To-may-to or To-mah-to: How to Pronounce Missouri


For those of you who don’t know, there is disagreement on how the name of the boot-heel state is supposed to be pronounced.  Even people living within the region are divided on how they say it.  Some claim it’s Missouree.  Others assert it’s Missourah.

There is the camp who calls it Misery, but that’s another matter.

Hubby belongs to the first group of believers, who in general tend to be younger and/or more urban.  And while we grew up less than an hour’s travel apart, he does hail from the city.  If you didn’t see this coming, I belong to the second group.  We tend to be older and/or more rural.

Hmm, disregard the age reference….

For those of you who don’t know, Missouri is a Native American word.  It seemed the best way to settle the matter was discover how the name of that tribe was originally pronounced.

This was not as easy as you might think.  For one thing, white explorers typically got the name for a tribe they were about to visit from the tribe they were currently with.  And that name was not what those people called themselves.  Both Navajo and Cherokee are names other tribes gave them.  They call themselves Dine and Ani-Yun Wiya (there’s some accent marks I can’t render here).

The word came down through a French filter, and other settlers would speak it using their own language characteristics.  In other words, it was looking like I might have to find a Tardis and convince Dr. Who-ever-it-is-at-the-time to take me on a trip.

It turned out a car was good enough and Hubby was my pilot.  We were traveling through Oklahoma.  For those of you who don’t know, that state was originally known as “Indian Territory” because during one part of our history the benevolent government decided the best way to handle the “Indian problem” was to dump them all in one location.

Did my sarcasm drip enough here?

We stopped at a park where there was a display listing the names of tribes in this country … and how they were pronounced!  At long last, I was going to settle the matter on  how my home state should be said.

And that was when I discovered that Missouri is pronounced:  Mih – zur – ee – ah.

What?  Really?

Hubby came to his conclusion naturally.  “Well, that settles it.  You just drop the last syllable, and you have Missouree.”

My gracious response was “Not so fast, bub.  You can’t assume the last syllable gets dropped.”

My discovery only muddied the water, which I suppose is appropriate.  On a side note, it used to be claimed that the translation of Missouri was muddy water.  I think this idea was inspired by the Missouri River, which has historically been described as “too thick to drink and too thin to plow.”

I suppose I could be stiff-necked and go around saying Mih-zur-ee-ah, but people who know me already have the local looney bin on speed dial.  Those who don’t know me would only back away slowly.

So when it comes to how to pronounce Missouri … we’re all wrong.  But now you know!

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