Fact: If you strike up a conversation with a fellow American, there’s no guarantee that the two of you are going to fully understand one another. Some words—like “hello,” “goodbye,” and “thank you”—are hard to misinterpret, but other, less frequently used words tend to become lost across borders, thanks to regional disparities and different pronunciations.
The next time you talk to someone from the other side of the country, take note of the way they say words like “bagel” and “mayonnaise.” Maybe you didn’t notice it before, but your cross-country comrades likely have vastly differing ways of pronouncing these everyday terms, and some of their elocutions might just surprise you. So read on to learn more about the subtle but shocking pronunciation differences across the country. And for more diction debates, check out the 30 Major City Names You May Be Pronouncing All Wrong.
Be careful how you pronounce the name of this state in front of a native Nevadan. Though inhabitants of the East Coast refer to the home of the Las Vegas Strip as Nev-AH-da (with an “a” like “odd”), the correct pronunciation—according to the state’s residents—is actually Nev-AD-a (with an “a” like “add”). Evidently, the incorrect pronunciation began to circulate after World War II, and has been almost impossible to rid of ever since. And to learn more about Nev-AD-a, read up on The Most Historic Location in Every State.
Depending on whom you ask, you could either embark on a “tore” of a city, or you could embark on a “too-er” of a city. Both the Merriam Webster Dictionary and the Macmillan Dictionary advise to pronounce it as “too-er,” but that isn’t to say that “tore” is wrong—it really just depends on what you were taught.
If you’ve stayed in one place for your entire life, then you might not even know that there’s more than one way to pronounce the word “roof.” But surprisingly, there are actually two common ways to pronounce this four-letter word. While people born and raised in the West tend to pronounce the word as if it rhymes with “hoof,” those from the East see it as rhyming with “poof.”
If you were to say the sentence “I feel merry about marrying Mary,” would your pronunciations of “marry,” “merry,” and “Mary” sound any different? Most Americans will find that these words come out to sound exactly the same—but if you’re from big cities in the Northeast, then it’s probable that the way you sound out each word differs, with “marry” taking on the same vowel as “cat,” “merry” taking on the same vowel as “pet,” and “Mary” taking on the same vowel as “fair.” And however you want to pronounce it, This Is the Age Most People Get Married in Every U.S. State.
Yet another state name that people outside of the West coast don’t know how to pronounce is Oregon. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not pronounced Or-a-gone, but Or-a-gen.
Research from Joshua Katz, a doctoral student in linguistics at N.C. State University, shows that while the West coast and Midwest pronounces the word “caramel” with two syllables like car-ml, the majority of the East coast sees the word as three syllables, pronouncing it car-a-mel.
Katz’s research also discovered that while most Americans pronounce the word “lawyer” in such a way that the first syllable rhymes with “boy,” Southerners emphasize the “law” in lawyer so the first syllable makes a “saw” sound. And for more dialect differences, don’t miss the 30 Words That Have Different Meanings Throughout the U.S.
What divides the country when it comes to “pajamas” is the word’s second syllable. Head to America’s Western and Midwestern states and you’ll find that the “a” in “pajamas” is pronounced like “jam,” but spend time in any Southern or Eastern state and you’ll hear an “a” as in “father.” And after you put on your pajamas (or pajamas), make sure to try these 40 Tips for Better Sleep on Summer Nights.
Could you pass the seer-up? No, but I can pass the sirr-up. Yes, the syrup vs. syrup debate is a sticky one, but both pronunciations are considered acceptable.
This delicious morning staple often covered in cream cheese has several ways of being pronounced, as it turns out. Most people—including New Yorkers, who are arguably the most knowledgeable on the matter—pronounce the word as bay-gull, but many Midwesterners botch the word to sound like bah-gull (just like they emphasize the “law” in lawyer).
Even locals can’t agree on how to pronounce the name of this city. Some people say New Oar-lins, others say New Or-leans, and some locals even add an extra syllable to make it New Or-lee-uhns. But whatever you call it, we can all agree that The Big Easy is one of The 50 Most Humid Places in America.
Most people pronounce the first syllable in the word “envelope” like “pen”—but if you ask around enough, you might find that one or two people pronounce the first syllable like “dawn.” That’s because the English word originates from the French word for envelope—enveloppe—which favors the latter pronunciation. And while either way of saying “envelope” is acceptable, these 20 Country Names You’e Mispronouncing are non-negotiable.
Some people, especially Southerners, see the word “aunt” and pronounce it no differently than the word’s homonym, “ant.” But others—particularly those in the Boston area—pronounce the word so that it rhymes with “daunt,” paying homage to the colonies’ former motherland.
The various pronunciations of the word “almond” originate back when many people were emigrating from Europe to the United States, bringing with them their native languages and thusly their own versions of various words. So you can call it an al-mond, an am-end, or an ahl-mend—but regardless of pronunciation, you’re still referring to the same thing.
Whether you pronounce the word “pecan” as pee-can or puh-kahn is more complicated than you think. When the National Pecan Shellers Association polled Americans about how they pronounced the name of the nut, they found that there were divides not just among regions, but within them as well. Their study concluded that there was no single pronunciation of the word designated for each area, with 45 percent of Southerners and 70 percent of North-easterners favoring “pee-can.”
As if the debate on what to call a giant sandwich wasn’t enough (Is it a sub? A hero? A hoagie?), Americans find it necessary to argue over the correct pronunciation of the sandwich’s condiments, too. Though there are some slight variations within regions, the general consensus is that in the West and Midwest, you’ll put may-uh-naze on your sandwich, and in the North and South, you’ll use man-aze. And to learn more about pronunciation discrepancies, read up on the 50 Designer Brand Names You’re Probably Mispronouncing.
“Ki-ote is a Colorado-Wyoming kind of pronunciation,” Andrew Cowell, director of linguistics at CU Bolder, told 9 News. “[But] if you come from the East, you’re much more likely to say ki-o-tee.”
Somehow, even three-letter words with one syllable have managed to take on several pronunciations. While the hefty majority of Americans pronounce the word “bit” like “sit,” there are some people (particularly in parts of Colorado) who say it like “bet.” (And since “bit” sounds like “bet,” “bet” then sounds like “bat.” It’s all very confusing.)
“Adult” is considered to be a “toilet paper roll” word. That is to say, whether you choose to pronounce it like add-ult or uh-dult, you are correct—just as you’d be correct in placing your toilet paper roll either under or over.
As the region is named after the Caribs (pronounced kar-ib), the technically accurate pronunciation of the word “Caribbean” is kar-i-bee-in. However, many people (some Caribbean natives included) prefer the pronunciation ka-RIB-ee-in, and so both dictions are relatively commonplace.
What do you call the food items that you purchase at the market? Gro-sir-ees, of course! But not so fast: If you’re from the Midwest, you might replace the ‘ir’ sound with an ‘sh’, calling your shopping haul grosh-rees instead. And to save money on your gro-sir-ees, or grosh-rees, or whatever you want to call them, avoid these 15 Grocery Shopping Mistakes That Are Killing Your Wallet.
Some people pronounce it cray-awn, rhyming with “dawn,” and others pronounce it cray-ahn, rhyming with “man.” According to Crayola, arguably the top crayon experts, the correct way to say it is the two-syllable cray-awn, but even they admit that there are too many regional differences to try and implement a single pronunciation.
Dialect differences have divided Americans into two categories: those who say ga-rah-ge, and those who say ga-ridge. But hey, however you pronounce it, at least you’re not calling it a car park!
When saying the words “mirror” and “mere” out loud, do you hear a significant difference? People from the East coast might be surprised to learn that the answer to this question for some people is no, as their pronunciation of the word “mirror” makes the word just one syllable, disregarding the “-or” altogether.
Given how many Americans are not native English speakers, it’s no surprise that so many are saying the word salmon with a distinguishable /l/ sound. In languages like Spanish and Italian, the /l/ in salmon is very much heard, and that often carries over into pronunciations for people who are learning English as a second language. In the case of this fish, though, there is only one right pronunciation, and it involves no /l/ sound whatsoever.
Nobody is denying that the word “museum” begins with a “mew” sound. They might, however, disagree over how the word continues to be sounded out, with some people favoring the pronunciation “mew-zee-um” and others opting for the pronunciation “mew-zam.”
The word mischievous is spelled so that it should be pronounced like mis-che-vous, but somehow a dialect survey from Harvard University found that over 26 percent of Americans pronounce the word with four syllables. Why? According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a variant spelling of the word with an -ious ending existed as far back as the 16th century, though today both this spelling and pronunciation are considered “nonstandard.”
You don’t pronounce the word “cool” with a /q/ sound, so you wouldn’t think to pronounce the word “coupon” with a /q/ sound either, right? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Though the word’s accepted pronunciation is the simple koo-pon, many a educated individual pronounce the first syllable of the word like “kyoo,” as if they’re sounding out the letter Q. And if you love coupons, then you’ll enjoy these 20 Easy Ways to Stop Wasting Money.
Wherever you travel to in the United States, you’ll find people who pronounce the word “poem” as both “pome” (rhyming with “home”) and “po-emme.” The pronunciation of this word is not limited to regions, but simply to personal preference.
Undoubtedly, Barack Obama is flourishing. But is he flore-ishing, fluh-rishing, or flurr-ishing? It really all depends on whom you ask. And to learn more about the states that make up this great nation, read up on The Weirdest Urban Legend in Every State.
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