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6 Commonly Mispronounced U.S. Cities
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January 4, 2020
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Travel Trivia Editorial
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The quickest way to indicate you're not from around here, is to mispronounce the name of the city you're standing in. Go ahead, though, because locals enjoy correcting you with a smug smile. And then you'll know.

It doesn't have to go down like that. If you'd rather avoid the momentary embarrassment, learn how to pronounce these six commonly mispronounced U.S. cities.

Worcester, Massachusetts

Skyline of Worcester at sunset
Credit: Sean Pavone/ Shutterstock

If phonics taught you anything, this must be WAR-sess-ter or, maybe, WAR-chest-er. Unfortunately, WUSS-ter is the name of this Massachusetts town.

Located near Boston, Worcester proudly calls itself "the most vibrant and livable mid-size city in the country." More than 180,000 residents must agree. Despite its size, the city boasts nine colleges and universities. Visitors will love the excellent museums and what the city refers to as an "exploding dining scene." The entire area is lush and green, and with Boston barely an hour away, it's perfect as a day trip from the big city or as a destination of its own.

While we're in this part of the country, we should probably mention nearby Leicester. That's LESS-ter, if you ever want to say it out loud.

Louisville, Kentucky

Downtown Louisville skyline at night
Credit: f11photo/ Shutterstock

Don't even think about that "s." Depending upon who you're talking to and where they're from, you'll hear this pronounced all sorts of different ways. And if there's a Louisville in your state, it's probably pronounced differently, anyway. (For reference, see Louisville, Colorado.)

The Kentucky one is LOO-a-vul; LOO-a-ville may also be acceptable, but LOO-ee-ville or LOO-iss-ville (a la Colorado) could earn you an eye roll.

This is a good one to practice, though, because it may come up in conversation. Louisville is the biggest city in Kentucky, home of the Kentucky Derby and the famous Louisville Slugger baseball bats. The Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory is a fun stop for baseball fans: you can take a few swings yourself and see the signatures of the many players who signed Slugger contracts.

Besides, someday, you or your son or your daughter or your friend's cousin's child may go to the University of Louisville. Or if you follow NCAA men's basketball, you're bound to talk about Louisville, since the school is consistently ranked in the top 25 and has made many Final Four appearances. Then what? Maybe just refer to them as the Cardinals, like no one else really does.

Spokane, Washington

Spokane falls and the city in background
Credit: Justin Renshaw/ iStock

Not spo-CANE — those in the know say spo-CAN. The second-largest city in Washington is outdoorsy, with plenty of skiing, hiking, rafting, and more both in and around the city. It's always making lists like Bicycle-Friendly Community and Tree City USA. As proud home to more than 40 arts organizations, you can balance your athletic outdoor life with a little culture.

Although Washington has a reputation for being rainy, Spokane is on the east side of the state and receives far less rain every year than over on the coast; Seattle gets about 37 inches of rain a year compared to Spokane's less than 17 inches.

Spokane was incorporated as a city in 1881, originally called Spokan Falls. Two years later, the founding folks decided to make the name simpler by taking off the "Falls" part and make pronunciation more confusing by adding an "e."

Coeur d'Alene, Idaho

Coeur d'Alene lake
Credit: Wollertz/ Shutterstock

And you thought Boise was tough enough. (That's BOYS-ee, not BOYS, if you're wondering.) Just 30 miles from Spokane, core-duh-LANE is all about that ski life in the winter and that lake life in the summer. And just like Spokane, the city is named after a regional Native American tribe.

If you've been spending time on Duolingo and you're thinking "Coeur d'Alene" sounds a lot more French than Native American, you're right. Coeur d'Alene was the name given to the tribe by French traders. It means "heart of the awl" and is a nod to the tribe's trading skills and business dealings. In the original tribal language, they called themselves Schitsu'umsh; if the city had gotten that name, it would have made this list, anyway.

Norfolk, Virginia (Not Norfolk, Nebraska)

Norfolk marina and downtown at night
Credit: DenisTangneyJr/ iStock

Now, you may be thinking, "Why would I ever need to say, 'Norfolk, Nebraska'? It's got fewer than 25,000 people and no Papa John's Pizza." Fair. But just in case, you should know it's NOR-FORK, as in the North Fork River where it got its name. It went through several spelling suggestions before people settled on the one that made the least sense.

Norfolk, Virginia, is a world away in both geography and pronunciation. You're more likely to find yourself in this Norfolk, a city of about 245,000 and surrounded by way more people. Unfortunately, the pronunciation isn't completely agreed upon. The Norfolk Pilot dug up some material from the Historical and Descriptive Sketches of Norfolk and Vicinity by William S. Forrest, which says NOR-foke is the way to say it. Locals often utter NAW-foke. Best practices? Say it fast and hope for the best, or at least be ready to reference the good work of William S. Forrest.

Boerne, Texas

Building on main street
Credit: Darrylpearson/ CC BY-SA 

About 22 miles from San Antonio, Boerne is so often mispronounced by visitors that even the city website offers an audio clip to clear things up. That's some fine Texas hospitality right there. (Unlike basically every other hard-to-pronounce city's website we've come across, which offer no assistance to the word-conscious traveler.)

No, it's not BORN. Instead, it's BER-nie.

Wait, visitors? Yes! Boerne is right there in Texas wine country, which is too such a thing. But wine tastings are only the beginning. Proximity to easy-to-pronounce Austin and San Antonio aside, Boerne will keep you busy with hiking, horseback riding, barbecue eating, the AgriCultural Museum, and more.