Getting it Right, St. Louis Style
Pearls of Wisdom from Local Humorist Craig Hawksley.
When we were kids my brother and I marveled at how all of the national newscasters — Cronkite, Huntley-Brinkley, etc. — had Midwestern (i.e. St. Louis) accents. We took it as a sign that we alone spoke proper American English with no drawl or affectation, unlike in the South where everybody sounds like a football coach or in the Northeast where you can't understand a word anybody says.
It wasn't until I went to college that I found out we did have an accent. California classmates made fun of the way I pronounced the or sound as ar. Minnesotans ridiculed my nasal intonation. Chicagoans derided my idiomatic expressions. These revelations were startling but awakening.
Even as my accent has softened, the colloquial pronunciations of certain words still come alive in my head as I type. So for those who like to imagine an author's voice, and for those who move their lips when they read, I offer the basic St. Louis-Area Pronunciation Manual. This is a valuable reference guide to be printed out and stuck on your refrigerator.
As mentioned above, the basis of the St. Louis accent is that many -or words are pronounced as if they were spelled -ar. But we only do it sometimes. The rules of our grammar and diction are few and uncomplicated once you get the hang of them.
Follow these rules and read the following sentences aloud (if you're in a public place, be discreet). Here we go:
- The words are, or and our all sound like the letter r. But, hour is ow-wer. It is not a homonym of our. (Don't panic, it gets easier.) Example: You are picking up our parents at either Concourse S or Concourse R in about anhour." To get the full effect, speak nasally, like Samantha's neighbor Gladys Kravitz on Bewitched. Good.
- Remember, I said that we pronounce the or words as if they were spelled with an ar but not always. Here are the key exceptions:
- Fork is pronounced fark, but pork is not park.
- The kernel on the cob is carn; when a baby comes into the world she is barn; and the place you keep hay is your barn. So when you neglect to close the front door of the house when you enter, the St. Louis area mother will say, "Hey, were you barn in a barn?"
- The thing you honk in your car is a harn but a XXX-rated movie isn't parn.
- The number following 39 is farty, but fort is not fart.
- Here is an important stipulation as to the pronunciation of certain numbers: The interstate highway that runs east and west is notfarty-far. It is farty-four.
- And do you know what number comes after farty-nine? It's fih-tee, not fitty or even fifty. If you're going to pronounce it wrong, get it right.
- Now, let's do some math: fih-tee times two is a hun-nerd. Got that? Therefore, one-half of three hun'-nerd and eight would be — all together now — a hun'-nerd and fih'-tee four.
Next time: A prounciation of streets, foods and certain individual words.