Friday, March 8, 2019

you're pronouncing it

My trip to Seattle last November brought to the forefront of my mind some quaint customs and practices of life there that I'd internalized back when I was a resident, and which consequently I hadn't much thought about. They were normal to me. But returning as a visitor so many years later, on a visit which was not primarily occupied with the distractions of a convention, brought their oddness to the forefront.

Of these, primary was the extent to which things in Seattle are not pronounced the way you would expect. I was thinking of writing about this, and then what should I find but a new article on how to pronounce local names and words in Seattle.

Some of these are classics. Sequim (place name) and geoduck (type of clam) are true shibboleths. They're not pronounced how they look; everyone in the Seattle area knows how to pronounce them properly; outsiders never do. All a visitor has to do is pronounce one of these words correctly in front of a Seattleite, and you'll be praised for the profound depth of your local knowledge. I've had that experience with people who don't know I used to live there; that's how they find out I did.

Others, not so much. I never had to guess how to pronounce Duwamish or Tukwila when I first encountered them; they came out right the first time without guidance. Nor can I recall hearing people mispronounce them, though they don't come up that much in visitors' discourse.

But the practice of unexpected pronunciations in Seattle extends far beyond challenging words of Native origin, which all of the above are. There are things in Seattle which are never, ever referred to by their proper names orally or in informal writing, although those proper names are all over the things themselves with no indication that those names are never used. Except for the University, I don't believe I have ever heard the proper names coming out of anybody's mouth for any reason, even as an explanation for the benefit of visitors. You're just expected to know. The conspicuous examples that come to mind are:

University Way (street): pronounced The Ave (with a short a). Why it's called that when it's almost the only north-south street in the vicinity that isn't formally an Avenue I have no idea, but it's the main business street in the university district, and the first thing a newly-arrived student, as I was, learns is: it's always and only the Ave.

Speaking of which:

University of Washington: pronounced U-Dub. In this case it's OK to say the formal name in formal references. But in any other circumstance it would sound prissy.

Hiram M. Chittenden Locks: pronounced Ballard Locks. Ballard is the district of Seattle where this set of locks in the ship canal that crosses the city's isthmus is located. Chittenden was a locally renowned army engineer who died just as the locks were completed, so his name was put on them. But not in anyone's mouth.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer (semi-defunct newspaper): pronounced the P-I. It would sound like an insult to the intelligence to say the full name. I have literally never heard anyone do so. Seattle's second daily in my time (the other is the Times), it subsequently folded as a print newspaper but still maintains an online edition.

1 comment:

  1. One of these quirks got me horribly lost the first time I was in Seattle proper (as opposed to SeaTac.) I went for a walk and got horribly turned around. I couldn't see the sun (Seattle, after all.) I knew streets ran one way and avenues another, but didn't know which was which. I remembered being told that "The Ave is not an avenue", but interpreted that as "it doesn't run the way avenues should" and deduced that avenues ran east-west. This resulted in me walking south almost into Lake Washington when I wanted to be walking west back to the U district.