You Pronounce it HOW?

I’ve posted here before about fictional names for Maine towns, talking first about Storybrooke and Cabot Cove and later about where Moosetookalook, Maine came from But real Maine towns are interesting, too. And occasionally confusing.

Maine towns are divided into villages, many with their own post offices. Sometimes the road between one village and the next dips into another town, or even another county, then comes back into the original town. The Town of Jay, for example, in Franklin County, includes Bean’s Corner, Chisholm, Dryden, North Jay, and Riley. Jay runs directly into Livermore Falls, in Androscoggin County. If you didn’t spot the town and county line signs, you’d never know the difference. The two towns’ high schools used to be bitter sports rivals. Since the recent school consolidations, they’re all one district . . . and one team. I won’t comment on how the locals feel about that!

The Town of Wilton is made up of Dryden, East Dixfield, East Wilton, and Wilton. At one point, the county line runs right through the middle of East Dixfield village, which means that houses on one side of U. S. Rt. 2 are in Wilton (Franklin County) and houses on the other side are in Dixfield (Oxford County). If an officer from one county wants to serve a warrant or make an arrest involving a person living on the wrong side of the line, they have to ask for help from the police department in the other county, or persuade the subject in question to come out of his house and cross the street. Some folks also get to pay taxes in two separate towns, since their houses straddle the line. As a writer of light, comic cozies, I can see the potential for humor in this. In real life it isn’t quite so funny.

This business of roads winding in and out and back into a town is also confusing for delivery service drivers. The ones who used to work for the now defunct Airborne Express never could figure out where my house was.

There is a rather famous sign here in Maine that gives distances to a variety of towns named after foreign cities and countries. It misses a few, however. That’s probably because they aren’t pronounced quite the same way here in Maine that they are in “furrin parts.” There’s Madrid, for example, in Franklin County. That’s MAD-rid. Not Ma-DRID. We also have Avon, with a heavy accent on the VON. Then there’s Calais, on the Canadian border. Mainers around here (Central Maine) say it the same way they do those rough spots on hands, fingers, and toes. I won’t guarantee the same pronunciation closer to the actual town.

How you pronounce some place names in Maine may depend on whether or not you were born there. Natives of Lewiston, especially those of French Canadian descent, have it sounding something like LOY-stun. French surnames are likely to get their own spin, too. In other places, I’ve heard Paradis anglicized to Paradise, but my mother-in-law, whose maiden name it was, always pronounced it the same way I say the word parody. Cloutier tends to sound like clew-chee and Pellitier becomes pell-chee. The accent is on the first syllable in both.

But I digress. I was talking about Maine place names. The city of Bangor has been sadly mispronounced for years, thanks to the lyrics of “King of the Road.” It’s ban-gore and always has been. Don’t even get me started on Bar Harbor (Bah Hahbah) and other place names containing the letter R.

I could go on . . . and on . . . but instead here’s a challenge for you. There is one place name that kept me tongue-tied for years before I finally got it right. How would you pronounce Damariscotta?

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9 Responses to You Pronounce it HOW?

  1. Deanna says:

    Hi, That sign brings back memories of a vacation we took when I was 12 or thirteen. There should be a picture of it in one of our albums. I have lived in NE all my life and love it even with all its quirks. Dee

  2. Lea Wait says:

    Ah, yes. I write books set in Wiscasset, near Woolwich (don’t even think about that send w) and spend a lot of time in Damariscotta. They sell tee-shirts there printed “where the hell IS Damariscotta?” By the way — that’s the the town where the library’s name is Skidompha, a topic covered in an earlier post. I won’t give away how you pronouce it. But I’ll also put on the table that during the summer months you hear some interesting linguistic variations on even the simple name of a town like Boothbay Harbor. Another town you hear pronounced in various ways is Saco. Think an item of clothing — not something to carry clothing in. Fujn post, Kathy!

  3. John Clark says:

    DAM-AH-RI-SKOTT-UH. Anyhow, that’s how I’ve always pronounced it. Love to hear flatlanders try to pronounce Maine place names. (BTW, there’s a terrific book, The dictionary of Maine place-names by Phillip R. Rutherford that was published by Bond-Wheelright in 1970 that would be terrific addition to any reference collection owned/used by a Maine author).

  4. Donald A. Coffin says:

    This is, I’m happy to say, a game anyone in any state can play. I used to live in central Illinois, and on Saturday morning would hear the high school football scores on the radio. The HS in (as they said it on the radio) San Joe’s kept losing…drove through the town one day and found I was on my way to San Jose. Also in Illinois is Karo…er, Cairo. And Peru, IL–that’s Pee-roo And in Indiana, Versales, also spelled Versailles.

  5. Sarah Graves says:

    I’m right next door to Calais, and yes, it’s pronounced like rough heels here, too. The story goes that a few years ago a couple of housebreakers were stopped by the cops in Steuben, and were taken into custody when they claimed to be local boys “from right here in STEW-ben.”

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