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The (Mis)Pronunciations That Keep Austin Weird
Update: South by Southwest Music starts today. And with SXSW wrapping up Saturday night, that’s not enough time for thousands of visitors to get a handle on all of Austin’s unique (mis)pronunciations.
“Nicknames and a number of slang terms probably exist in any speech community,” says Lars Hinrichs, a UT linguistics professor who tracks state dialects for the Texas English Project. He says it takes newcomers anywhere from three weeks to three years to acquire a community’s pronunciation tics.
“It’s a way of showing insider knowledge. But its not like it’s a secret code,” he says. “It’s not like Austinites are hiding it from the rest of the world!”
“Nicknames exist everywhere,” he continues. “Streets get renamed. … I’m not saying Guadalupe Street should be pronounced ‘Gwad-a-loop,’ that’s not what I’m arguing. But I think you have to see the whole picture: it’s all part of the life of a speech community.”
Original Post (February 22): Sure – Austin’s weird.
The weirdness, however, extends past Austin’s musical oddities, its borderline-unhealthy obsession with breakfast tacos (431 results on Yelp!), the stray cryptid museum and even the occasional mystery cake decorated with a zombie Ben Franklin.
The city is full of weird little tics that make Austin Austin. And thanks to a thread on the Austin page of social-sharing website Reddit, citizens are sharing the semi-arcane Austin knowledge that separates the natives from the newcomers.
The original poster of the 400-comment thread confessed he recently learned that Austin thoroughfare Mopac stands for Missouri Pacific — the name of the railroad line that shares parallel space with the oft-congested roadway. (And here we thought it stood for Mostly Packed.)
The Redditors shared several more “well-known facts about Austin” you only learn after living here for a while:
North/south streets are named for Texas rivers: And moreover, they conform with Texas geography, from east to west: Sabine, Red River, Neches, Trinity, San Jacinto, Brazos, Colorado, Lavaca, Guadalupe, San Antonio, Nueces, Rio Grande (via Redditor yergrammerizhorrable)
Why everything’s called Waterloo: Waterloo Park, Waterloo Ice House, Waterloo Records: As Redditor WallyMetropolis pointed out, it was the initial name of our humble settlement, established in 1835.
Here at KUT News, we thought one aspect of the thread deserved special attention: How Austin keeps pronunciations weird.
This is seemingly the first Austin-ism most folks encounter. Redditor unpopular_speech noted the correct pronunciation of San Jacinto Street is “San Ha-Ceen-Toe.” But you’ve probably heard it called San Jack.
And the mispronunciations don’t stop there. How about:
- Guadalupe Street (oft pronounced Gwad-A-Loop)
- Manchaca Road (Man-Chack)
And while the above mispronunciations are basically anglicized versions of Spanish words (although Manchaca's mangling disregards all laws of nature), they aren't the only crimes against phonetics. There's also:
- Manor Road (May-ner)
- Koenig Lane (Kay-Nig)
- the Mueller development (correctly pronounced Miller), and
- Burnet Road (“It’s Burnet, durn it – learn it!”). And that ‘s just for starters.
Maybe the biggest misfire is spelled, not spoken: as Redditor MithunAsher points out, Parmer Lane was originally named Palmer Lane. But after enough people proliferated the misspelling, it became commonplace and the city changed the name.
There’s plenty more in the Reddit thread – like when a street is labeled either east or west, that’s relative to Congress Avenue, not I-35. But we know there’s even more weird info out there.
What “Austin correct” pronunciation, or locals-only factoid did we miss? Educate us by leaving a comment below.
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