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Back when it was still young and growing, the United State of Illinois looked to the international scene for good names of cities. There's nothing new or un-American about this; New York City and New Orleans were just two of the country's larger cities to borrow their names from other countries. Why bother to cook up a name of your own when you can just borrow someone else's, especially if that city has a great and recognizable heritage already attached to it?

But Illinois also had a problem. It was filled with German-Americans, which were (and are) much like native Germans but exponentially more stubborn. And so, while most of the English-speaking state did and does practice what's now considered a "normal" American accent, they did and do mangle the pronounciations of the city names they imported. The worst offenders:

  • Cairo - pronounced "KAY-roh" when you mean the one in Illinois
  • Eldorado - "el doh-RAY-doh"
  • Marseilles - "mar-SELL-is"
  • San Jose - "san JOES", but with a heavy "s" sound instead of a "z"
  • Versailles - "vair-SALES"
  • Vienna - "VIE-enna"
  • Rome - well, at least we got that one right.

Now, what's ironic is that almost every Illinoisian (save for some die-hard Chicagoans) pronounces the state's name correctly as "ill-ih-NOY" instead of "ill-ih-NOISE". And it's just this state -- right next door, in Iowa, they pronounce Des Moines with two silent esses; if it were in Illinois, they'd call it "Dess MOYNSS" and insist it was correct.

But as I said, German-Americans are notoriously stubborn. An anecdote reprinted in a local paper once told of a newly-hired conductor on a passenger train running south through the state, back when trains were the only good way to get anywhere. He called for the stop at San Jose -- long "o", silent "e" -- and was corrected by another employee with the Spanish pronounciation.

He corrected himself, and announced the stop for "San Hoh-SAY" a couple of times. Nobody got off the train. The train picked up speed again, left the station, and soon a small group of irate passengers demanded to know why he'd not announced the stop for San Jose when the train had stopped there.