Potato, potahto n’at

Last night, I woke up just in time to see David what’s-his-name on CSI Miami say about the victim du jour, “His name was Steve Lancaster.”

It perked me right up. He said Lancaster like Burt — langCASter. But not like the town in Pennsylvania. Folks there call it LANGkister — all run together, veddy British. And if you’re from Latrobe, you call it LAYtrobe. And if you’re from the Laurel Mountains, you say Donniegol (the Irish way), while the typical PA Turnpike traveler simply says Donegal (DAWNigll). 

Of course, the natives are pronouncing it correctly. But I think it’s funny that we ‘Burghers, who are quick to laugh at a new newscaster who says MUNroeville or KITTENing or North Versigh, are almost universally wrong about Lancaster, Latrobe, and Donegal. (I met a girl in college, and all of us thought it was so funny when she said, “I’m from LAYtrobe.”)

I always notice accents. Also pronunciation, though I’m not always right in what I think is correct. After my diatribe against pronouncing verbiage “verbage,” I learned that was OK — the #2 way in the dictionary. Just like my husband’s pronunciation of compass to rhyme with pompous (but you’d think an eagle scout would know better), or saying aunt like taunt, or vase like voz.

At my husband’s church, while everyone was AHmen-ing, I was AYmen-ing. I’m still studying that one — maybe it’s a Catholic thing or a ‘Burgh thing? We (my relatives) were praying aloud at the funeral home a few weeks ago and we all AYmen-ed while my husband AHmen-ed.

I can always pick out a Western PA accent, even a latent one, though I didn’t know I had one of my own until 7th grade, when Mr. Klebaha amazed our entire English class by pointing out our Pittsburghese. I’ve learned to suppress it in the years since, but there’s still something comforting (although funny — Stanley P. Kachowski funny) in hearing someone who’s going dahntahn or doing the worsh or taking an ahr to get to work on a slippy day. These are the voices of home — and I’m proud to throw in a yinz or a “needs fixed” or a trip to the Sahside every now and then — it’s my right as a native. It bothers me when people equate those terms with being uneducated (or downright unwashed) — no one accuses Southerners of that or Chicagoans or Bostonians. We Pittsburghers share a unique voice (all the linguists agree), and it’s OK to be proud of that!

Why just a couple months ago, Mike and I saw an unfamiliar weatherman on The Weather Channel, and I immediately said, “He’s from around here.” Yep, according to his profile on weather.com, Severe Weather Expert Dr. Greg Forbes was born and raised near — you guessed it — good ol’ LAYtrobe.

Language is not an abstract construction of the learned, or of
dictionary makers, but is something arising out of the work, needs,
ties, joys, affections, tastes, of long generations of humanity,
and has its bases broad and low, close to the ground.
                                        ~ Noah Webster