lung-gweh-doc.


~ Phyll said...

PS: I still have a bloody hard time pronouncing Champs-Élysées correctly. I always want to pronounce it as Chums-Ellis (not /shahn zey-lee-zey/ or /shäɴ zā-lē-zā'/).

But then, I'd sound like a country bumpkin. Sigh.

Mary R said...

Worcestershire sauce is my culinary nemesis. It's a word I really have to think about to pronounce correctly because the incorrect way is practically muscle memory.

The wretched result is usually something like "Wer-chest-est-er-sheer. Wait. Wooster-chest-er-sheer. No. Wuh--aw, screw it. The damn English sauce."

~ Phyll said...

Hello, Mary! Been a long time. How is being Maid of Honor coming along? Hope all is well.

Anonymous said...

Prescott, AZ - not pronounced Preh-scott as the locals are only too happpy to point out, but Preh-skit.

~ Phyll said...

Anon, really? I would have said /press-kott/. Thanks!

Austen Fields said...

I know a girl from a small town spelled "delhi". i pronounced it "dell-ee"...like I assumed it would be pronounced. She corrected me - they pronounce it "dell-high"

Also, I know a girl whose last name is Jacques. I pronounced it like the french name, (silent j + ock) whereas she said "jacks."

everybody's different! Love it!

Bill said...

Oh Yeah! As a latino from the south, I had a loose Latino-Texan accent. However, now that I have lived up north in Scandinavian country, My Latino-Texan accent is now muddled with a touch of Norweigan brogue!

~ Phyll said...

Bill, I have nothing but wonderful memories of my travels to the Scandinavian countries. Where did you live while you were there?

I used to have a "Singlish" accent (Singaporean-English, which is English spoken with some Malay and Chinese slang words plus intonation thrown into the mix). There is still some left of it to this day, though not as thick.