The wind in one’s Versailles

An excellent Kim du Toit piece on Uniquely British Pronunciations brought lots of responses, including this bit of reciprocation:

The state of Arkansas is pronounced as if it were spelled “arkansaw,” but the city of Arkansas City, Kansas, is pronounced “Ar-KAN-sas,” exactly like it’s spelled.

Which brings you to the Arkansas River. Starting at the headwaters, near Leadville, Colorado — after the toxic metal, not something mentioned in Glengarry Glen Ross — and continuing through Kansas, it’s given the “Ar-KAN-sas” treatment; the moment it crosses into Oklahoma, it takes on the name of the state of Arkansas.

The capital of South Dakota, Pierre, is pronounced “Peer.” New Madrid, MO, is New “MAD-rid,” and then there’s Beaufort, South Carolina and Beaufort, North Carolina where one of them is pronounced “BYEW-fort” and the other is pronounced “BOW-fort” (and I honestly can’t remember which is which).

“BYEW-fort” is the one in South Carolina.

Then there’s Cairo, Illinois, like Karo the syrup. (Aside: If you’ve ever wondered about low-fructose corn syrup, that’s Karo.) And there’s Versailles, Kentucky, which is “ver-SAYLS,” nothing at all like its French forbear. (Likewise for Versailles, Indiana, and for Versailles, Ohio.)

And pity the poor Englishman who visits the Pacific Northwest and has to pronounce place names like Puyallup.

I never can be sure if I’m saying “Puyallup” correctly; I tend to render it as “poo-WALLOP.” On the other hand, I have no problem with Sequim, which is delightfully monosyllabic: “SKWIHM.”


  1. fillyjonk »

    10 July 2017 · 2:01 pm

    I once had a student compliment me for knowing how to pronounce Spokane (spo-CAN) correctly (it was where she was from).

    I always have to think hard about the Oklahoma versions of Miami and Prague. With Prague, I tell myself “It’s the opposite of how you say the one in Europe” and that works, but I still butcher Miami.

    There’s also a Vienna, Illinois, pronounced “VYE-enna,” like how someone on “Mama’s Family” would describe “them little sausages in a can”

    And I got laughed at when I first tried to pronounced Beaufort Street in my parents’ town; it’s more like “Buford” than it is like anything issuing from a Frenchman’s mouth. (Same with Achille down near me; I was going for something that made it sound like Hercule Poirot’s brother and it’s decidedly not that)

  2. Jennifer »

    10 July 2017 · 3:38 pm

    And don’t even get me started on Miami…

  3. McG »

    10 July 2017 · 4:20 pm

    West of Utah (at least) it’s pronounced “nuh-VAD-a”. The Spanish pronunciation applies to neither the state, nor the Sierra Nevada mountain range, nor to the county in California and its county seat.

  4. McG »

    10 July 2017 · 4:23 pm

    But you can use the Spanish pronunciation of Vallejo if you pretend it has only one L.

  5. Tom »

    10 July 2017 · 4:52 pm

    Mackinac – The city, bridge, straights, island and fort are all pronounced “MACK-in-aw.”

  6. Roy »

    10 July 2017 · 8:56 pm

    Then there’s the largest city in Kentucky: Louisville. Pronounced by the locals as “Loo-ah-vull” or sometimes “Loo-vull”.

  7. CGHill »

    10 July 2017 · 10:49 pm

    Fortunately for me, at several stages of my life I have known Louisvillians who were happy to remind me of this fact.

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