You Say Toe-may-toe, I Say Toe-mah-toe

I’ve been thinking about how differently we all pronounce certain words. (I don’t know why. Just roll with me here) I often wonder why it is, really, that we DO pronounce them differently. Why is it that here in the US, when we want to apologize, we say “saw-ree” and you up in the north say “sore-ee”? We aren’t all that different, are we?

Then you get people in the same country… take a certain kind of pie that (most) people seem to like. I pronounce it “pe-CAHN”, whereas my friends down south pronounce it “PEE-can”. Then there is the word pie: I say “pyee”, and Southerners say “paaah”.

Sometimes it doesn’t seem to matter where you are from, you just pronounce it however your family does. Take the word creek. I am usually adament that it is pronounced “creek”, not “crick” as many people will. However, when I am talking about a certain small community in southeastern Idaho, it is most definitely Mink Crick. Even if it is spelled Mink Creek.

The town I used to live in during my high school years has a nice name: El Dorado. A beautiful, Spanish sounding name, right? WRONG!!! In that town, it is not pronounced “Elle Doe-RAH-doe”, as it is anywhere else in the world. Here it is “Elle Duh-RAY-doe”.

When I lived in Maine, you knew who the tourists were because they would call our little city “Bang-urr”. It is spelled Bangor, and it is pronounced “Bang-GORE”. Or, if you had a really thick, Down East accent, it is “Bang-ah”. Here in Arizona, the out-of-towners (or out-of-staters, really), pronounce Prescott wrong by saying “Press-SCOTT”. When you come visit, you will sound knowledgeable because I am telling you it’s actually pronounced “PRESS-kit”.

In Nevada, we say “Ne-VEH-duh”, NOT “Ne-VAH-duh”. Just to make that clear. When we moved East, we had to constantly remind people it is “Ore-e-GUN”, not “Ore-e-GONE”, and I don’t know why so many people can’t understand that the “s” is silent in Illinois.

So, pretty much, I’m thinking of place names more than other words. Hmm. What common mispronounciations do you hear where you are? Or what major differences have you heard (with neither actually being “correct”, just different) in your many travels?

23 responses to “You Say Toe-may-toe, I Say Toe-mah-toe

  1. Yep, so actually, it’s BANG-er, not bang-gor.


    I was confused about hearing 2 pronounciations my whole life, so I did the smart thing: surveyed most of the Mainers I know (which is quite a few) and it’s definitly bang-er.

    If I weren’t selling my linguistics books back, I would totally send them to you so you could read about the reasons behind accents, etc.

    • Shows what you know…. my Daughter in law is a died in the wool Mainer and I lived near Bangor pronounced Bang- gor….the one way they can tell if you are from “away ” is if you pronounce Bang-er…I don’t know who you polled…. but, I shopped in the aforementioned city for over 10 years…listened to local news…worked with…played with…lived with people who have been there forever…and not one of them ever said it that way…nor would they.

  2. When I was a student taking the buses and streetcars around Toronto (that’s TRAW-nuh, not Tuh-RON-toe), it always irked me that Roncesvalles was pronounced Ron-SUSS-vay-ul, and sometimes the ‘s’ on the end was pronounced too. (Oh, and Strachan is pronounced STRAWN. You need to know this when the driver is announcing the stops!)

    In England, my uncle laughed when we said we’d visited LEE-o-min-ster (Leominster) in our travels. He said, “You mean LEM-ster.” (How do you lose two whole syllables? And how are you supposed to know?)

    Closer to home, the little farming community of St. Agatha is pronounced Saint Uh-GATH-uh, not Saint A-guh-thuh as you might think.

    Well, I will stop now or I’ll be writing another whole post for you.

    • Actually, if you go there and listen to the locals who live there year round they pronounce it Saint A-guh-thuh. The town was renamed from Ste. Agathe in the late 1800’s – (From the towns website) -“Its official name St. Agatha was initially named “Ste. Agathe” by Bishop Healy as an autonomous parish in the lake region in 1889.” — “St Agatha was incorporated on March 17, 1899, the 466th town in the State of Maine. The town bears the name of the parish which had been established ten years earlier. The religious influence, which the community represents, was given the name — Town of St. Agatha after the Sicilian Saint of the third century.”

  3. My first jarring experience in regional linguistics will always be the strongest memory. It took me months of living in Southeastern Idaho to learn that the town in Norhtern Idaho of “CORE-de-lain” was actually “Coeur d’Alene.”

    When we lived in Virginia we lived in the town of Buena Vista. That’s “BEW-na Vista” for you uneducated who whink it’s a Spanish word. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Totally messes me up now, though, out here when I have to say “take the Buena Vista exit” and pronounce it properly.

    There are others, to be sure, but that will always be symbolic of my induction to a different region.

  4. The funniest one for me is actually still a hot spot between me and my hubby. I grew up eating in a very popular burger joint named “Artic Circle”. We called it the ARDIC Circle. Hubby insists on calling it the ARC-TIC circle. It is a utah/idaho thing ๐Ÿ™‚

    Oh and don’t forget to eat your CARN with your FARK then WORSH it. Welcome to northern Arizona, aka hick town.

  5. Hee hee I had to laugh at April’s last paragraph it totally reminded me of my grandma.

    Okay only one’s I can think of currently are from when I lived in Washington. Some people said warshington. Also a small town in Eastern Washington. Mesa. Yes, you would think spanish may-sa. You would be wrong. There it’s pronounced Mee-sa.

    There are some street names here in ABQ that bug me. Juan Tabo. I say Wan TA-bo. Most people say Wan Ta-BO. Another street name. Ouray. I say Eew-ray. Others say O-ray. I’m sure I could think of some others throughout the day. ๐Ÿ˜€

    • yeah as a new guy in ABQ that one bugs me too. All the news people say it. I wonder where that stress on the O comes from. They make it sound like verb
      Yo tabe , Tu tabaste, El tabรณ, you normally stress that last syllable in spanish verbs now the question is what the heck is “tabรณ”

  6. LOL! Tuh-MAY-toe, TOE-ma-toe…hehe.
    Actually I was just told a few weeks back that I don’t sound Canadian..the guy said “you sound like the most American American I have ever met”. Still not sure aboot that one. But then again, I came home from Scotland with a Scottish accent. What I don’t get is the entirely different names for things..chesterfield/sofa/couch…is there really a difference?


  7. No, Erica. It’s Bang-gore. Ask the right Mainers… the ones who live there. You were pretty little when we lived there. Do you even remember it? Just curious. I would be VERY interested in the linguist books!

    Karen– In England I was confused as to why Leicester Square is pronounced Lester Square. Same observatoin as yours: How do you lose entire syllables??

    April — Heh. Ches’ cousins call Artic Circle “AC/Greasy”. Maybe that will help in your family squabbles. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    PM — I say Core-da-laine!! Of course, French is so way beyond my comprehension, I probably would pronounce it right , even if the people of CdA do!

    ABQ — I was surprised you didn’t mention Puyallup, WA. That one gets most people.

    Kris — All I have to do is visit Canada and I come back sounding like a Canadian. I can’t imagine what would happen to me if we moved to Scotland!!

  8. Thanks for the Mink Creek comment! ๐Ÿ™‚ Just for those of you who don’t know, according to the dictionary, it can be pronounced Creek or Crick. Here in Mink Creek it is definitely Crick!

    Pronunciation drove me nuts when we lived in the Midwest. Right around where we lived were a lot of French named towns. Marsielles and La Salle for example. Having heard these names before, I would assume that they would be pronounced the same way they are in France. Not so! Instead of Mar-SAY, it’s Mar-sails. Instead of Luh-Sal, it’s LAY-Sal. Also, because of the Midwestern nasal accent, Ottawa was At-a-wa. All O’s take on a very nasal Aaa sound and it drove me nuts!!

    But hey, now I’m in SE Idaho with it’s own hick sound. Oh well, you can’t win!

    GO MINK CRICK!! ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. These Utah towns are just made worse by the lazy-tongued-accent (dropping t’s and such): Tooele (two-will-uh), Oquirrh (Oak-err), Toquerville (Toe-ker-ville), Panguich (Pain-gwich) and Hurricane (Her-i-cun).

    And of course, many Mormon influenced names (which people often butcher);…
    Lehi, Nephi, Ephraim, Hyrum, Lyman, Moroni, Joseph, Brigham City, Enoch…

    And there’s even a town names “Mexican Hat” (population 88).

    See this video,
    Or go to and search “Utah town names” to see the video.

  10. Right, Sariah, because I don’t know anything about how to pronounce anything, nor do my friends from ORONO know how to pronounce the town next door. mmhmm.

  11. heh, btw dudes, how would you pronounce worchester, massachusetts? pretty much everyone gets that wrong. same with tremont st, billerica, and faneuil.

    • I know, I know!!! It’s Wooster! I used to work for, and we talked to people from all over the nation that were very quick to correct us on pronunciation!

  12. Stop the Banger squabbling. As Sariah originally said, When you move there, you are yold that it is Bang- Gore. But those with the real down east accents [who may be the ones who told you that] actually say Bangeh–with a very softly spoken hard g.

    And El Dorado, Arkansas was on the original land grant map of 1775 spelled Eldoreado. So El Do-ray-do is not far off.

    Incidently, it took a vote to decide whether it should be pronounced Arkansaw or Ar-kansas.

    I could NOT believe my ears when I first heard of the pretty little college town of B’yuna Vista, VA. Or however they say it–I never could get it right.

    My own recent linguistic discovery is that in Dublin, Ireland, they say “youse” [plural for you] That’s how they say it in Brooklyn! So it came with the Irish during the potato famine! Yet my Brooklynite father and Irish principal had comunication difficulties! Oh, my Wi grandma said “draw” for that part you put your clothes in in the dresser, and my Irish teacher would talk about the past as opposed to these “modren” times.

    Ain’t English fun?

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