Friday, March 20, 2009

Maa-son, M'waukee, and Boise

Back in the dark ages, before radio and TV news became an occupation for people who like to hear or see themselves (most of them apparently have no real interest in news these days), you had a “chief announcer” (a/k/a “curmudgeon”) who, among other things, was in charge of making sure the rest of the staff knew how to pronounce words.

In the past few days, one local TV person has murdered the name of the challenger for County Exec (hint: it rhymes with Pistol) and the name of a prominent state senator (hint: Plale does not rhyme with whale….it’s two syllables).

This morning, one of the local radio news announcers said “Egg-zavier” would be playing in the NCAA Basketball Tournament today. Egg-zavier. The team is, no doubt, sponsored by Egg-zerox, and it features a marching Egg-zylophone band.

Speaking of sports….the Badgers (prediction: one and done) are playing Florida State in Boise tonight. Now, this is picky, but - as the locals will tell you, “there ain’t no Z in Boise”. They pronounce it boy-see. Not boy-zee. By my estimation, about half the people talking about it on the Madison airwaves this morning have it “right”.

Then, there’s the issue of our state’s largest city. Most of the natives actually pronounce it with two run-on syllables…mwah-kee. One of my former colleagues, who got her degree at UW-Milwaukee, told he she had a professor who would FAIL any student who didn’t pronounce all three syllables.
Madison’s Mayor Dave Cieslewicz (whose name is a mouthful for sure: chess-LEV-itch) is from M’waukee. You can tell, because he (like scores of others) pronounces Madison with two syllables - Maa-son, with that flat, broad “a” sound that Midwesterners love so much.

I know I’m insane about this stuff, but when I lived in New Orleans (that’s N’Awlins, y’all, not Noo OrLEENS) I was hired on the spot for immediate part-time work by the premier local news-talk station. They gave me a piece of copy to read, replete with words like Tchoupitoulas (an uptown street where you‘ll find Tipitina‘s), Treme (two syllables….one of the city’s more colorful neighborhoods), and Terpsichore (another uptown street…all nine muses are represented…and if you pronounce it with three syllables, you’re OUT) and I’d made it my business to learn how to pronounce these things.

And don’t get me going about “short-lived”. The “I” sounds like a “Y”. Can you imagine the pain I’ve inflicted on my family over the years, with obsessions like these?


  1. I asked a colleague, a Northeasterner used to Italian (short i) names, to try pronouncing Cieslewicz. It came out chizzel-wits.

  2. Call me "Chee-Knee".
    After decades of mispronunciation , Dick Cheney (Chay-ney), has declared this the correct pronunciation of his name. The spelling will remain the same on the subpoena..

  3. Colonel,

    One of your (many) other obsessions was weather terminology, as I remember. You waxed wroth when anyone said "mostly clear" while reading the weather forecast on-the-air.

  4. Here are a few for you: Louisville, Georgia; Lutz, Florida, and Micanopy, Florida.