It wasn’t until I moved to Portland that I understood the passion that could lie behind the pronunciation of a state’s name.
The first time I saw a bumper sticker depicting the phonetic pronunciation of the state, “OR Y GUN”, I was bewildered. Who would not know how to correctly pronounce the state’s name and how far from the correct pronunciation deviate? and in what possible way? Then I heard an East coast pronunciation of “ARE EH GONE” and I understood that you can’t take for granted the way the vowel at the end is going to sound.
It was not a complete surprise therefore when I found out that Missourians have their own thoughts and practices around the pronunciation of their state’s name. But the soft “-ah” or “-uh” pronunciation that replaces the long “-ee” most of us are familiar with is not an intuitive leap. I was curious to learn more about the prevalence of this “other” pronunciation and have found their to be a wide range of opinions on when, where and why Missouri might be pronounced in one of two ways. And some strong feelings whether one of those versions is the correct one, with the other just being a cultural interloper who has outstayed its welcome.
Some noted an east/west divide in the pronunciation, with Kansas City being more know for “Missourah” and St. Louis being more attached to “Missouree”. Others remarked that it is an urban/rural split, with the rural pronunciation following the softer “-ah” ending and the urban areas utilizing the “-ee” ending most commonly found outside of the state. Personally, I found the habits of politicians to be the most interesting. Those running for office within the state use both pronunciations interchangeably. Barack Obama in his 2008 campaign used the “Missourah” pronunciation exclusively.
The jury is still out on when and how I say Missouri may change. But if you hear me mention “Mizzou” without clarification, you can probably figure that I’ve settled well into the state’s naming conventions of itself and its institutions.