Letter From Langdon: What You Say?

The latest ruckus over how you say "Missouri" began when Rep. Todd Akin accused his opponent, Sen. Claire McCaskill, of changing her pronunciation based on where she was speaking in the state. The fact is, if you win, you can say it whatever way you want.

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A Missouri controversy of huge proportions has erupted onto the national scene. At the heart of it all lies the very essence of our being as a state of free and independent people. 

What’s all the fuss in Missouri? It’s about how the heck you say it.

My sister and I grew up at an early age saying Missouruh. Then she got an education, married and moved away. Now she lives in Nebraska where they say Missouree. 

That’s the way she says it, too. 

Most of the time I’m from Missouruh…especially when I wax poetic or watch movies like Across the Wide Missouri. But in the song “Shenandoah” with its rich vowel sounds, everyone from Kingston Trio to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir says Missouree.

Maybe because that’s where they long to beeeee. 

I’ve also noticed that sometimes MU is the University of Missouruh. Some of the more oratorical professors from back East might even have called it the Universituh of Missouruh. 

Down in Springfield they have their own school called Missouree State University. 

Without leadership from the academic community on this we are probably doomed. Besides, with state funding for schools and everything else relying more heavily on corporate support, it won’t be long before we’re called simply “Monsanto.”

At least we’ll still be able to keep the same postal abbreviation: MO. Unless they patent it.

I think emotion has a lot to do with pronunciation. Misery and Missouree have a lot in common in my mind, especially when I listen to some people’s opinions on politics. On the other hand when I consider that we have some good leadership from Senator Claire McCaskill and Governor Jay Nixon I say to myself, “Mizzouruh is very fortunate.”

That gets us to the New York Times, where Missouri politicians have been accused of manipulating pronunciation in order to dupe voters. Claire McCaskill’s opponent, Rep. Todd Akin, has accused her of being cheesy and misleading by using ee’s or uh’s according to the geographic location of her audience. But in one of his recorded press conferences, Akin is captured using both pronunciations within a couple of sentences of each other.  (See a good video on the subject here.)

He’s reaching out, I suppose.

The only purist in the lot is Jay Nixon’s opponent, Republican Dave Spence, who claims to always say Missouree. But some careful sleuthing by the media uncovered Spence’s wife pronouncing it Mizzouruh. Fortunately this should not hurt the Spence campaign due to the fact that voters are growing accustomed to mixed marriages. 

Sen. Claire McCaskill is bipartisan when it comes to how she refers to her home state.

I met Mrs. Spence this summer as she campaigned for her husband in Sedalia. During our conversation, she mentioned to me (and the lady I was standing next to) that she shops with her daughters at “Tarjhay” (Target) — the same place Michelle Obama and her daughters shop for many of their clothes.

Like me, I think she is a bit of a dreamer who just likes poetic sounding pronunciations.

But there are good reasons to give the final “i” in Missouri its schwa, or soft “uh” sound. 

Take the words stencil, pencil, Illinois….and president for instance. 

Speaking of president, Missouri pronunciation has even crept into presidential politics. 

Candidate Romney and President Obama differ on many things. At least it seems they try not to agree. Even on Missouri. 

In that spirit I took note that the President has been heard to say Missouruh many times. But given his speech patterns, there is a good chance that as he says the word his mind could be weighing the possibility of actually winning the state if he can avoid misspeaking.

I think what he’s really saying is uh, Mizzor…..uh.  

Over on the other side, Mitt Romney polls his Missouri audiences before committing himself. That’s when at least one audience went overwhelmingly to Missouree. 

I’m sure Gov. Romney has strong personal convictions on the subject but hopes his flexibility and sensitivity to others will earn him a landslide.

Given Romney’s Mormon religious persuasion I am reminded of the section of our Missouri town named Nauvoo, because Mormon migrants camped there over 150 years ago. Someone once told me that Nauvoo is a corruption of the word North View. In reality it is the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith’s phonetic translation of the ancient Hebrew na’ah, the modern version of which is na’wu meaning beautiful. 

Coincidentally, the schwa sound creating all the ruckus about Missouri pronunciation doesn’t come from indigenous Missouri Americans known as “those who have dugout canoes” or their native Siouan language, but from Hebrew alphabet and translation. 

That makes me think maybe Joseph Smith (who brought us the Book of Mormon and was killed by a mob in Carthage, Illinois) is actually responsible for Missouri having two names, a result of his study of Hebrew, and Hebrew language handbooks he passed out to followers.

Missouruh. Missouree. 

Smith is long gone along with all the people who actually named our state. We will never know whose phonetics are right. It probably doesn’t matter.

All it boils down to is that with rural Missouri voters favoring him a few points over Obama, Romney can probably get away with pronouncing Missouri however he likes.

Richard Oswald is a fifth generation Missouri farmer, president of the Missouri Farmers Union and a regular Daily Yonder columnist.

 

 

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