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The Capital Region ABCs: How To Pronounce Words Like An Upstate New Yorker

Us Upstate New Yorkers say things differently than everyone else in the world—and sometimes, each other, too.

Finally, we give you a nearly-complete lexicon of how Upstate New Yorkers pronounce words. (Aki/Flickr)

As some of you might know, I married into a Utica area family, who immediately, no-questions-asked indoctrinated me into the Utican lifestyle: Anyone who has even the slightest tangential relationship to the area has to run at least one Boilermaker 15K (I’m “retired,” but have a number of them under my belt); know that a half moon is much, much more delicious (and different) than the famous black-and-white cookie from New York City; and realize that chicken riggies have nothing to do with the wealthy couple that owns the big mansion on North Broadway in Saratoga Springs.

But maybe the most distinctive thing about Uticans, at least from this editor’s perspective, is the way they pronounce specific words. All I have to do is hear a single car advertisement or local weather forecast at my mother-in-law’s house, and my ears perk up. For example, E’s usually end up sounding more like U’s; in other words, “ten,” pronounced like a Utican, sounds more like “ton.”

Of course, I’m just one punk kid who grew up in Saratoga, so it’s entirely possible you’ll hear my crazy accent and think, “Does this guy know how weird he sounds?” And while I could spend the decade researching and writing a linguistics treatise about the definitive Upstate New Yorker accent, I’d rather create an easy go-to guide—a lexicon, if you will—for all of you would-be tourists, who will surely be here next summer to visit our great racetrack and shop in our quaint downtown business district.

So, without further ado, here are the ABCs of Upstate New York—basically, a guide to how to say things like us. One thing to keep in mind: It’s incomplete; I couldn’t find different pronunciations for words beginning with all 26 letters of the alphabet. And I’m also not saying one pronunciation is better than the other. To that end, I put a question mark next to a number of them, signifying two or three different pronunciations of the same word.

Lastly, if I’m missing any glaring examples, feel free to include them in the comments section when this hits our Facebook page, and I’ll gladly update the story.

A

Albany: Some people say “ALL-bany,” while others say “AWW-bany.” But no one says “AL-bany,” though. That’s a place in the US state of Georgia.

An Hour: I’ve heard some fellow Capital Regionites pronounce this as one word: “annower.”

Aunt: “ANT” or “AWNT”?

B

Baseball: Hey, Colonizers (is that what you call somebody from Colonie?), “Base-BALL” or “Base-BUAL”?

Boutique: I’ve heard it pronounced two ways: “BOH-teek” and “BOO-teek.”

C

Is that a “CYA-lender” or “CAL-ender”? (Dafne Cholet/Flickr)

Calendar: “CYA-lender” or “CAL-ender”?

Caramel: Do you say “CAR-mel” or “CARE-a-mel”?

Cat: “KAT” or “KYAT”?

Complimentary/Complementary: “Complimen-TAIRY” or “Complimen-TREE”?

Corinth (NY): “cor-RINTH” or “COR-inth”?

Coupon: “COO-pon” or “CUE-pon”?

Crayon: “CRAY-on” or “CRAN”?

D

Data: “DAY-ta” or “DAH-da”? Just remember, though, that the word “data” is plural. As in, “Will, those data you just crunched on saratogaliving.com are amazing!”

Documentary: “Documen-TAIRY” or “Documen-TREE”?

Dog: “DWOG” or “DAHG”?

Downtown: “DOWN-town” or “down-TOWN”?

Drawer (furniture item): “DRAW” or “DROOR”?

E

Economic: “EE-conomic” or “ECK-conomic”?

Elementary: My boss can’t get over how some people in this region say “el-uh-men-TAIRY” versus “el-uh-men-TREE.” As in, the school, and “____, my dear Watson.”

F

G

Gansevoort: “GANS-vurt,” “GANS-uh-vort” or “GANS-vort”?

H

Ham: “HEE-yam” or “Hàm”? (yep, that’s an accent mark)

I

J

K

L

Lackadaisical: “LAX-uh-dayz-ical” or LACK-uh-dayz-ical”?

Ladder: Who votes for “Laddur” and who votes for “Lattur”? (David Michalczuk/Flickr)

Ladder: “Laddur” or “Lattur”?

Litter: “Liddur” or “Littur”?

M

Mall: “MWAL” or “MAHL”?

Mayonnaise: “MAN-aze” or “MAYO-naze”?

Matter: “Maddur” or “Mattur”?

Mountain: A lot of people I’ve talked with drop the “nt” out of “mountain” (and other linguistically similar words), so that it simply sounds like “mao-in.” Or, maybe, you’re a pronouncer: “MOUN-tin.”

N

Not: “Naugh” (with no “T”) or “Not”?

O

Off: “AWWF” or “AHHF”?

P

Pajamas: “puh-JAH-mus” or “puh-JAM-as”? (Subtle, I realize, but crucial for the Upstate New York bedtime hour.)

Partner: “PART-ner” or “PWART-ner”?

Pecan: “Pee-CAN” or “Pee-CAHN”?

Pity: “PID-y” or “PIT-y”?

Pothole: “PAH-hole” or “POT-hole”?

Q

R

Roof: “Roohf” or “Rùff”?

Room: “ROOHM” or “RUM”?

Route: “Rooht” or “Rowt”?

Ruin: “ROON” or “RUE-in” (pronounced like the Saratoga real estate firm)?

S

How do you pronounce “sandwich”? (Brian Child/Flickr)

Sandwich: “SAND-wich,” “SEEN-wich” or “SAM-wich”? (My dad says the latter, but maybe that’s because he’s originally from Pittsburgh)

Sorry: Our Canadian friends a little farther north pronounce it “SORE-y,” which can also be heard up here. I say “SAR-y,” the same way I pronounce the beautiful Indian dress, but people still think my accent makes me sound like a Canadian. Go figure.

Stoop: “STOOHP” or “STUP”?

Syracuse: “SEE-ruh-cuse” or “SARAH-cuse”?

Syrup: “SUR-up” or “SEE-rup”?

T

Theater: “THEE-ter” or “THEE-uh-ter”?

U

V

Vase: “Vaisse” or “Vahz”?

W

X

Y

You (Guys): “You’s guys” or “You guys”?

Z


Still thirsty for more? Learn the most annoying words and phrases overheard in Upstate New York offices; marvel at the words, phrases and expressions only Upstate New Yorkers use; and don’t forget to enjoy the most memorable advertising jingles in Upstate New York history.

 

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Will Levith

Will Levith is Editorial Director at Saratoga Living and Capital Region Living magazine. He's a native Saratogian and graduate of Saratoga Springs High School. His work has been published by Esquire, Playboy, Condé Nast Traveler, Men's Health, RealClearLife and many others. He lives in Troy with his wife, Laura, and dog, Esopus.

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