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Home » Culture and Criticism

Pronunciation II: Home Sweet Wilkes-Barre Or Nogales

Submitted by on February 29, 2008 – 10:40 AM252 Comments

My apologies to central and western PA, but for years, I thought they were two different towns: Wilkes-Barre, pronounced "Wilks Bar," and "Wilkesbury," like the Traveling Wilburys.

And if someone could please remind me how "Nogales" is pronounced, I'd appreciate it.

My PA family members always said "LANK-uh-ster." Newark, NJ is "Noork"; Newark, DE is "New Ark."

Anyone here from the Vincennes, IN area? How do you pronounce "Vincennes"?

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252 Comments »

  • Lincoln says:

    I've always pronounced it "no-GAL-ez", and I grew up in Tucson. But according to the following site, it's "no-GAL-iss".
    http://phoenix.about.com/cs/phoenixfactsfun/ht/pronounceplaces.htm

  • Lisa says:

    Vin-sins.

    Isn't Wilkes-Barre pronounced "Wilkes-Barry?"

  • Tisha_ says:

    Here in Oklahoma we have a town named Miami… but it's pronouced My-Am-Uh.

  • Margaret in CO says:

    Older native Coloradans mispronounce two of our cities & it never fails to make me smile. Buena Vista = bway-na Vista….they say BYOO-na Vista.
    And Puelbo = Pweb-lo…they say PEE-eb-lo.

    Sars, I'd tell you it's No-gahl-is, but sheesh, maybe that's just the way older Colorado natives say it, so whaddo I know?

  • Diane says:

    I can't tell you how to pronounce Nogales or Vincennes, but if Indiana is anything like Ohio, it may be painfully literal … I lived in OH for a few years back in the late 80s/early 90s, and I'm STILL not over the town of Versailles. "Vur-sails."

    It still makes me shudder.

  • Steph says:

    I'm not an expert by any means, but when I was in Southern Arizona earlier this year, everyone there referred to Nogales as "No-GAH-lays".

  • liz says:

    Don't know about Nogales, but Miami, Oklahoma is "Miam-uh" as opposed to "Miam-ee."

  • Sars says:

    @Lisa: Right. But which syllable gets the emphasis?

  • Genny says:

    You have not truly encountered fucked up phonetics until someone tells you that "Taneytown" is actually pronounced "Taw-knee town", and they're right.

    Maryland, my Maryland.

  • Go Amie says:

    You won't offend many western Pennsylvanians by mispronouncing Wilkes-Barre ("wicksbarry" as often as it is "wilksbarry"), but you might offend the eastern Pennsylvanians. :)

    There's a Berlin, Wisconsin whose pronunciation changed from the expected to "BURR-lin" during one of the World Wars.

  • Cindi in CO says:

    @Margaret, the way you pronounce those two cities is the way we natives tell if your an import or not. :)

  • Marian says:

    I'm not from Vincennes, but from the other side of the IL/IN border, several counties up. Given the way Midwestern cities mangle French, I'm going to go with Vin-SENZ.

    In my home county, there's a town called Bourbonnais (Bur-bun-AY) that got mangled into Bur-BONE-is. My parents always said you could tell the old-timers from the newcomers by how people pronounced it. (The old-timers, of course, did the mangling.)

  • LynzM says:

    @Sars – in my experience, emphasis on the second syllable – Vin-SINS / Vin-SENS.

  • solaana says:

    That's like Worcester, MA – apparently pronounced Wooster, but my friends and I just started calling it Wookus out of frustration.

    I think it's Vin-sen, (rather than Vin-sens) but I haven't thought about that place in a long while.

  • Nomie says:

    My hometown's name is mispronounced by everybody except natives. (That'd be Am-erst, not Am-HERST. The H is silent!)

    I had friends visit me here in Jersey and they were telling me that it seemed dumb to have "Newark" and "New York" right next to each other. But they don't sound anything alike! Noork and New York!

  • Kerry says:

    There's a Buena near Vineland, NJ that's pronounced "Byoo-nah."

    And there's a Mantua, NJ, but I'm not sure if those who say "MAN-choo-ah" are being lazy, or those who say "Man-TOO-wah" are just being weird and particular.

  • lauren says:

    The younger Arizonans i know pronounce it "no-GA-less," but in the same way Californians rarely say "Tijuana" (it's TJ), they wouldn't say "Nogales" – it's "No Go."

  • Anne-Cara says:

    LANK-as-ter is in PA, LAN-cas-ter is in England. Clearly.

    Oddly, I wouldn't have identified Noork/Newark as being a PA thing, though; I'm a Philly girl, but I got it from my parents, who are Bergen Co. born and raised.

    Wilkes-Barre, though…I only learned it was pronounced "Wilkesbury" from hearing Harry Kalas discuss minor league games back before the Phillies let Scranton/Wilkes-Barre fall into the hands of the Yankees.

  • Cara says:

    The second syllable gets the emphasis, so it's pronounced "vin-SINS."

    But I'm from Illinois, so you might not want to take my word for it.

  • Janice says:

    Hee! Sars, your family's spot-on. That difference in LANK-uh-ster versus LAN-caster is how you tell the natives from the tourists–at least according to my husband's family.

    Most embarrassing pronunciation in the Pittsburgh area? North Versailles is not North Ver-sigh, it's . . . North Ver-SALES. I never thought anything of it, since it was up the road from where I grew up, but it strikes folks with any French at all as utterly hysterical.

  • Smash says:

    I'm going with the L.A. Confidential pronunciation, and guessing it's "Vin-SENZ."

    The city Buena Vista in southwestern Virginia is pronounced "Byoona Vista" by the locals.

    In Manhattan, is it true that Houston is pronounced "How-ston?" I remember someone telling me that once when they were explaining SoHo.

  • Courtney says:

    I've lived in Eastern Pa for ten years and I've always heard it prodounced "Wilks Bar". I was taught to pronounce Lancaster properly you have to try your best to make it two syllables

  • Paula says:

    What about all those misguided Texans saying "Hues-tin" instead of "Hows-ton" (Houston)?

    (I know, I know. I'm pulling a NY trumps TX move. Which it does.)

  • Linda says:

    You're correct about Newark, DE.

    I'd write it as No-GAH-lace. But as long as you don't say "no-GALES," I think you're fine.

  • upstairs girl says:

    When I lived in Pennsylvania, most of the people I worked with pronounced it "Wilkesbree" or "Wilkesberry," but on the radio, or the news up there, you'd definitely hear Wilkes-Bar, though, too, so I have no idea what the proper pronounciation is. We have a town in Massachusetts, Barre, which we say "Barry," so the whole thing is a total mystery to me. As to which syllable gets the accent… I think it's the first? As if you are treating the "Barre" part like the English placename suffix "bury"? But my recollection is that for people who say "Bar" or "Bur" it's much harder to tell which gets the accent, because they're almost separate words, at that point. I think. By far, not the weirdest place name or pronounciation in PA, that's for sure.

  • Jodi says:

    Its vin-SINS. Don't you just love Indiana cities.

  • Laura G says:

    I like hearing out-of-staters trying to pronouce "Schuylkill Expressway." You'd think "expressway" would be easy to pronounce! (I kid…)

  • Rachel says:

    This is fun, because as a Central PA native, I can always tell who else is from the way they say Lancaster. We're the only ones who say it like that, all the other Lancasters are pronounced in a more… standard way.

  • Sars says:

    The Vincennes natives in my family pronounced it VIN-sins. Don't know why.

    The Amherst graduates I know pronounce it "Am-urst." Amherst, NY natives may pronounce the "h," though.

  • JJ says:

    Like Maggiecat from the last pronunciation thread, I'm from Ahia ("Ohio" to lay people).

    We say:

    -Lima (like the bean)
    -Medina ("muh-DINE-ah")
    -Mantua ("man-away," if you say it like the rest of the world does we have no idea where you're talking about… really. no idea.)
    -Findlay ("finlee")
    -Mentor ("menner")
    -Solon (like "colon" but my friend who recently moved here from MN thought it should be pronounced like "cologne" or "salon" based on the way it's spelled… maybe it's her?)
    -Cuyahoga (should be pronounced "ky-uh-HOE-guh" but for some reason we all say "cuh-HAWG-uh," although admittedly "cuyahoga" is not really a univerally known word)
    -Tuscarawas (the correct way to say it is "tusk-a-RAW-us," but invariably people "tusker-werrus," some other garbled mess. also, ditto this not being a very commonplace word)

    My BF is from SC and is consistently flummoxed by the regional dialect and pronunciation of place names. This from a southerner :P

    I personally love the millions of weirdly named tiny burgs in PA, and "Pittsburghese" is one of my favorite regional dialects… it just amuses me!

  • SKiP says:

    Howdy Paula! That'd be "YOU-stin" if you're from there and "HUGH-stin" if you ain't.

    Don't mess with Texas. ;)

  • lauren says:

    @Smash:

    In Manhattan, is it true that Houston is pronounced "How-ston?" I remember someone telling me that once when they were explaining SoHo.

    Ayup. That's actually the quickest way to get directions if you're lost on the subway: Mention "Hew-ston Street" aloud, and ten locals will immediately correct you (politely), then get you wherever you're going to demonstrate how well they know the city.

  • drsue says:

    Just west of Salt Lake City, UT is a town named Tooele, pronounced too-WIL-la. Most newcomers to the state want to pronounce it Tool-E.

  • Laura says:

    Occasionally, I'll slip up and say "Howston" in Texas, which does nothing for my attempts to fit in with the natives.

    There's a county around here called Montague. I once pronounced it "Mont-a-gyoo", and provided some entertainment for my coworkers–it's "mon-tog"

  • ambient says:

    Yes, it *is* LANK-uh-ster, PA and New-ark, DE. I love you Sars for knowing how to pronounce all my hometown places!!

    My fav butchered pronunciation is from my study abroad in England. In traditional French-hating style, the locals intentionally pronounce Belvoir Castle as “Beaver” Castle. Sigh.

  • sam says:

    I only learned the wilkes-barre thing when I went to school in Philadelphia. My other favorite PA spelling/pronunciation wonder? The Schuykill river (pronounced "SKOOL-Kill"). Recently I was watching some TV show/movie that was supposed to take place in philly, and they pronounced the w-b the wrong way. it made me a little mad.

    But my favorite pronunciation ever is Chili, NY (near Rochester). A friend from college grew up there, and it was very important to explain that it was pronounced "CHY-lie", and not like the bad chain "mexican" restaurant..

  • Sarah says:

    Oh, Pittsburghese is the best! My native tongue, sigh.

    Don't forget the name of the state itself: Pencivania. Or just PA, if you really want to mark yourself as a native.

    Pittsburgh sometimes becomes Picksburgh as well.

  • Zeph says:

    In New Mexico, where everyone speaks Spanish, we say "No-GAL-es". But then, our town of Madrid is pronounced "MA-drid," so go figure! (And if you're wondering, the town of Truth or Consequences is pronounced "T-'r-C." :)

  • Shannon says:

    I live in Southern California and a friend of mine insists on pronoucing Hawthorne as Har-thon

  • Lisa says:

    My parents graduated from Vienna High School in southern Illinois. VIE-anna, not VEE-anna, btw.

    Here in Arkansas, we have Desha (Dee-SHAY) County and Nevada (Nuh-VAY-da) County. Those pronounciations weed out the non-locals, let me tell you. (Coming from someone who said DEE-sha and Ne-VAH-da.)

  • Jenna says:

    I'm so happy to see the Newark, NJ and Newark, DE difference.

    Really, being fro Delaware, it warms my heart to see my homestate mentioned outside of a Wayne's World reference, with correct pronunciation to boot!

    I moved to Cincinnati about 2 years ago, and cannot, for the life of me, understand why some people say "Cin-suh-nat-uh". Can anyone explain this?

  • Smash says:

    @lauren: Thanks! Every time I've needed directions in "the City," New Yorkers have been insanely nice and helpful…almost like it's a citywide competition to disprove the reputation :) Contrast that to D.C., where we all grumpily stare at the tourists on the metro every morning who have the nerve to TALK while we're reading our newspapers on the way to our very important jobs…

    Also, for those who care, Thomas Jefferson's home is MontiCHello, not MontiSello.

  • Av0gadro says:

    I grew up near Vincennes. You would pronounce it vin-SENZ.

    If you had a Hoosier accent like me, you would pronounce it vin-SINZ. It took me five years after leaving Indiana to learn not to pronounce Pen the same as Pin.

  • Janna says:

    @ambient: "In traditional French-hating style…"

    Here on the Canadian prairies, it's all about the anglicising, to wit:

    Dauphin, MB = DAW-fin

    Montmartre, SK = MO-mart

    Notre Dame (any of them) = Note-err Dame (with a hard A)

    Y'all, we have a my-AM-uh here too! Maybe it would be faster to ask if anyone does NOT have one in their state?

  • Tarn says:

    We have a town here in Oregon named Aloha. But rather than the lovely lilting Hawaiian pronunciation you'd assume it comes from, it's pronounced "A-LO-uh." No "h." You really lose a lot when you lose the "h."

  • ash says:

    it's pronounced Wilkes-Bare where I'm from. (The Poconos. Urg.)

    No-Gahl-es, I believe.

  • Erin says:

    I grew up north of Scranton calling it WILKES-berry, though I did hear "WILKES-bar" on the radio from time to time. No consensus, then, though I did hear more of the former. 'Course, plenty of people around there also dropped the "t" out of Scranton.

    Giving directions in Philadelphia is a riot. Though I pronounce Schuylkill "SKOO-kull", no initial "L". "Take the SKOO-kull to the Blue Route" — say what?! You're not gonna find either of those roads listed on the map!

    The one bit of Philadelphia accent I've retained from my years near the city is, amusingly, the pronunciation of Philadelphia. Phi-uh-de-phia, more or less. I blame my sister for bringing home that gem.

  • Lynne says:

    Y'all need to wander around Canada for a bit. We have the whole range. In the prairies, the towns names are easy to pronounce but ridiculous [ as in Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump in Alberta and Ebb and Flow in Manitoba].

    In Quebec… no idea. Only French speaking people pronounce Montreal correctly, anyway. Anyone else who tries just sounds pretentious.

    But the Maritimes? They have Disneyland names out there. Antigonish, Truro, Gaff Topsails.

  • Leigh says:

    @sam: Slightly off-topic, but you got me started: The lack of (simple!) research that goes into even high-budget tv shows and movies always astounds me. I recently saw 3:10 to Yuma and was driven nearly to distraction by the "Bisbee" they portrayed at the beginning. Bisbee is (a) up in the mountains (b) a mining town and (c) at that time was the biggest metropolis between the Mississippi and San Francisco–it housed the stock exchange for the West, etc. But what did it look like in the movie? Well, it looked a lot more like Tombstone–some tiny dusty cowtown on a plain. I'm sorry, but would it really be that hard either to portray it properly or just use a different name? Even make up a name? It's not like there was any reason it had to be Bisbee. ARGH.

    Oh, and yes, it's No-GA-liss/No-GAH-less/No-GAH-lace etc. Anything approximating that is perfectly acceptable, depending on how much spanish you're trying to sound like you know.

  • sarah says:

    from an IN native:

    Vincennes = Vin Sins (equal stress on both syllables)

    here's a doozy for you…

    Versailles = ver SALES. Ver cy is a castle in France.

    Don't even get me started on the regional pronunciations of Louisville, KY….

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