How do you pronounce ‘route’ and ‘root’?

Recently, I wrote a post about Historic US Route 66. So …

How do you pronounce the word ‘route’? The nationally accepted way in the U.S. is to say it the same way as the nationally accepted pronunciation of ‘root’ which both rhyme with ‘boot’.

Growing up in Chicago, though, we said the word ‘route’ the same way people say ‘military rout’ to rhyme with ‘out.’

The fashion that we Chicagoans say ‘root’ is also at variance with national usage. We pronounce ‘root’ to rhyme with ‘foot’. For Chicagoans, this is the same vowel that occurs the word ‘roof’. This word rhymes with the sound that dogs make: ‘woof.’

I’ve heard these pronunciations from people who come from Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota. If I’m not mistaken, I’ve also heard these pronunciation from residents of Kansas City.

I don’t have anyone from Southern Illinois in my informal survey or from elsewhere in the Midwest besides the locations that I mentioned. My informants are older people who were born in these Midwestern states and who have not spent much time elsewhere in the country.

My own pronunciation changed to the nationally accepted way sometime during my life, but I don’t know why or when. I studied in Brooklyn for four years, but I don’t speak like a Brooklyner. Other than that, I’ve lived mostly in the Chicago area, except for ten years in Kansas City, until four years ago.

My impression is that the way we spoke in Chicago is the way people speak in the entire middle of the country. I’ve heard that some localisms came along with the railroads. Chicago is the railroad hub of the nation. It stands to reason that people who left Chicago for opportunities outward bound brought their local, Chicago speech with them.


While I’m at it, how do you pronounce ‘Chicago’, the city’s name? The people of the Chicago region and elsewhere in the Midwest pronounce the name of the city as shih KAW go, not like elsewhere in the country where they say the city’s name as shih KAH go. As far as I’m concerned, shih KAW go is the authentic name of the city.

Early on, when Frank Sinatra sang the song “Chicago, Chicago — My Home Town,” he gave it away that he’s from elsewhere. He sang, “shih KAH go, shih KAH go.” On the other hand, when Sinatra sang the song “My Kind of Town, Chicago Is” before a live crowd in 1982, he sang, “shih CAW go.”

Go figure.

Gourmet vanilla extract

McCormick  markets gourmet premium pure organic vanilla extract. They tout its quality by telling us that the hand-picked vanilla beans “are left on the vine for up to 9 months to ensure vanilla flavor the way it was intended to be.”

So then, what does “up to 9 months” on the vine mean? Does it mean that some of the beans stay on the vine for only one month? Does it in fact mean that only a token number of beans remain on the vine for a full nine months?

My curmudgeonly take on writing hardened by reading American journalist Theodore M. Bernstein (1904–1979). He was the assistant managing editor of The New York Times from 1951 to 1969.

Among his several books, he wrote Watch Your Language: A Lively, Informal Guide to Better Writing, Emanating from the News Room of the New York Times  (1958). (My copy is still boxed up from my move ten months ago.)

So how am I doing in the writing department? Do I write better after hot tea with sugar? Of course, you wouldn’t know.

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See Theodore M. Bernstein papers, Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library.

A pungent captain

An arrogant lieutenant joins the cavalry of a pungent captain at an outpost in the middle of the desert surrounded by Comanche and Apache Indians.

Summary of the film A Thunder of Drums from MGM (1961)

as broadcast by the GRIT television network (May 2018)

Help! What is a pungent captain?

Besides this, to be pedantic, is a question: Is the outpost surrounded by Indians, or is the desert surrounded by Indians?

To create again or not to

Mariela Castaneda, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), explained the closure of a parcel of public land. The open desert area in Arizona had become a popular spot for illegal target shooting. Unfortunately, a stray bullet killed a pregnant woman in January 2018.

Castaneda said, “While the BLM understands the temporary closure will impact recreational opportunities in the … area, it is necessary for the safety of the recreating public and those conducting power line repair and fiber optic line burial.”

From the Scottsdale Republic, “Feds close BLM land after stray-bullet death,” Friday, February 23, 2018, section SR, Z8, pp. 16-17.

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What we say can become ambiguous when it appears in writing.