Eat, choke, and leave: how to pronounce toponyms

How to pronounce “Nevada.” Picture source:

Part of running for president in the United States is that you have to travel around the country and visit places.  While you’re there, you’re expected to do two things:

  1. Eat whatever food is associated with the region or the immigrants who settled the region (with the exception of Native Americans, we’re all immigrants in this country) and appear to enjoy it.
  2. Pronounce the name of the place that you’re in correctly.

This being the bizarre election cycle that it is, Trump chose instead, on a recent visit to Nevada, to get it backwards.  Most Americans pronounce it Ne-VAH-da, but Nevadans pronounce it Ne-VA-da.  That is: most Americans pronounce the middle vowel of Nevada with the vowel of hot, but the locals pronounce the middle vowel with the vowel of hat.  Trump got it backwards—and made a big deal about it.  My guess is that he did this in an attempt to draw the news coverage away from the fact that he had no clue what people were talking about when they asked him about the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site, the hottest issue in Nevada politics.  (Yes, Hillary knew what they meant.)

How to pronounce “Nevada.” Picture source:

Place names are weird in America, and in France, too.  It’s definitely not always possible to know how they’re pronounced by anyone, let alone by the locals, just by seeing the spelling.  My home town’s Couch St.?  It’s pronounced kooch.  Mind you, we call a couch a couch, just like anyone else (unless it’s a sofa)–but, Couch St. is pronounced Kooch St.  Macadam St.?  No, it’s not Ma-CA-dam—it’s MA-cadam.  In France?  Forget it.  Rennes is  [ʁɛn], which you could guess from the spelling, but Reims is [ʀɛ̃s] (Prononciation du titre dans sa version originale Écouter) , which I don’t think you can.  Lille is [lil] Prononciation du titre dans sa version originale Écouter), which you could guess, but if you’re like me, you’ve wondered a thousand times if it’s supposed to be pronounced like fille.  Of course, any French person would laugh their ass off at the pronunciation of the name of the city of Beaufort in South Carolina, which is totally different from the pronunciation of the name of the town of Beaufort in North Carolina.  Do you pronounce the x at the end of deux, or aux, or peux?  No.  Do you pronounce the x at the end of Aix and Dupleix?  Why, yes–you do.

How to pronounce “Nevada.” Picture source:

Indeed, there has been plenty of press coverage about Trump insisting that Nevadans pronounce the name of their state his way, and it has drowned out the little bit of press coverage about what Nevadans actually seem to care about, which is Trump showing up in their state without having taken the time to find out what the issues of concern there.  But, this being the bizarre election that it’s been, it’s hard to believe that any of this will affect anything.  Are you an American?  Get out there and vote, or you can’t really complain if you end up with a reality TV star for a president…

English notes:

to laugh one’s ass off: to laugh very hard.  DO NOT use this in circumstances where you would not use bad language.  Hey Steve, you want to hear a joke so funny you’ll laugh your ass off?  Steve, tu veux entendre une blague super drôle tu seras péter de rire(Source: And you’re gonna laugh your ass off, ’cause it’s really freakin’ funny.  Et vous allez vous péter de rire, parce c’est vraiment trop drôle.  (Source:  How it was used in the post: Of course, any French person would laugh their ass off at the pronunciation of the name of the city of Beaufort in South Carolina, which is totally different from the pronunciation of the name of the town of Beaufort in North Carolina.  

French notes:

Apropos of nothing but my desire to make blogger Bea dM smile, here is a list of Italian place names, in French. 

6 thoughts on “Eat, choke, and leave: how to pronounce toponyms”

  1. My funniest place name pronunciation story in France is from Corsica. Now, Corsican is its own language, closer to Italian than French, and the people from that island have a terrifyingly strong sense of identity (they tend to blow up foreign impants.) But a few years ago we stayed in a chic boutique hotel which was obviously run by Parisians – the owner had great difficulty pronouncing and continually stumbled over his own hotel name – Piattatella.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Speaking of would be presidents’s mistakes I still remember what Brazilians told me about Reagan’s official visit int the early 80s . You see the picture, the plane, the whole Brazilian government waiting, the crowd, all TV channels and Reagan started his speech on top of the stairs : ” I am very pleased to be here in Bolivia …”

    French slang : I don’t remember “vous allez vous péter de rire”, only “Vous allez péter de rire”. Péter or se péter have multiple possible meanings in slang but I don’t know remember the one you quote .

    Liked by 2 people

      1. He he . Brazilians were rather cool, they were always laughing while telling this story . But the world didn’t expect more from Reagan if I judge from the way BBC “Spitting Images” portrayed him .

        Liked by 2 people

  3. thanks for the smile 🙂 French words and pronunciation of Italian words and places can be pretty strange, with added nasal sounds and sometimes wrong stress. Pouilles for my beloved Puglia – ouch! But when I’m in Chicago, I crack up when the loudspeaker announces the Paulina train station 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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