I say “Chic-aw-go.” (with a soft aw) Do you say “Chic-ah-go?” (with a loud honking ah?)
I’m asking because over the weekend we watched the movie Fracture (four out of five stars!) and a character in the movie said, “Chic-ah-go” and it sounded so wrong that I noticed it and it got me to thinking. I’ve always pronounced the soft “aw” in the middle and I was born and raised here. I’m not saying there’s a right way or a wrong way to pronounce the name of our fair city, but what if there is a way natives and non-natives do?
Has anyone else noticed this besides me? Perhaps more importantly, does anyone else even care? Sure, the Chicago accent is ripe for mockery. And I got it bad. If you could hear me say that last sentence, the vowel sounds would be all drawn-out, loud and nasally, like in the old Saturday Night Live skits, Bill Swerski’s Super Fans. (which I'm pretty sure is based on my actual family.) But even with all the Saaah-sauges and Baaahb’s, George Wendt still pronounced it, Chicawgo. Ah, but wait; George Wendt is from here.
As a pilot, I’ve been schooled whenever I pronounce the names of other people’s cities incorrectly on the PA. New Orleans? Nawlens, all one syllable, is how I was told to say it, which I found amusing since it’s these very same Southerners who insist on adding a syllable to my name. Key-um. Bangor? Emphasis on the “bang,” which I’d thought I’d been doing, but apparently not adding emphasis enough. (They were pretty emphatic about it, too.) And don’t you dare forget St. Paul when you tell folks you’ll be landing in Minneapolis… St. Paul. See how I didn’t forget!
I know. You’re asking, Don’t you have anything more important to do today, Kim? Probably. But what if I want to help out some actor trying to get a part as an authentic Chicagoan and they’re Googling how to pronounce “Chicago” and sure, they can find other stuff on how it’s said, like Ask the Chicagoist: how do you say Chicago? But what I want to know is, how do most natives say it? And why did it sound so, well, mispronounced when that actress said, "Chic-ah-go?"
Regardless, I think one thing we can all agree on, is that it’s a Sh sound at the beginning and not a Ch, as in “chips”. Which reminds me, I need to pick up some Kielbasa at the store, you know, if I ever get around to doing something important today.
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