City Names

Mike Salovesh salovesh at NIU.EDU
Sat Dec 4 00:21:37 UTC 1999

> I'm being a dumb Canuck here, but what's so funny about Beloit being
> pronounced "Bell Wah"? Sounds perfectly normal to me! Oh no! Don't tell me
> it's "Bell Oyt"?
> Barbara Harris
> U.Victoria, B.C.

Canada's policy of bilingualism is all very well, but it just doesn't
reach far enough to handle U.S. place names with French antecedents.

"Beloit" is pronounced b@'LOYT (@=schwa). You'd have to go a great
distance from the Illinois-Wisconsin border to find a native English
speaker saying anything else -- which is why Beloit College students
think it's funny to say "Bell Wah".  That's an obvious hyperurbanism in
their eyes (or ears).

As noted here recently, Des Moines gives another example of what we in
the Midwest can do to French if we're not kept in check.  Illinois is
famous for such towns as Ver Sales and Mar Sales, Dess Planes, and Vie
(as in the verb for "to contest") Enna.

In South Dakota, it would make sense to suggest that someone take a long
walk on a short Pierre.  Speaking of piers, Father Marquette's
explorations were memorialized in the name of an old railroad line, the
Pere Marquette, and "Pere" was another homonym for pier.  (As a child, I
thought the name appropriate, since the Pere Marquette line operated
ferries across Lake Michigan.  You went to the Pere pier to get on the

Another French explorer in these parts left his name for a city.  The
name is spelled in some Frenchified fashion, but everybody knows that
the good father's real name was Joe Lee Ett.  That's why we pronounce
the town name as we do.

Over in Indiana, if they knew what a hote was (rhymes with "boat") they
might Tear a Hote. As if that weren't enough, Indiana also has a famous
college town, Val Per EYE so.  (Does their local name, Valpo -- like the
dog food -- count as a clipped name?) Michiganders pronounce two T's in
Detroit and they'll make a gross point by talking about Grosse Pointe,
which clearly demonstrates that they belong to the Middle West.

So maybe you think you're being a "dumb Canuck", but whoever the dumbest
Cancuk may be, in all of Canada there's nobody dumb enough to beat an
ordinary Midwesterner when it comes to fancy mispronunciations.

-- mike salovesh      <salovesh at>      PEACE !!!

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