Gramatica: Goddess of Grammar (gramatica) wrote,
Gramatica: Goddess of Grammar

You say neether and I say nyther...

... and that's fine. But you need to pronounce Nevada correctly.
I've been meaning to write this post for months now because it's a SERIOUS pet peeve of mine, and I finally found proper motivation.

I've lived in Nevada for over 25 years, and I promise you, there is a correct and an incorrect way to pronounce the state's name. While not foolproof, the difference is often used as a shibboleth to distinguish established residents from new and non-residents. It is also often used as a test to determine how informed a visiting politician is, although many seem to have wised up to it.

Correct: Nevada, where the first 'a' is a short vowel, sounding like the 'a' in 'cat'.
Incorrect: Nevada, where the first 'a' sounds like the 'ah' in "Open up and say 'ah' while I shove this pickaxe down your throat for mispronouncing Nevada."

Granted, the second pronunciation is closer to (but not exactly) the original Spanish pronunciation of the word--which means "snow-covered" or "covered in snow" and refers to the mountains of the state--but there are plenty of cities and states out there whose names were Anglicized when they were made proper nouns, and no one says their pronunciation is wrong. In fact, not a single U.S. state whose name has Spanish origins is pronounced the Spanish way. Not one! Just think about Florida, Oregon, Colorado, California, Montana, and New Mexico. How about cities like Los Angeles, Cape Canaveral or Toledo. And even Las Vegas! None of those places are supposed to be pronounced with their original Spanish pronunciation, and neither is Nevada.

This is not just a quirk of some people who live here. The pronunciation of our state name is an official thing. The Nevada State Archivist wrote an article1 about it. Back in 2005 the Nevada Commission on Tourism issued2 a specialty license plate that included a breve3 over the first 'a' to indicate the correct way to pronounce Nevada. [image]

I often hear a response like "tomato, tomahto" when I talk about this mispronunciation. But it isn't the same thing. With 'tomato' it's just a difference in pronunciations, the spelling and meaning are the same. But with 'Nevada' it's different. The state's name is derived from the Spanish word. Think of it kind of like 'august'. You don't say, "My brother was born in aw-GUST," do you? Of course not. Multiple pronunciations, multiple definitions, one spelling. The technical word for this is 'heteronym'. Now, it's slightly different because my state's name is taken from the Spanish word, but it still applies. So no, it's not "tomato, tomahto" at all.

Nevada is the most mispronounced state name in the union. But it's far worse on the east side of the Mississippi than it is on the west. This incorrect pronunciation has been mostly perpetuated by "talking heads" on the news. East Coast newsreaders learn how to pronounce Uzbekistan but won't take 20 seconds to do a little regional research to learn how to pronounce the names of western states like Nevada and Oregon. WTF? This serves to spread the bad pronunciation to the average citizens of the country, who assume news anchors are "well informed" about the world.

This is an awfully hard topic to cover in print, since it centers around pronunciation. I was about to make a voice post to further clarify the pronounciations when I found this recent NBC Nightly News broadcast (1/16/08):

To all the people who say we pronounce it wrong or think this is a non-issue that Nevadans need to get over: A Nevadan's desire to hear their state name pronounced correctly doesn't have anything to do with insecurities, culture, psychology, or language. What if your name was Linda? Would you want people to call you Lean-duh, the Spanish pronunciation of the word that means 'pretty'? No, because your name is pronounced Lynn-duh, not Lean-duh. You want to hear your name pronounced correctly, and why shouldn't you? It's your name and you dictate how to pronounce it. Well, we want to hear our state's name pronounced correctly. Because it's OUR state's name! And WE decided how to pronounce it, and we say Nevăda! So, actually, it's a matter of pride and respect. And also of clarity. Pronounce it our way and you are talking about the state. Pronounce it the Spanish way and you are using the Spanish word that means "snow covered" so your sentence will make no sense. That is what it is all about. Get over yourself, naysayer, you pronounce it wrong. Deal with that.

Final point: I know people from Mexico and Cuba who live here and pronounce it the correct way. Don't call the whole thing off, call it Nevăda.

Some fun:
I've kept a list off and on of people who do and don't pronounce Nevada correctly. I don't watch the news or care about politics, so I don't keep a list like the one mentioned in the video. Mine is mostly made up of people on television shows I watch. This is incomplete and ongoing, and I welcome your submissions.

Give a cookie to:
William Peterson
Jorja Fox - (She got it wrong in CSI103, but I'm pretty sure she gets right in episodes later in the series.)
Mandy Patinkin
Matthew Gray Gubler - (He better say it right, he was born & raised in Vegas!)
A.J. Cook - (She got it wrong in CM201 and right in CM213.)
Bobcat Goldthwait
Roselyn Sanchez
Bill Murray gets it right in "Groundhog Day."

No soup for:
Paget Brewster
Richard Belzer
Paul Guilfoyle
George Eads (He may get it right in later CSI episodes, I'm still checking. But I don't think so.)
Gary Dourdan (He also may get it right in later CSI episodes.)

Learned from own mistakes:
George W. Bush
Michelle Obama
George Stephanopoulous

Related Links:
Arthur knows everything.
State archivist says it's home rule for proper pronunciations
Nevada's Wikipedia article
Nevada's definition @ the MSN Encarta Dictionary - I love this entry. No mention of the Spanish etymology and the correct pronunciation. Go MSN! You rule at online dictionaries.

1. Pronouncing Nevada
2. Nevada Commission on Tourism Unveils Specialty License Plate to Help Fund Tourism-Building Projects
3. Breve - A breve (Latin brevis "short, brief") is a diacritical mark ˘, shaped like the bottom half of a circle. It indicates the pronunciation of a short vowel.
Image source: NBC story tonight on pronouncing 'Nevada'
Tags: basic, heteronyms, nevada, pet peeves, pronunciations
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