If you want to see traces of a region’s native inhabitants, look no farther than the names of its cities. Consider the Lake Superior coastal city Waukesha, Wis., named for the Chippewa or Ojibwe word for “little fox.”
The original Chippewa word most likely sounded like Wau-goosh-sha, according to the Wisconsin Historical Society’s state dictionary. Today, it sounds like Wok-a-shaw.
It’s one of many Great Lakes city monikers originating from native languages. It’s also on my personal list of regional words specifically designed to torture Texans like myself.
A handful of fun-loving southerners who attended the 2011 Superbowl between the Greenbay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers may agree.
While in Dallas, Mike De Sisti, a multimedia and video guy at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, asked Texas football fans to pronounce Wisconsin city names like Waukesha, Kaukauna, Mukwonago and Weyauwega. And they failed.
Check out the video below:
My editor, a Michigander, found it hilarious. I, a Texan, cowered in shame.
Texas may not be known for producing eloquent speakers. But we’ve got a lot going for us: Willie Nelson, Blue Bell ice cream and ties to the space program, for example.
I was born in Houston, lived in New Jersey for several years and then moved back to Houston in grade school. My whole family originates from East Texas and northern Louisiana. Suffice to say, I’ve had plenty of time to cultivate a southern twang.
My accent is not strong by any means, but it’s noticeable. I didn’t realize this until moving to Michigan in 2009. My editor immediately poked fun at my inability to pronounce simple words. When talking about a recreational journey, it’s not “tore,” but “too-ur,” he says. I also tend to draw out words like “cee-ment” and “Dee-troit.”
Talk about feeling like a fish out of water.
To defend my honor, I launched a two-year campaign of verbal indoctrination. I have everyone in the Echo newsroom saying “y’all” now. And sometimes Echo reporter Alice Rossignol, a Portland-native, will say “all hat and no cattle.”
I struggled to pronounce Waukesha at first, but got the hang of it after covering the city’s water-quality issues for Echo. The other Wisconsin cities proved too much for this Texan. As I was stumbling over the names out loud in the newsroom the other day, a fellow reporter inquired about my mental health.
But don’t let that discourage you from giving it a try. Can you speak better than a Texan? The list of cities is below; watch the video for correct pronunciation.
– Menomonee Falls
Let me know how you do. If you fail, find peace of mind in the honest words of this blogger: “Having lived in Green Bay myself, I can attest that you really can’t get them right without hearing someone else say them first. That is, unless you speak Ojibwe.”
For another challenge, send more hard-to-pronounce Great Lakes city names to me at firstname.lastname@example.org; I’ll compile a list and record my fellow Echo reporters’ struggles on camera for your personal enjoyment.