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Commonly Mispronounced U.S. Cities

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Want a quick way to let everyone in earshot know you're not from around here? Mispronounce the name of the city you're standing in. Go ahead, though, because locals will enjoy correcting you with a smug smile. If you'd rather avoid the embarrassment, learn how to pronounce these nine commonly mispronounced U.S. cities.

9

Worcester, Massachusetts

Skyline of Worcester at sunset
Credit: Sean Pavone/ Shutterstock

If phonics taught you anything, the name of this Massachusetts city must be “WAR-sess-ter” or maybe, “WAR-chest-er” like the sauce. Contrary to your expectations though, “WUSS-ter” is the correct pronunciation. Located near Boston, Worcester proudly calls itself the “most vibrant and livable mid-size city in the country” according to central Massachusetts’ official tourism page. More than 180,000 residents seem to agree. Despite its size, the city boasts nine colleges and universities.

Visitors will love the excellent museums and exploding dining scene. The entire area is lush and green, and with Boston barely an hour away, it's the perfect day trip from the big city. The area is apparently well-known for its unique settlement names since nearby Leicester is pronounced “LESS-ter” — if you ever want to say it out loud.

8

Louisville, Kentucky

Bridge across river in front of Louisville, Kentucky
Credit: Sean Pavone/ iStock

Don't even think about enunciating that one ‘s’! Depending on who you're talking to and where they're from, you'll hear the city of Louisville, Kentucky pronounced a variety of ways. And if there's a Louisville in your state, it's probably pronounced differently anyway like Louisville, Colorado.

The city in Kentucky is called "LOO-a-vul.” “LOO-a-ville” may also be acceptable, but “LOO-ee-ville” or “LOO-iss-ville” (à 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. It’s home of the Kentucky Derby and the famous Louisville Slugger baseball bats. The Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory is a fun stop for baseball fans — you can even take a few swings yourself and see the signatures of the many players who signed Slugger contracts.

Alternatively, if you follow NCAA men's basketball, you're bound to talk about the University of Louisville since the school is consistently ranked in the top 25 and has made many Final Four appearances.

7

Spokane, Washington

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

It’s 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 earning titles like “Bicycle-Friendly Community” and “Tree City U.S.A.” As the home to more than 40 arts organizations, the city allows you to balance your athletic outdoor life with your creative side.

Although Washington has a reputation for being rainy, Spokane is on the east side of the state and receives far less precipitation every year than on the coast. For example, 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 and was originally called “Spokan Falls.” Two years later, the founding folks decided to make the name simpler by taking off the "Falls" part and simultaneously make pronunciation more confusing by adding an ‘e.’

6

Coeur d'Alene, Idaho

View of Coeur d'Alene lake in Idaho
Credit: Wollertz/ Shutterstock

And you thought Boise was tough enough. (That's “BOYS-ee,” not “BOYS”.) 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 an awl" and is a nod to the tribe's trading skills and business dealings. In the original tribal language, they called themselves “Schitsu'umsh.” So, if the city had gotten that name instead, it still would have made this list.

5

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. But just in case, you should know it's pronounced "NOR-Fork,” as in the North Fork River, where it got its name. It went through several spelling suggestions before locals settled on the one that made the least sense.

Norfolk, Virginia is a world away in terms of both geography and pronunciation. You're more likely to find yourself in this Norfolk, a city of about 245,000. Unfortunately, this city’s pronunciation isn't completely agreed upon. The Norfolk Pilot newspaper dug up material from the Historical and Descriptive Sketches of Norfolk and Vicinity, a book by William S. Forrest, which claims “NOR-foke” is the correct 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 work of William S. Forrest.

4

Boerne, Texas

Trees on the river in Cibolo Nature Preserve in Boerne, Texas
Credit: Patrish Jackson/ Shutterstock

Roughly 22 miles from San Antonio, the city of Boerne, Texas is often so mispronounced by visitors that even the official city website offers an audio clip to clear things up. That's some fine Texas hospitality right there. (Unlike most 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.” Boerne is located in the often-overlooked Texas wine country. 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, good barbecue, the AgriCultural Museum, and more.

3

Des Moines, Iowa

Des Moines skyline in Iowa
Credit: Davel5957/ iStock

It’s not “Dez-Moy-nez.” The Iowan capital gets its name from the nearby Des Moines River, and both city and river are properly pronounced “Duh-MOYN.” Yes, the name is derived from the French. However, we don't know exactly what it refers to.

Des Moines is home to a growing cultural scene and gorgeous outdoor spaces. For a quintessential Great Plains experience — complete with 4-H livestock, carnival rides, and more fried food than you can shake a stick at — check out the Iowa State Fair in the summer. Year-round, you can also explore the city's wealth of parks along various rivers or check out the indy shops and restaurants of the East Village neighborhood near the gold-domed capitol building.

2

La Jolla, California

Coast in La Jolla, California
Credit: IrinaSen/ iStock

“Luh-joh-la,” “La Holla,” “Lah Jolly” — residents of this San Diego community have heard it all. Make their day with your perfect pronunciation of “La-HOY-yuh.” Known as the city's "Jewel by the Sea," La Jolla is the perfect addition to any beach lover's itinerary. Explore the rugged coastline along the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, swim or snorkel in the warm Pacific waters, or hang out with the seals along the coast. If you time your visit right, you might even catch sight of migrating whales.

You can also explore the city's myriad upscale boutiques and cafes or play a round at the renowned Torrey Pines Golf Course. Feeling intellectual? Check out the campus of the University of California – San Diego in La Jolla, with its Brutalist Geisel Library, named for one of the area's most beloved residents, Theodor Geisel, better-known as Dr. Seuss.

1

Schenectady, New York

Schenectady, New York at night
Credit: DenisTangneyJr/ iStock

Upstate New York has its fair share of hard-to-pronounce names like Canandaigua or Skaneateles. (That's “Cannon-DAY-gwuh” and “Skinny-ATLAS.”) Schenectady might take the cake, though. Pronounced by a native, the name sounds like “Skin-ECK-tah-dee.” Pronounced by anyone else, it might sound more like "Shen-ekt-ADDY."

The original name of the Dutch settlement at present-day Schenectady was even more complicated. The local Mohawk tribe called the area Schau-naugh-ta-da, a phrase meaning "over the pine plains."

It's worth getting the name right, however, because Schenectady is one of upstate New York's most historic cities. Wander the streets of the city's Stockade Historic District, which features houses and buildings dating back to the 17th century. Take in views of the Mohawk River or spend an afternoon in the city's own Central Park. Schenectady is also a part of the metropolitan area of Albany, making it a great day trip if you're visiting the New York capital.

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