14 Words You'll Say Differently Depending On Where You Are In The U.S.

3 min read

In a nation as vast and 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. Did we get it right for your neck of the woods?

Lawyer

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.

Roof

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."

Egg

This is a reflection of the Northern Cities Shift in vowel pronunciation. While most people pronounce egg with a short “e,”  some Northerners  (those who've come in contact with Canadian accents) pronounce it with a long “a” sound, like “ague.”

Caramel

In the Northeast, caramel is usually pronounced with three syllables and an “air” 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

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). You say "pajama," I say "pajahma."

Aunt

This word has a South versus North distinction. In the Northeast, the word is pronounced with a long “ahh” sound, while the South makes the word sound like the insect, "ant."

Pecan

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 "peh-CAHN." Either way, pecan pies are delicious.

Crayon

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 "cran," and others say "cray-awn."

Picture

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 the slower version owes its roots to a British accent.

Mayonnaise

Mayonnaise is the last of the words that are pronounced differently all over the country. It can be pronounced in two different ways: with three syllables (may-oh-nays) or two (may-nays).

Been

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

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."

Bowie knife

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!

Bagel

Bagels are everywhere, although the best bagels are made in New York City. Most people say "BAY-gull" when they’re describing the breakfast staple, but for some reason Midwesterners say "BAH-gull." Either way, we'll take ours toasted with cream cheese.

Photo credit: Peter Osmenda/ Unsplash

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