Grammar Moses: You say potato, I say Appalachian

Updated 6/26/2021 4:47 PM

My recent column on my summer vacation to the South touched off a few conversations.

"As a former teacher I look forward to your column every Sunday," wrote Christine Bohlmann. "I enjoyed today's column referencing the correct pronunciation of 'Appalachian.' My question is in regard to the pronunciation of Pierre, South Dakota. I've always pronounced it like my French relatives do; however I've noticed Tom Skilling's pronunciation of the capital city is 'PEER.' Did I lead my former fourth-grade students astray?"


Christine, take heart in knowing you probably were not alone. Those in Pierre, South Dakota, pronounce it "Peer."

Second, I trust Tom Skilling more than just about anyone else on the planet.

I wonder if people in Pierre wonder why we don't pronounce "Des Plaines" as "Day Planh," as my dear mother would say in subtle protest. She spoke just enough French to be dangerous, you see.

This should come as no surprise to those who live in a state that has appropriated the names of famous foreign cities with abandon. My guess is those who decided to name small towns in Illinois after Milan, Marseilles, Vienna and Cairo were so embarrassed by their lack of originality that, as with "Pierre," the locals pronounce them unlike their foreign counterparts.

Here, it's "MY-lun" instead of "mi-LAHN," "mar-SALES" instead of "mar-SAY," "VIE-enna" instead of "VEE-enna," and "KAY-row" instead of "KIE-row."

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It's probably a good thing there is no Casablanca, Illinois.

At least we'll always have Paris.

Not so fast

Nancy DePree, who ordinarily enjoys my column, took exception to this one.

"I grew up in Schenectady, New York, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Appalachian was always pronounced App-uh-LAY-tchin, not App-uh-LATCH-in."

I have no doubt that Nancy pronounced it that way, nor do I doubt that others up Schenectady way do. Or that others peppered around the South do, especially if they're transplants.

Nancy's 1973 dictionary has the long-A pronunciation.

My dictionaries carry both pronunciations, as well as a five-syllable version that recognizes the "I" near the end.


Over the 2,000-mile stretch of the Appalachian mountain range -- from Georgia all the way into Canada -- one will find a range of pronunciations for a whole bunch of words.

(Note to self: NEVER write about pronunciation again.)

I explained to Nancy that I researched a number of websites and texts and talked to a number of people at gas stations, restaurants and hotels in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia, and each time I asked I was given "app-uh-LATCH-in" as the proper pronunciation.

So, in the context of a column about how Southerners express themselves, I stand by "app-uh-LATCH-in."

Maybe I'll save the pronunciation of "Schenectady" for another column.

Arrivederci, Angelo

As has become my habit, I like to send off old pen pals with a column mention.

Angelo Polvere, a onetime mayor of Inverness, died June 4, a day after turning 91. It's as if he were determined to live to see that birthday.

Angelo was many things to many people: civil engineer, construction company owner, musician, pilot, fisherman, ham radio operator, dad.

I knew him both as mayor and as a lover of language.

He sent me many letters, and I published answers to at least a couple of them: his brain-twister on double possessives and a gentle tease on an unfortunate spelling in the newspaper.

He cited a photo caption in which the writer talks of a "long-running" effort to "discredit the fundamental tenants of American government."

"The object of the writer may have meant those strict Constitutionalists who reside in Washington ... or did the scoundrel lazily use a word that sounded close to the word meaning 'principle'?" he wrote.

You were right, Angelo. The word should have been "tenets."

Rest easy, friend.

Write carefully!

• Jim Baumann is vice president/managing editor of the Daily Herald. Write him at Put Grammar Moses in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at

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