Saturday, April 08, 2006

You say "TOE-MAY-TOE" . . .

I have to admit, I am definitely one of those (local) people who loves to poke fun at the "foreigners" who pronounce local words and placenames "wrong." The most common and striking example is the fact that we L.A. locals totally incorrectly pronounce the multi-cultural fishing port/village of "San Pedro," California as "San PEE-dro," instead of the culturally correct "San PAY-dro." When someone says "San PAY-dro," it's a sure sign that they a) know a bit of Spanish and b) aren't "from around here," because "we" mangle the name.

So, when I moved to Binghamton, NY, I didn't expect a lot of fancy pronunciations to learn. In fact, there haven't been too many linguistic challenges (despite many Native American names that look scary on paper, but are quite friendly to the foreign tongue.) But this probably lulled me into complacency, because there are so many cues to my foreign status, right in my own back yard . . .

First, our landlords/next door neighbors should have been the tip-off, and they were. Gary and Pat are in their 70s, and, when we first "interviewed" for our place, Pat said that Gary was born just around the corner, on "BEETH-ovin." Now, I hope I have conveyed that pronunciation. It is long-eeeeee "BEEEETH," hard "TH"-oven." Unlike any great composer you've heard of, to be sure. Given that Gary is 78 years old, and that his 74 year old wife pronounced it that way, I'm going to take it on faith that that is the local way to say it. But it only gets better from there . . .

Another street is about a block from our house. It's named "Leroy" Street. However, don't you dare call it "LEE-roy." To the locals, it's "luh-ROY," as though it's "LeRoix" or some fancy royalty-related name. Toooo funny. And then there is "Mozart" Street, which is pronounced "MOZE-art" (rhymes with "beaux arts"). I don't even want to know how they pronounce nearby "Goethe" Street. I will keep on the lookout for locals-only (wrong) pronunciations . . . they really say a lot about a place, and its people . . .

2 comments:

CDLeland said...

it'll be great when you come back to LA and forget to switch over to "anywhere but B-town" pronunciation

cd said...

As a Pedro-girl:

Yes, it is SAn PEEdro, not San Paydro. What gets me with the San Paydro folks is that they don't go all the way with it - it should be Sahn Paydrrrro. They also seldom say LOs Ahn-he-lEEs and have no problem just going with Las An-j-les like everyone else.

Are they really Spanish words anymore, or fully incorporated English words of Spanish etymology?
;)