“You Aren’t From Around Here!”

Pete’s comment about the correct pronunciation of Norwich when he looked up Rocky Neck State Part reminded me to return to a post I started before the chaos of war in the world. Because I cannot say any more than I already have on the subject of Ukraine and Russia, I return to the earlier writing.

One of the obvious marks of a new comer to an area is her way of saying a place name. In Oregon it was the word said as “or-ee-GONE’ instead of “or-ee-gun.” In a similar way, saying the “will-a-met River” ensures you weren’t raised near the “will-AM-it River.” A blogger in Cornwall made sure that I didn’t pronounce “Mousehole” the way it appears and wrote it is closer to “mowsel. But I don’t think anyone would think I was from Cornwall once they heard the ways I say ordinary words!

My favorite encounter with a completely unphonetic place name was the night my mother and I stayed in Kirkcudbright, Scotland. We had driven back from the Island of Skye on our return to London and needed a room for the night. After passing through Newton Stewart, we came to Kirkcudbright. In those days, before internet and cell phones, we just went into an inn to see if there was a room. We were fortunate to not only get a room but to also find ourselves in the middle of a wedding reception. My more proper mother thought we should stay away. My young adult self insisted we “crash” the party. We did and we were warmly welcomed to the fete.

It was at the party that we overheard the town name. It was so far removed from the phonetic rendering that we didn’t even realize at first what they were saying. But ever after when I see that name I remember that night, that wedding party and “cur-coo-bree.”

Sad to say in Connecticut they pronounce Norwich as “nor-witch” and have the poor sense to call the Thames River just the way the word looks, long “a” and all.

34 thoughts on ““You Aren’t From Around Here!”

  1. In my youth, I holidayed in Crail with my school friend and learned early that Anstruther is Ainster locally, and Kirkaldy is pronounced Kurcoddy. I never even tried to get my tongue around Kilconquhar.

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  2. Kirkcudbright confuses the English even! What about Burgh by Sands or Brougham?…

    And don’t even start on ordinary words, which we English speakers (I include Americans and others): bow, bough, cough…

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  3. Elizabeth I have some interesting one’s for you.
    ‘Wagga Wagga’; a city here.
    And our capital ‘Canberra’ both always pronounced wrongly by international visitors.
    How would you pronounce them?

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      1. Most international visitors pronounce Wagga Wagga as Wag-ga-Wag-ga as in that of a wagging tail. It’s true pronouncation is Wog-ga-Wog-ga.

        With Canberra most international visitors pronounce it as Can-bear-ra, it’s true pronouncation is Can-bra 😊

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  4. Names are fun, aren’t they? Locally we have some ‘not from here giveaways’ with native names like Puyallup (Pew-al-up) and Sequim (S’kwim.) And I’ll never forget being in London some years ago, when the hotel clerk, pronounced my hometown, See-tul rather than See-at-tul, which rather burst my bubble about Seattle’s being known and loved around the world! 😉

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    1. I love See-tul. I would never have thought of that. Fortunately living in Oregon we grew up with the correct pronunciations of Washington places long before we saw the names in print. I was startled the first time I saw Sequim on a sign for instance.

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  5. I love accents and dialects. It’s one of the things that make language interesting. Even my Colorado brother says “or-ee-GONE” which strikes me funny as one of Oregon’s neighbors in California. I remember getting such a kick when visiting a friend out east who invited me to a “pahty” which in his mind was a party but in my mind was a potty. 🤣

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  6. Plenty of problems in NZ. Maori place names through plain English place names. Add in accents of a traveller and you can have heaps of different versions.

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  7. Accents and pronunciation can be very different, Elizabeth. I have had similar experiences to you, especially in York and Scotland. It brings to mind Henry Higgins words “why can’t the English teach their children how to speak.”

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    1. I love that line and am humming the song now that I have read your comment. My daughter was once in a stage production of “My Fair Lady,” a true delight to watch.

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