Pronunciation Nation

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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144 Responses

  1. maxl says:

    Highway, Freeway…but no Turnpike? Hero, Sub, Hoagie….but no Grinder? I don’t think this mapmaker has spent much time in New England, or at least not CT and MA.Report

  2. Mike Schilling says:

    It’s like how Arnold’s Austrian-influenced “Kahl-ee-forn-ee-a” is much closer to the original than what the rest of us say.Report

  3. Chris says:

    I apparently grew up right at the boundary of the major Lowland South salient into the Inland South dialect in Tennessee.

    When I was in high school, my school colors were maroon and white, which the cheerleaders loudly pronounced, “muh-rewn! waaaaht!” I dunno if that’s Inland or Lowland.

    Also, saying “pop” was libel to get you an ass kickin’.Report

  4. Jason Kuznicki says:

    Things I learned from that map:

    1. Tiny lobsters are tearing this country apart.
    2. My version of American English is a mutt. I’d thought it was midwestern.
    3. I called it “pop” as a kid but started calling it “soda” as an adult. I figured, wrongly, that it was an age thing.

    Certain older southern members of my husband’s side of the family will tell you that “pop” means “fart.” I certainly never heard that growing up in Cincinnati.Report

  5. Michael Cain says:

    I’ll admit that after my two years of graduate school in Texas, “y’all” as a convenience contraction for “all of you” did stay in my vocabulary for a long time. Usually when giving instructions to a group: “Y’all need to pay close attention to this next part.” Not stretched out like a drawl, just a useful plural form.Report

    • “Yaww” isn’t a word, but “y’all” should be in every dictionary.Report

    • kenB in reply to Michael Cain says:

      I use it that way too, and for the same reason. But even though I don’t drawl, people are wondering why I’m talking Southern. Then I have to explain that I’m clearly not using it in the Southern way, because in that case I would’ve said “all y’all”.Report

      • Michael Cain in reply to kenB says:

        Real story… My first semester in grad school at UT I was the teaching assistant for an introductory calculus class, which meant I got the 80-student class twice each week (UT did the big mandatory calculus classes in blocks of 80 students, each class with a professor and one graduate student). After the second week, a small group of students stopped afterwards to ask me to speak more slowly. One of them actually said, “You speak very clearly, we can hear you all the way to the back of the hall, and your accent is no problem, but we’re not used to listening that fast.”

        I’ve always wondered how big the differences in regional “pace” are, not just pronunciation.Report

        • trumwill mobile in reply to Michael Cain says:

          Of course people in the south move slower. Otherwise you’ll die of heat exhaustion.Report

          • Glyph in reply to trumwill mobile says:

            Plus anyone who’s spent time on I-10 knows that it takes FOREVER to get through Texas. This apparently also applies to words.Report

            • Chris in reply to Glyph says:

              Fact: a drive from New Orleans to Albuquerque was the inspiration for Zeno’s Paradox.Report

              • dexter in reply to Chris says:

                As someone who is making that drive in the morning I could not agree more. The only thing more boring than driving across north Texas is driving across south Texas.Report

              • J@m3z Aitch in reply to dexter says:

                Fact: The drive on I-10 from Santa Monica to Palm Springs on Friday afternoon is just as long as the drive on I-10 from Beaumont to El Paso.Report

            • Kimmi in reply to Glyph says:

              In Arkansas, you stop and have a chat when you meet someone on the road.
              … lets the dust settle, ya see.Report

              • Chris in reply to Kimmi says:

                True story:

                My son, raised in Central Texas, and I were traveling through Arkansas between Tennessee and Texas when he was about 6, and he began to be grumpy around Texarkana, so I decided to stop and get a hotel room while still on the Arkansas side. He was half awake as we walked into the lobby, where I got a room from the two nice local women behind the counter. As we were walking back to the car to drive around to our room, my son said to me, “Daddy, I think those ladies were speaking French.”

                Moral of the story: the difference between a Central Texas and Texarkana accent is so great that one might be mistaken for a foreign language when heard by speakers of the other.Report

              • Michael Cain in reply to Chris says:

                After the two years at UT in Austin, I was beginning to get fairly good about identifying which part of Texas someone was from based on the regional accents. Men speaking with a Houston-area accent were okay, but women with a Houston accent were like fingernails on a chalkboard for me. Enough so that my housemate with the peculiar sense of humor took to trying to set up blind dates for me with women from Houston, because he knew I was too polite to just walk out and would sit there and suffer through it.Report

              • Chris in reply to Michael Cain says:

                Women from McAllen, on the other hand… seriously, there is an accent down there that I am powerless to resist. Plus, the people from McAllen are almost Canadian-level nice.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to Chris says:

                McAllen is an interesting place. I’ve never been there and don’t know people from there. But the wife was contacted about several jobs down there that paid in excess of three times what she currently makes. So McAllen had our attention from that (though we subsequently discovered that they have an infamously bad medical culture down there).

                Anyway, what’s interesting about it is this: It’s dirt poor, but rapidly growing. How often does that happen?Report

              • Chris in reply to Chris says:

                Will, I don’t know if that happens often, but I bet it happens in border towns more than it does elsewhere, particularly when the area across the border is significantly poorer.

                McAllen is a neat little town. It almost feels like it’s several small towns placed on end, and vascillating between now and the early 60s. And I’m not kidding when I say the people are super nice, either. A lot of them have no desire to stay when they’re young, and end up in school or working in San Antonio or Austin. I used to meet a lot of them at alt country shows by Texas artists (Robert Earl Keen in particular; he must be really big down there… the road goes on forever). I’m still friends with a couple, and fondly remember others.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Michael Cain says:

                Our neighbors down in Texas live in San Antonio, but she’s originally from east of there, and he’s originally from west of there. One day while we were helping them plaster their house, she mentioned how crazy some of those “west Texans” talk (all this spoken in a super-thick Texan accent). She started giving examples, “oil” being one of them. Here’s what it sounded like to me: “We both grew up in Texas, but he says “ole” and I say “ole”. Isn’t that crazy? I mean, he says “ole”, not “ole”.” She thought this was absolutely hysterical. So did my wife and I.Report

              • Chris in reply to Stillwater says:

                In some places here, it’s pronounced closer to “owl” than the way you probably say “oil.” In others, more like “all.”

                My favorite Texas words: “Piller” = “pillow,” “ruff” = roof,” “winder” = “window.” Also, some Texans can’t help but pronounce the “h” in words beginning with “wh.” You know that commercial for Wheat Thins in which Stewie from family guy keeps pronouncing “wheat” wrong? Just like that. Though apparently the accents from West and East Texas are both dying off over generations.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                I struggled with the spelling. As a Yank I know how to phonetically spell “oil”: something like (oy-el) with the accent on the first syllable.

                But how the eff do you spell some of the Texas pronunciations? Oil is a good example. It’s somewhere between “ahll”, “erl”, “owl” and “ole”.

                Ohwl. The ohwl bidness.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                And I hope that West Texan never dies off. I fell in love with that accent right when I got down there (“Usetashould.” You can’t beat that.) though where I’m at is a sorta jumble from all over the state.Report

              • Will H. in reply to Stillwater says:

                I say “oil” like that; sorta like “awl,” but with more of a long O.
                I grew up fishing the Pecos River. I say it PAYK – us.
                When I went north, and heard people refer to the PEE – coas, I thought it was one of the stupidest things I’d ever heard.

                Most of what accent I have is that of West to Northern Texas (though I’m actually from Eastern New Mexico); but they would think I talk like a Yankee were I to go there, because I’ve learned to enunciate clearly.
                Or more clearly, depending on your view.Report

        • Pinky in reply to Michael Cain says:

          There are some Southern words that have an extra “dip” in the middle just because they take so long. In Michigan, on the other hand, no air is wasted between the beginning of a word and its ending.Report

          • Stillwater in reply to Pinky says:

            She told me man I come from way down South
            I’ve got a picket fence with a picket house
            And I don’t need no fast talking Northern man
            Like you aroundReport

    • Kazzy in reply to Michael Cain says:

      Y’all is great. I use it all the time.Report

    • Pinky in reply to Michael Cain says:

      The plural of you is yuzz. (I don’t even know which region I picked that up in. Maybe Western PA. Not yinz, though, which is definitely Pittsburgh.)Report

  6. Damon says:

    Well, not in the south, but where I come from “tour” is pronounced “tur”.Report

  7. Burt Likko says:

    You notice the deep blue color on the “What is ‘the City'” around California’s Bay Area? “The City” is San Francisco. They’re serious about that up there; you can hear the capital letters when they use the phrase.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Burt Likko says:

      “The City” is the name of the place. “San Francisco” is the name of the Giants and the 49ers.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        It’s rather sad, really. The place has less than a million people, and is a geographic flyspeck, yet they so desperately want to think of themselves as a city, rather than just a big town.Report

        • Mike Schilling in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

          Interesting criteria, since they’d lead to the same conclusion for Boston. Dallas, on the other hand, there’s a real city.Report

          • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Mike Schilling says:

            Boston’s not a “The City,” either. Really, in SF the phrase always struck me as just part of the place’s phenomenal self-absorption and provincialism. I’m just a farm town kid myself, but I’d spent enough time in Chicago to know what a city is.Report

          • Interesting. I would not have guessed that Boston had fewer than a million people. It’s smaller than Fort Worth. (Fun fact: Salt Lake City has fewer people than Boise.)Report

            • Mike Schilling in reply to Will Truman says:

              I know James is mostly teasing, but it’s kind of silly. The City has a first-class opera, ballet, and symphony, major-league baseball and football teams, and and a government which can match anyplace when it comes to corruption, graft, and gridlock.Report

              • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                When I moved to San Francisco it didn’t even have a library as big as that of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Even though it built a new one about 20 years, it still doesn’t.

                I’m not joking.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

                I’ve never been to Fort Wayne. Salt Lake City has a heckuva good public library.Report

              • trumwill mobile in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                And a place (bar?) called The Dead Goat, from what I hear.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to trumwill mobile says:

                My buddies and I used to hang out there, back when I lived in SLC in the late 80s. It was a beer bar, meaning it could serve 3.2 only. I think it’s closed and re-opened a few times since.Report

              • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                You’d enjoy Fort Wayne’s library and their ballpark. Probably not much else. (Although to be fair, it also has a decent zoo and good minor league hockey. Beyond that…well, give me time…)Report

              • Shazbot5 in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Fort Wayne’s main library is almost exactly the same size as the main branch of the SF public library, though the latter is in some very expensive and crowded real estate.

                The SF Public library has nearly twice as many branches, a larger collection, a significantly larger circulation, and serves more people.

                On this survey, both the Allen County and San Francisco Public Libraries rank 4/5 stars, but the former in a lower expenditure category and the latter in the highest category.

                Salt Lake City is a five star.


              • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Shazbot5 says:


                Fort Wayne has 1/3 of San Fran’s population. And San Francisco’s library was built on already publicly owned land with space available (civic center area) so the real estate cost is a misdirection. And based on population you might expect San Francisco to have more than twice as many branches (but that’s probably not fair to say, since SF is more dense and people can get to branches via public transit, while Fort Wayne’s has branches in widely scattered small towns out in the county).

                But comparing Fort Wayne to San Francisco, Fort Wayne’s not supposed to be comparable on these things, eh? Nobody ever sings, “Are you going to Fort Wane, Indiana…” and precious few people ever left their heart there.Report

              • Shazbot5 in reply to Shazbot5 says:

                Well, also Fort Wayne doesn’t have anything but a library, apparently.

                SF has an excellent library (4/5 stars) for its size. It is very densely populated with a reasonably large downtown and is quite heavily populated and surrounded by a very large metropolitan population. It is in the center of a major metropolitan area. It has major landmarks and tourist attractions. It has major museums and fairly decent public transportation. It has world class restaurants and multiple colleges and universities. It is also the home of Star Fleet Academy (and possibly Star Fleet Headquarters).

                Under what definition of a major city (in the U.S. anyway) SF isn’t a major city, is not the definition the st of us are using.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to Shazbot5 says:

                San Francisco is, of course, a city. But as far as being “The City”… it’s not even the most populous city in the area.Report

              • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Shazbot5 says:

                Shazbot, I don’t know what argument you think you’re making, but it’s sure as hell not a meaningful response to the one I was making.Report

              • Mr. Blue in reply to Shazbot5 says:

                I think Shazbot’s argument is “San Fransisco rules, Fort Wayne drools.”

                I did a job in Huntington, IN, and went to Fort Wayne whenever I could. Nice city. Very affordable. Seemed pretty safe, though I guess looks can be deceiving.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Shazbot5 says:


                True, but San Jose is nothing like a city. It’s grown a lot by annexation, and has bizarre tentacles in different directions, making it largely a collection of suburbs that happen to have the same mayor.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Shazbot5 says:

                And “On a warm Fort Wayne night” wouldn’t be utterly ridiculous.Report

              • aaron david in reply to Shazbot5 says:

                San Fransisco (city of my fathers birth) works because of San Jose. San Jose works just fine without SF.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to Shazbot5 says:

                Could you elaborate on that, AD?Report

              • aaron david in reply to Shazbot5 says:

                SJ is where all the used tire shops, small warehouses, HVAC companies etc are. All of the unsexy things that a city needs to survive, that all the worker ants use to get by. If for no other reason, SF is just too damn expensive. Much like Manhattan vs. the rest of NYC. except the really high paying jobs aren’t in the city, they are in the burbs (Google, Yahoo etc.)Report

              • Shazbot5 in reply to Shazbot5 says:

                James, I was arguing this was false:

                “It’s rather sad, really. The place has less than a million people, and is a geographic flyspeck, yet they so desperately want to think of themselves as a city, rather than just a big town.”

                SF is in competition with LA for being the most important big city in the U.S. west of Chicago. Define “city” or “important” how ever you want: culture, entertainment, art, food, attractions, museums, population density, being the center of a major metropolitan area, etc.

                And neglecting that SF’s population doesn’t technically include reasonably large surrounding suburbs (not even the East Bay) can make it look like it is a smaller city than it is.

                It isn’t as big or important as NYC, but it is in a class with Boston, Chicago, maybe L.A., etc.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to Shazbot5 says:

                My old college professor (this one) used to argue that what you describe would be the future. The cities would be places where people lived and many jobs were, but just as in yesteryear people had to go to the big city to have their big city needs met, people will have to go to the suburbs to have their car repairs or to go shopping (this was before Amazon was what it is).Report

              • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Shazbot5 says:


                It’s not in a class with Chicago or L.A. Maybe Seattle. And believe me, it’s the smug San Franciscans who ignore the rest of the Bay Area and pretend to be apart from it. But they all end up in Colma anyway.

                San Francisco is great in many ways. If only San Franciscans could be satisfied with those ways, and quit deluding themselves that they are the most important city on the west coast and the envy of the country. But, hey, I haven’t lived there in twenty years. Maybe they finally grew out of it.Report

              • Chris in reply to Shazbot5 says:

                We are all in some way or another going to Reseda someday, to die.Report

              • aaron david in reply to Shazbot5 says:

                Will, there is a great book you should read, called Edge City
                You would probably like the authors other book The Nine Nations of North America. One of those books that really changed how I look at things.Report

              • aaron david in reply to Shazbot5 says:

                ”But they all end up in Colma anyway.”
                I would bet only one in five people in SF even know what that means at this point. Although Chris seems to.Report

              • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Shazbot5 says:


                I figured it’s kind of a test. If you don’t get the reference to Colma, you’re not qualified to talk about San Francisco. I do take Schilling’s responses seriously (the dude’s been around there a lot longer than I ever was), and I bet he gets the reference.Report

              • Patrick in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

                You need a big library in Indiana. Ain’t nothin’ to do there but read.Report

              • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Patrick says:

                Let me show you around; I’ll wager I’d send you back home with great affection for the place.Report

              • Chris in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

                James, have you ever been to Nashville, IN?Report

              • Patrick in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

                I’m being facetious, of course; I think there’s culturally interesting stuff everywhere.

                But that does include The City 😛Report

              • J@m3z Aitch in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:


                I’ve been through it, but don’t actually know the town. It’s a beautiful area, though, especially in the fall. But being from TN, you know what I’m talking about there.Report

              • Chris in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

                James, the parents of one of my best friends in high school moved there in the late 90s, and when I was visiting IU once, I stayed with them in their wonderful log cabin in tbeautiful little town.Report

              • J@m3z Aitch in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

                The state park immediately adjacent, Brown County State Park, is one of Indiana’s true gems; one of the two by far most beloved state parks. And whenever, once upon a time, they cut the roads through its hills, they did a brilliant job–everywhere they have a pull off to look out over the area they put it where you can’t see any other roads or human structures, so it looks like you’re in the middle of a primeval forest that stretches for hundreds of miles. It’s an illusion, but a delightful one.Report

              • Will H. in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

                I thought La Porte was a really nice place.Report

  8. Bad-Ass Motherfisher says:

    Well, the South has always pronounced “nigger” correctly…Report

  9. Plinko says:

    My favorite part of the dialects map is the reference to the dialect in my current home:
    “Classical Southern (simple r-droppers)”.

    The lines delineated for the region of my upbringing, right on the line between ‘Inland North” and “Western North”, with the “North Central” right nearby is pretty accurate to discernible accent differences for different parts of Wisconsin.

    On the whole Southern thing, it’s interested me for a while how Northerners who move to the South (like me) seem to have their accents affected by the move to a much greater extent than Southerners who relocate North.
    My not-very-well fleshed out theory is that those who speak fast feel an subconscious pressure to slow down in order to be understood when surrounded by people with a drawl, even though it’s probably not necessary. Meanwhile, Southerners surrounded by the syllable-clipping Northerners know full well speeding up isn’t going to make a difference in understanding them at all.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to Plinko says:

      I can attest to your theory. There’s something very awkward about being a Yankee in the South, clipping out those harsh quick syllables when everyone else is just … drawlin. It’s sorta disconcerting. Problem is, there’s no way for a Yankee to slow down without sounding condescending. Southerners can talk both ways, fast or slow. Us northernes are handicapped in that.Report

      • Chris in reply to Stillwater says:

        There’s something related. When I moved to Lexington, KY for college, I got a lot of ribbing, and sometimes just straight insults, for my Tennessee accent, which was moderately heavy. More evidence that Kentucky ain’t the South. Hell, once you get north of Mumfordsville, the accents sound like Indiana or Ohio (but the southern Kentucky/Bowling Green accent is perfect). Anyway, I suspect most southerners who’ve been outside of the South have experienced this. People mock southern accents. And while I’ll occasionally make quips about how she says “quarter,” virtually no one down here or back in Tennessee makes fun of my girlfriends Queens, NY accent.

        Though I bet you, Still, and other yankees who’ve been down here have encountered this immediately upon opening your mouth: “Where you from?”Report

        • Will Truman in reply to Chris says:

          I tend to think of my accent as relatively marginal unless I’m drunk or nervous or need to dial it up for some reason (though perhaps everybody at Leaguefest was thinking “Man, what a hick!”), so I’ve been spared the mockery.

          The speed-of-mouth thing is actually interesting. I have a tendency to talk too fast. To the extent that I do have an accent, it’s more twang than drawl and the latter is more what slows speech down. It might be a tribute to my upbringing – or simply the fact that I am hard-of-hearing – that I am not good at hearing other people when they talk fast.Report

          • Chris in reply to Will Truman says:

            You’re from North Carolina? Or am I just making that up?

            I’ve talked slowly since I was little, with a fair amount of disfluency, but since I worked on my accent in college (which I now regret doing), I speak even slower and more deliberately. It drives my son insane, and he’s from friggin’ Texas.Report

          • Patrick in reply to Will Truman says:

            Dude, if you sound like I hick I sound like an idiotic surfer Californian.Report

      • zic in reply to Stillwater says:

        Just try being from Maine. WE sound like Ted Kennedy, but more. Downeast Ayuh. The ‘A’ in that isn’t really an ‘A’, that actually makes it sound southern to my ear, draws it out wayyy too much. It’s really more a roll in the back of the tongue as slide the ‘Y’uh off the top of your mouth. The ‘H’ on the end of lobster a similar thing; it doesn’t replace the ‘R,’ it ends ‘A’ in lobsta; not an ‘A’ like in gangsta, but an ‘A’ with an ‘R’ implied.

        I’m sure everyone here knows by now that I’m dyslexic; the way the letters in words look don’t do much for me, spelling I grapple with every day. So on my first ‘professional’ assignment as a computer programmer, not too many years off the farm in Maine, I had to write a COBOL program to generate a ‘Quaterly Report.’ That’s how I heard it; quarterly. It was so humiliating that I immediately set out to leave Maine behind.

        For a good long time, folk thought I was British. As I re-learned how to speak, I went to some of the clearest verbal memories I owned — Beatles music.

        So I agree; Southerners can talk both fast and slow. From the Northeast, it’s clipped or more clipped. Or British. A lot of the northeast coastal accent is closer to the English people spoke in England a few hundred years ago then the English spoken in the UK today.Report

  10. Patrick says:

    How the hell do you pronounce “Pa JAM ahs” if you don’t pronounce it that way?Report

  11. Brandon Berg says:

    I wish I had a monitor big enough to read that map without scrolling.Report

  12. It’s interesting that they don’t have the actual correct pronunciation of caramel (it’s like care-amel).

    Also, since when is “ben” a “Canadian” way of saying “been”. Either “bin” or “bean” is all I’ve ever heard. (But, of course, to suggest there is one Canadian way to say things is like saying there’s one ‘Murriken way of saying things).Report

    • Will H. in reply to Jonathan McLeod says:

      I’ve known people from Alberta & Winnipeg that pretty much sound American, except for certain turns of phrasing.
      I think the “Canadian” accent is more of an Ontario thing.Report

  13. Kazzy says:

    Okay, I finally got to look at all these…

    Mary/Marry/Merry are indeed vastly different words. Much the same way that you can say “Sara(h)” and “Tara” in a multitude of ways.

    I only realized the sneaker/tennis shoe thing today when my friend from MD called and asked for a pair of the latter. I told him to go fuck himself.

    My “mayonnaise” choise wasn’t listed: I say “may-naise”.

    I’ve learned that “slaw” and “y’all” are vastly superior to any Northern semi-equivalent.

    You are all wrong. I am right.Report