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Home » Culture and Criticism

Pronunciation II: Home Sweet Wilkes-Barre Or Nogales

Submitted by on February 29, 2008 – 10:40 AM253 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”?




  • Emerson says:

    Don’t know if this thread is still going, but I’m one more in Delaware.

  • tixie says:

    @Margaret in CO…

    “Oconomowoc” is my favorite WI town to pronounce! I spent 2 years there working with towns and cities all around the state and they loved my Upstate New York mangling of their places…

  • La BellaDonna says:

    Carissa, it is indeed HOE – bo- ken; I’ve never heard anyone pronounce it ho BOE ken!

    Sih CAW kus, however, is correct.

  • Lily says:

    Yes, San Francisco is The City. No, there are no other cities. :-)

    I’d almost forgotten about Cabrillo. I grew up pronouncing it cah-BRILL-oh; eventually someone (not a local) tried to argue that it’s cah-BRIE-oh, because it’s Spanish. However, it’s not. It’s Portuguese. Another fine example of Americans screwing up a pronunciation even when we’re trying not to.

  • Katherine says:

    I see no one’s gotten around to Austin, TX weirdness yet. A couple of these are attributable to German antecedents, but I have no explanation for the other ones.

    Guadalupe Street is, for no particular reason, GUAH-duh-loop.

    Koenig Lane is KAY-nig.

    Mueller Airport is, if you’re an old-timer, Miller.

    Manor is MAY-ner. Obviously.

    Pedernales Falls, which is a short trip out of town, is PURD-uh-NAH-luss, where the “a” sound in NAH is like a nasal version of the “a” sound in BAD.

    If you drive out west into the Hill Country, you may encounter the town of Blanco, which is BLANK-oh.

    Also in the Hill Country, Luckenbach is properly pronounced LOOK-en-bahck.

    But the all-time champion:

    Manchaca (both town and road): MAN-shack.

    Seriously. MAN-shack. Occasionally newcomers will want to know what this man shack is that they’ve been hearing so much about.

    Also, I have to weigh in on a couple of the Okie things (since my grandmother’s family lived there.)

    The town of Tecumseh is Teh-CUM-sah, NOT Teh-CUM-see. We can talk about the name of the Shawnee chief, since Tecumseh is just a clumsy anglicization, but people are going to look at you funny if you ask for directions to Teh-CUM-see. At least they will if they’re old.

    Also, Ouichita sounds closer to WATCH-it-aw. I suspect it sounds more like WASH-it-aw if you’re in Arkansas.

  • Margaret in CO says:

    Johnny Carson used the city name Oconomowoc in some of his sketches – he never got it right!

    We mispronounce Galapago street here too – Gal-a-PAY-go. I don’t know why.
    (@Cindi – guess I outed myself as a WI-to-CO transplant, huh?)

    I love this subject – this is fun!

  • Megan says:

    @SKiP, I beg to differ.

    Lived there all my life, teach Texas history, and I can say that there is most definitely an H and not a Y at the beginning of the pronunciation, unlike the neighboring city of Humble, which is pronounced “umble.”

  • EAS says:

    @JJ: “Ever heard Montrose pronounced as “Mont Rose,” like 2 separate words?”

    Nope, but it never occurred to me that “MON-trose” would be an odd pronunciation until someone upthread pointed it out. So…FAIRmont or fair-MOUNT?

    “Ap-uh-LATCH-ian western MUR-lind?? ;)”

    See…now I’m confused. I grew up in Ohio outside Appalachia and was taught to say ap-a-LAY-shuh, kind of French-like.

    Then I moved to (northern) Appalachia for 5 years, and the natives all say Ap-a-LATCH-ee-uh. And yet other folks here are saying that’s not right?! Maybe it’s a north/south thing.

    @ New Orlean-ians…what’s up with Cokie Roberts? She says Noo ohr-LEENZ, and she’s gotten some of the other NPR people to say it that way. She’s a New Orleans native. So…what gives?

    I got schooled several years ago about N’awlins not being how they really say it in the city (I love Nuh Ohrlens) but right after Katrina I found a wonderful website that detailed the pronunciation of “New Orleans” street by street, ward by ward. Summary: There’s no wrong way. Or…every way is wrong. Somewhere, someone on some street in some quarter of the city is pronouncing it your way. /nod. Wish I could find that site again.

  • Caitlin says:

    @ Vanessa: you know you’re from Alabama when you just cal Tuscaloosa “T-town.”

    And Wetumpka. When my sister-in-law was little, she asked her mom what a “wet-UMP-ka” was. It wasn’t until later that she learned that it’s “wee-TUMP-ka.”

    And Lake Jordan…(JER-dan).

    And to all the racing enthusiasts (of which I am not)…Talledega. To the locals, it is not “tall-a-DAY-ga.” It’s “tall-a-DIG-a.”

  • Caitlin says:

    @EAS: I remember that website, and I can’t find it, either! I went to college with a boatload of people from NOLA, and every one of them pronounced it differently.

  • AE says:

    Just wanted to add to those commenting on the pronunciation of Worcester, MA. It’s only “Wooster” if you keep in mind that it’s “woo” as in “wood”, not as in “woo-hoo.” And please, please, please don’t try to call it “woostah” if you don’t naturally have a Worcester/Boston/similar New England accent. It may sound like that to you when the locals pronounce it, but you will just sound silly. Keep the R.
    (From a central MA native who had to deal with out-of-staters saying “wooostah” way too many times. Like fingernails on a blackboard. Especially when they think they’re being funny. )

  • Katy says:

    Arriving late, but this is still fun.

    I grew up in Cincinnati, and it wasn’t until this thread that I realized “Anti-awk” for Antioch is weird. And I’m sorry, but I heart “Ver-SAILS.” Just blame “Cin-cin-nat-uh” on laziness.

    I work near a Clough Pike, and, yes, it’s pronounced “Cluff.” That I don’t get.

    And for all those trying to pronounce the lovely city in KY, just cram all the syllables in at once. Loo-uh-vool.

  • Elizabeth says:

    Louisville, KY is *not* pronounced Lou-ville or Lou-vuhl, though the latter pronunciation is a common mistake made by people trying to sound like natives. The correct pronunciation is LOU-uh-vull. Three syllables. The last two syllables tend to blend together but trust me, there are three syllables total. Occasionally natives will pronounce it “Louie-ville,” usually people who talk to non-natives on the phone a lot re: work and get tired of explaining where Lou-uh-vull is.

    KY and NC both have a Rowan County. But in KY it’s “ROW-uhn,” first syllable rhymes with cow. And in NC it’s “row-ANN,” first syllable rhymes with go.

    It’s funny that re: Wilkes-Barre people are distinguishing between “Berry” and “Barry” for the pronunciation, since I say both of those words exactly the same way. (native Kentuckian)

  • Elizabeth says:

    “But it’s more “Loo-uh-vuhl,” and the real native experts say all 3 vowels the same, as in “Luh-uh-vuhl.””

    NO!!! You were right the first time. LOU-uh-vuhl is correct. I have lived here for 30 years and I promise promise promise you that not a single native says “luh-uh-vuhl.” I promise.

    love, Native Louisvillian

  • Lori says:

    Word to the Philly peeps!

    Though some of us call it Filthadelphia. And not because we’re mispronouncing it.

    Carissa, you’ll never forget the proper stress in SeCAUcus once you’ve recited the immortal words of Jersey poet X. J. Kennedy. The line won’t scan if you don’t say it right.

  • Leigh says:


    I live in Tucson and I hear Tempe pronounced both ways too, by natives. I hear TEMPe MUCH more frequently, though…Ah, well, the book “Arizona Place Names” (get it, it’s fascinating!) says Tempe was named after a “lovely vale in Thessaly, celebrated by the classical poets” and also that “the word is not Spanish, and should be pronounced as spelled: Tempee.”

    That…doesn’t really help, though, does it? Anyone know their Greek?

  • CGHill says:

    Beaufort, South Carolina, is indeed “BYOO-fuht.”

    However, Beaufort, North Carolina, is “BOH-fuht.”

  • Rachel says:

    Ah, Ponce de Leon Avenue in Atlanta. Home of the first-ever Krispy Kreme, by the way.

    But I think my favorite Georgia butchering of a name is the Augusta suburb of Martinez — pronounced MAR-tin-ez.

  • Rachel says:

    There’s a suburb of Augusta, Ga., called Martinez. It’s pronounced MART-nez.

  • Liz says:

    @Margaret in CO
    I’d say we mispronounce Galapago because that’s the rule for all streets in Denver west of Broadway. If you want to see someone from New Mexico blow steam out of their ears, just pronounce Acoma St. “ah-CO-mah”. Drives them crazy (the NM, and one presumes Acoma Pueblo pronunciation is “ACK-uh-muh.”

    Along those lines of putting the accent in weird places, my favorite when I lived in San Francisco was cle-MENT street. And Sepulveda is a Spanish family name–in Spanish there’s a handy accent over the u to clue you into the emphasis, but the accent was lost in translation. Just like the accent over the first A in Los Angeles, which is why at least the accent is right, and it’s not “lahs an-JELL-ess.”

  • Jenna says:

    @ Kelly C. — I’m sure that we know one another, or maybe parents/siblings work together. Or we’re somehow related. One of the three.

    @ Katy — Thanks for clearing up the Cinsuhnatuh issue for me.

  • Sarah says:

    @Risha: The Swarthmore/Swathmore thing is totally a town-gown distinguisher. I went there, and all the students pronounce it Swarthmore (probably because the majority of them aren’t from the area). I’ve come to kind of think of the college as “Swarthmore” and the town as “Swathmore.” But it’s a little like telling someone who goes to Harvard that they should be pronouncing it “Hah-vahd” because that’s how the locals would.

  • Amy says:

    In New Mexico the local pronounciation is more about emphasis.

    We have:
    Santa Fe = SANtafay (all one word)
    Los Alamos = LoSALamos (all one word)
    Cordova = CORduhva

    Or just Native American words:
    Taos = Touse (rhymes with house, has one syllable, but if you THINK the initial “T” as a seperate syllable but pronounce the word with only one syllable you get it perfect)
    Tesuque = Teh-SOO-key
    Pojoaque= Poh-WAH-key

  • Annie says:

    @Mollie: “If I have to actually go to the place to find out how to pronounce it “right,” and there’s a general consensus elsewhere that disagrees, then is the local pronunciation still “right”?”

    As a native Nevadan, I would yes, the local pronunciation is the “right” one. The entirety of the U.S. may say “Neh-vah-duh,” but that doesn’t make it correct. It’s “Neh-vaa-duh.” Short ‘a’, like “cat.” Always. The other way, with the long ‘a’ sound, makes our teeth itch.

  • Sarah says:

    @Sarah – Heh. I’ve never noticed that the student population pronounces the college with a R.

    Digging around on the website produces an actual paper on the topic –, which notes the faculty drops the R while the students retain it. I’m not sure that I agree with all of their conclusions, but they could be right if they’re correct about the contempt that the student body holds for the locals. (If so – WTF? Swarthmore is pretty rich and is smack dab in the middle of a large cluster of rich suburbs. A good sized chunk of those local kids will be heading to ivy league schools.)

  • Amy says:

    In North Carolina they pronounce oil as “ol” as if there was no “i” and also say Buena Vista as “Byoo-na Vista.” In Maryland, I hear “Murr-lin.” And for some reason people are always pronouncing Norfolk, Virginia as “Nor-fuck” not “Nor-folk.” ??? I live back in Los Angeles now and that’s easy to pronounce: “Ell ay.”

  • Kristin says:

    I think most of the MO ones have been listed:

    Ver-say-uls (Versailles)
    Kay-row (Cairo)
    Nuh-vay-duh (Nevada)
    Santa Fee (Santa Fe)
    Creeve Core (Creve Couer)
    New Mad-rid (New Madrid)

    But I have another. There is a town with a major trout park, named Lebanon. Call it Leb-a-non and they’ll look at you like you have 2 heads. It is pronounced Leb-nin.

  • Jenny says:

    I love the Canuck ‘ pass-ta’ instead of ‘pah-sta’ GOR it drives me nuts.

    But then I get crick and Or-eh-gon from my grandparents. I have to reeducate them every time.

  • Elisa says:

    hey, don’t feel bad I’m a native of LANK-uh-ster and even I didn’t know that it wasn’t Wilks-barr until I was probably 20! Funny thing that I moved from lancaster to worcester, another perennial pronunciation favorite.

  • Emerson says:

    Sars, way up there, you mentioned Mainer accents.

    Since this very interesting thread is sort of about accents, you all may be interested in this site:

    I have to stay away from it at work or I’ll be a goner.

  • Bo says:

    When my sister was in med school she lived in BERwyn Illinois and we lived in berWYN Pennsylvania, which was coolly amusing.

    We’re from near KAY-ro Illinois and my mom used to say HARmones instead of HORmones. Made me crazy.

  • esque says:

    I grew up in Creve Coeur, which can be pronounced either “creeve core” or “creeve coor.” The latter is used by the upper classes and those who aspire to be part of them.

    In northern Florida and southern Georgia:

    Monticello, FL is pronounced “monti-SELL-o”, although I would love a movement to pronounce it “mon-TISS-ellow.”

    Havana, FL is pronounced “HAY-vanna.”

    Cairo, GA, home of the Cairo High Syrupmakers but not the home of Karo syrup, is pronounced “KAY-row.”

  • Tracey says:

    @ Lisa: “the weirdest high school mascot in America, the Centralia Orphans.” I got another weird Illinois high school mascot for ya, the Robinson Maroons (with Robinson sometimes pronounced :RAH-buh-sin).

    And another central Illinois thing, my grandfather always loved to get my out-of-state boyfriends to pronounce the name of this river–the Embarrass. Go ahead, try it. Nope, it’s the AM-bra. Ha, got them every time.

    When I was a kid, we went to Vincennes every Friday for dinner. We pronounced it VIN-sinz. Often, we ate at Bobe’s Pizza, where my parents got the Farauk pizza (fah-ROOK).

  • M. says:

    Chiming in for CA again (and, living in the SF Bay Area my whole life, San Francisco is definitely “The City”), I’m always fascinated by how we get some right (La Jolla, San Jose, Santa Rosa) and then butcher others (San Rafael, Paso Robles). And then there are some we get half-and-half: Vallejo = Val-AY-ho, instead of the Spanish pronunciation Vay-AY-ho. At least it’s not Vall-ay-joe.

  • Dave says:

    Whatever the linguistic (mother tongue) pronunciation of a town, the final word of correctness must issue from the locals, whose long history of evolving enunciation determines the name’s currently accepted form. Thus, California’s Paso Robles has been so pronounced (PASS-o-ROB-els) for generations.

    So it is okay to ‘butcher’ the name of this burg as much as you like. Roblans could care less.

  • Lori says:

    Probably a final note to this thread: I am assured that it’s BOY-see, not BOYZ-ee, that is Idaho’s capital.

  • Lori says:

    – But yet one more note: did anyone catch Jon Stewart last night bringing Wilkes-Barre into the discussion on The Daily Show?? He said it just right: wilks-barry – yay!

  • Christina says:

    I know some folks who grew up in a little town in CO where the water park was called “Ski-Hi”. Pronounced “Sky-High”, natch.

    @Sophia from way back, I am in SR. Do YOU know how to pronounce Yulupa?

  • Dave says:

    New Jersey has a lot of shibboleths.

    Matawan is “MAT-uh-wan”.
    The Goethals Bridge is “GAHTH-uhlz”
    It is the Outerbridge Crossing (“CRAWWW-sing”), not the Outer Bridge.
    AAA-vahn, not AYYY-vahn by the sea.
    Iselin is IZ-lin, not ICE-lin or eye-SELL-in.
    Kearny is CAR-nee, not KEER-nee.
    Kenilworth is “KEN-ull-worth”, all very separate, and its main street is Boulevard, not “the Boulevard”, not “Kenilworth Boulevard”. Are you listening to me, Google Maps??
    The town where Jon Bon Jovi was born is SAY-er-ville, not SARE-ville.
    Interlaken is AY-ken, not AH-ken.
    Manalapan is muh-NAAAAA-luh-pin.
    There is only one T in Trenton — the second one is a glottal stop. (TREN’uhn)
    Rahway is pronounced “RAW way”, unless you are the announcer at Penn Station New York, in which case it is “RAAAAAAA way.”
    Paramus is “puh-RAAA-muss”, not “PARE-a-muss”.
    Wyckoff is “w-EYE-kawff”, not “wick off”.
    Metuchen is “muh-TOUCH-inn”, not “METT-uh-chin” or “muh-TOO-chin”.

    Nearby we have “STAAAA’uhn EYE-lent”, as in “Help, I’m stuck in STAAAA’uhn EYE-lent, and I can’t find public transportation. Or restaurants.”
    “The Bronx” requires the definite article.

  • Eric says:

    Here in Tennessee we have a town named Lebanon, pronounced Leb-uh-nun (alternately some folks shorten it to Leb-nun).

    We also have a street named Buena Vista (pronounced Byoo-nuh Vista) that still makes me wince every time I hear it.

  • Steve says:

    We can tell the NYers visiting by the pronunciation of Connecticut. cuh-net-i-cut by us versus kin-net-i-kit by them.
    Wolcott is WOOL-kit, not Wall-cott like in Iowa
    Greenwich = GREN-ich
    Southington is suth-ing-ton
    New Haven is nu’WAVIN
    New Britain = new brit’n (or New Britsky referring to the large Polish population)
    Naugatuck by natives is a really fast “naw-g-duck”
    Tolland = TAH-land, not tohl-land
    Coventry = CAH-ventry, not CUV-entry
    East Haven = St’aven
    Groton = GRAH-t’n
    Ledyard = LED-jurd
    In the old Yankee accent, Farmington = fahm-ing-ton, Windsor = winza, Hartford = hot-fud

  • Fred Puli says:

    I’m British and can explain Norfolk as ‘Nor-fuck’ and Worcester as ‘Wooster’ The ‘woo’ being ‘woo’ as in wood not ‘woo’ as in ‘to woo’. These are English place names, the first is a county and the second is a city.

    They are pronounced ‘Nor-fuck and ‘Woo-ster’ here. Nobody here has ever called them Nor-folk and Worr-sess-ter’ as American visitors do !

    One day you’ll learn that Derby, as in the city here, original horse race, the Derby, from which the Kentucky one is named, is pronounced Darr-bee not Durr-bee !

  • Fred Puli says:

    Oh, and Greenwich is a place near London. It’s pronounced GREN-ich, just as natives of America’s Greenwich pronounce the name.

  • Fred Puli says:

    One more (never realising that Americans pronounced it any other way). Steve’s ‘Wind-za’ is how Windsor, Berkshire, and the House of Windsor, The Queen’s family, is pronounced.

    Coventry, Warwickshire, is, however pronounced ‘CUV -entry’ (if you are both old and posh) and COV-entry (if you are anyone else) here

  • Neva says:

    I grew up in Beaucoup, IL on a piece of property which has the headwaters of Beaucoup Creek that runs throughout Southern Illinois.

    And there we call Beaucoup, Buck koo.

    Also, there was a famous, or some say infamous, train incident in Beaucoup, IL It was here where Thomas Dewey, the man who ran against and lost to Harry Truman in the 1948 Presidentail election, called the engineer of the train some expletives when he backed up into a crown of people gathered for a whistle stop for Dewey. It is one of the things which contributed to Deweys’ loss to Truman.

  • Rich says:

    in the st. louis area there is a burb called Bellefontaine Neighbors pronounced Bell – Fountain saying anything else will get you quickly corrected, or possibly beaten up it has happened. Sauget, IL pronunced SO-zhjay with a very fake accent, its where all the strip clubs are. Then there’s this little burg out a ways called Sandoval, where I come from thats SAN-duh-vol here they say Sand-Oval like the shape, I believe this to be a racist thing not a carryover from an old country. Mueller is miller, Weiss is WE-sss reason is probably anti-semitism. Foppe is somehow Fuh-pee, and have heard Fuh-pay on occasion. If you couldn’t tell I loathe this place.

  • DaveInCampbell says:

    Helena, MT…

    Helena is pronounced “Hell-in-ah” like “Hell in a handbasket.” ;)

    It is NOT pronounced like “Hell-eena.”

  • Becky Kennedy says:

    How about “Kaskaskia”–as in the Indian name?

  • JennyMoo says:

    Another South Carolinian here, late to the party —

    I think someone mentioned Beaufort: “BYEW-fort” (South Carolina) and “BOH-fort” (North Carolina).

    And in addition to Clem(p)son and Sum(p)ter, the town of Clinton is pronounced “Clinnon” (or even “Clinn”) — no “t” and run the second syllable into the first. Lancaster is LANNKster (with a soft a), Cheraw is Shur-AW and Berea is BREE-uh.

    McBee is MACK-bee (not mick BEE) and Huger is you-GEE, and Beattie is BAY-tee.

    Also, Houston County, GA is HOW-stun, too.

  • Bea says:

    I used to go with Wilkes Bar/Bear/Berry. That seemed to cover all the bases.

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