2012.10.17 Candidates are waffling

Written by David Green.

By RICH FOLEY

Nationally, our presidential candidates  have recently been spending their time  debating the fate of Sesame Street’s Big Bird, but in Missouri, those running for statewide office have been tussling with an even more critical issue—How do you pronounce the name of the state?

The New York Times recently covered the controversy, finding that most candidates have a favored pronunciation except for incumbent governor Jay Nixon.  Nixon uses the Missouree and Missouruh versions on an equal basis, even using both in the same sentence. A former spokesman for Governor Nixon calls him “oratorically ambidextrous.”

Nixon’s Republican challenger, Dave Spence, uses the Missouree version exclusively, saying “people can see through insincerity from about 150 yards.”  He adds that he’d never change his pronunciation for political gain. Spence hasn’t had much success pushing that idea in his own home, though,  as his wife uses the Missouruh version, even while campaigning.

Reasons for the two versions are a subject of debate for both linguists and historians. Some claim the eastern half of the state prefers Missouree, the western half Missouruh. Others say it’s a north- south thing, with Missouree dominating the north half of the state and Missouruh the south. A third group claims Missouree is the choice in cities and Missouruh in the country.

An English professor at the University of Missouri who also studies linguistics says “The Missouruh pronunciation carries a degree of stigma as incorrect or at least old-fashioned,” adding that young people tend to avoid it even if they are from families who used that pronunciation.

Politicians still like saying Missouruh, following the lead of President Harry Truman and Senator John Ashcroft, among others. A Democratic consultant quoted in the article advises clients to use the Missouruh pronunciation when campaigning in rural areas. A Republican consultant said he’s never discussed the issue with a candidate from Missouri, but advises those from out-of-state that it’s safer to say Missouruh.

Even though this is mostly a question for the state of Missouri and it hasn’t come up in any debates, the presidential candidates differ on this issue just as they do on Big Bird’s continued employment.

Mitt Romney addressed the issue directly at a campaign event during the primary race in the state, asking the crowd, “How many say Missouree like I do?” President Obama, meanwhile, has favored the Missouruh version during his campaign appearances.

On a more local note, I’ve always wondered if the proper pronunciation of the town in northeast Lenawee County is “Tecumsee” or “Tecumsuh.” That will have to be a subject for another day.

Although the Times claims Missouri is “the only state where there is fundamental, if mostly good natured, disagreement about saying the state’s name,” I can remember a couple of incidents to the contrary.

Readers may remember a column from 2003 about a trip to Missouree/Missouruh during which I made a stop at the Illinois Welcome Center on my way home. After searching the selection of tourist literature, I went to the information desk and asked if they had a Illinois state map.

The woman in charge replied that she’d give me one since I was the first person all day to pronounce the name of the state correctly.  Everyone else had pronounced it as if it were spelled “Illinoise,” not her preferred “Illinoy.” She seemed quite bothered by the situation. My reward was a free map.

Then, there was a trip to Michigan’s western Upper Peninsula back in the mid 1980s. I had stopped at an antique store named, of all things, “The Last Place on Earth.” I parked next to a car with Iowa license plates and went inside.

The proprietor asked me if I was from out of state, then added that someone from “Ohio” was elsewhere in the store. When I replied that there was also a car from Iowa in the parking lot, she rather snottily informed me that “That’s what I said, Ohio!”

I suppose the store is probably long gone by now, but If I ever went back and found it still open, I know what I’d tell her. Since I’m now a resident of Ohio, I’d claim to be from Des Moines. She’d probably never figure out the difference.

  • Front.bridge Cross
    STEP BY STEP—Wyatt Stevens of Morenci makes his way across a rope bridge Sunday during the Michigan DNR’s Great Outdoors Jamboree at Lake Hudson Recreation Area. The Tecumseh Boy Scout Troop constructed the bridge again this year after taking a break in 2016. The Jamboree offered a variety of activities for a wide range of age groups. Morenci’s Stair District Library set up activities again this year and had visits with dozens of kids. See the back page for additional photos.
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    LEADING THE WAY—The Morenci Area High School marching band led the way across the pedestrian bridge on Morenci’s south side for the annual Labor Day Bridge Walk. The Band Boosters shared profits from the sale of T-shirts with the walk’s sponsor, the Morenci Area Chamber of Commerce. Additional photos are on the back page.
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    LOOKING UP—More than 200 people showed up at Stair District Library Monday afternoon to view the big celestial event with free glasses provided by a grant from the Space Science Institute. The library offered craft activities from noon to 1 p.m., refreshments including Cosmic Cake from Zingerman’s Bakehouse and a live viewing of the eclipse from NASA on a large screen. As the sky darkened slightly, more and more people moved outside to the sidewalk to take a look at the shrinking sun. If you missed it, hang on for the next total eclipse in 2024 as the path comes even closer to this area.
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    THE MAYOR—Cecil Schoonover poses with a collection of garden gnomes that mysteriously arrive and disappear from his property. Along with the gnomes, someone created the sign stating that he is the Mayor of Gnomesville. He hasn’t yet tracked down the people involved in the prank, but he’s having a good time with the mystery.
  • Front.rest
    TAKE A BREAK—Last Wednesday’s session of Stair District Library’s Summer Reading Program ended with a quiet period in a class presented by yoga instructor Melany Gladieux of Toledo. Children learned a variety of yoga poses in the main room at the library, then finished off the session relaxing. Additional photos are on page 7. Area children are invited to visit the library today when the Michigan Science Center presents a flight program at 11 a.m. and roller coasters at 1 p.m.
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    THE DERBY—Tyler “Smallpox” Flakne of Minnesota’s Home Run League All-Stars goes for the fence Friday night during the National Wiffle League Association’s home run derby in Morenci. This year the wiffleball national tournament moved from Dublin, Ohio, to Morenci’s Wakefield Park. During the derby, competitors had two minutes to hit as many home runs as possible. The winner this year finished with 21. See page 6 and 7 for additional photos.
  • Front.green Screen
    OUT OF THIS WORLD—Elizabeth McFadden and Elise Christle pose in front of the green screen as VolunTeen Noah Gilson makes them appear as though they are standing on the Moon. More photos from the Stair District Library’s NASA @ My Library program are on page 12.
  • Front.fireworks
    FIREWORKS erupt Saturday night over Morenci’s Wakefield Park during the waning hours of the Town and Country Festival. Additional festival photos are inside.
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