In a nation as diverse as the United States, it's no wonder there are so many different regional dialects. Each region’s history and generational stories all play a part in how language is formed and codified. Below are 14 words that Americans pronounce differently depending on where they live or where they grew up; some of them are familiar, while some may be a bit surprising.
Lawyer has a pronunciation distinction between the South and the North. In the North it’s generally pronounced LOY-yer, whereas in the South it’s pronounced LAW-yer. Both pronunciations are valid and will get you legal help from the appropriate sources.
In the eastern part of the United States, roof is pronounced with a long double-o sound, like how it’s spelled. In the western part of the country, particularly noticeable in California, it’s pronounced more like ruff.
This is a representation of the Northern Cities Shift in vowel pronunciation, which is found in northern cities that may have some contact with Canada and Canadian accents. Some people pronounce egg with a short “e,” whereas some others pronounce it with a long “a” sound, like “ague.”
In the Northeast, caramel is usually pronounced with three syllables and an “ay” sound on the first syllable. In the Midwest and the West, it’s most often pronounced with two syllables and a “car” sound at the beginning.
Pajamas is another term with a West/Midwest and an East distinction. In the West and Midwest, it’s pronounced a short middle “a” (like jam), whereas in the East it’s pronounced with a long middle “a” (like father).
This word has a South vs. North distinction. In the Northeast, the word is pronounced with a long “ahh” sound, while the South make the word sound like the insect, ant.
This word has no regional distinction. It’s all over the place, and everyone thinks their pronunciation is correct. Roughly 45 percent of Southerners and 70 percent Northerners say pee-can, while the inverse say pe-cahn. Either way, pecan pies are delicious.
Like pecan, crayon has no real distinction on how to pronounce it — but there are two general camps people fall into regarding it. Some people say cray-on, others say cray-awn.
Like pecan and crayon, picture has some variation that isn’t bound by regional differences. People tend to drift into two groups: one pronounces the word with two distinct syllables, like pick-chur, and the other group pronounces the word shorter and quicker, like pitcher. Both are correct, but one is a little slower and clearer, and owes its roots to a British accent.
Mayonnaise is the last of the words that are pronounced differently all over the place. It can be pronounced in two different ways: with three syllables (may-oh-nays) or two (may-nays).
Been is a word that changes the further north you go. In the more southern areas of the United States, it’s longer sounding and stresses the double “e” in the word. The closer you get to Canada, however, you pronounce it like the name Ben.
Syrup is a Northeastern creation in the United States; it only stands to reason that it’s pronounced differently there than anywhere else. In the Northeast corridor, people say sear-up. Everywhere else, they say sir-rup.
The pronunciation of Bowie is usually “bow-ie.” In Texas, however, it’s pronounced boo-wie. Good to know if you ever go hunting in Texas!
Bagels are everywhere, although the best bagels are made in New York City. Most people say bay-gull when they’re describing the delicious treat, but for some reason Midwesterners say bah-gull. Either way, though, we'll take ours toasted with cream cheese.