Sunday, November 27, 2005

Thome in Chicago: Pronunciation problems

He may be new in town, but Jim Thome, the newest member of the "WORLD CHAMPION" Chicago White Sox, already presents some challenges to the city. Will he appreciate the pizza ... or will he at some point say that he prefers New York-style? Which suburb will he move to? And the biggest one for the fans: How the heck are you supposed to pronounce his name? When he was in Cleveland and Philadelphia, it seems his name was pronounced with two syllables: TOW-ME. That just doesn't work in these parts. I've lived near the street with his name for five years, and I've never heard anyone pronounce it with that way. Instead, I've heard these varieties:

THHHOME: It sounds like someone with a lisp, which is usually pretty funny, but that TH-sound can be threatening. "THis be THome, you THon of a be-yotch," the local gangbangers say.

TOME: Drop the H, but keep it to a single syllable.

DOME: Ah, the Southside accent, as in Da Bears and Da Bulls. Well, to be honest, I've never heard it said that way--this is up north after all--but my ears always perk up when I see some mustached guy with a vintage 1985 Bears jacket walk up the street.

Speaking of domes, now that it's officially cold, I wonder yet again why Chicago sports teams don't build stadiums with rooftops. This is not to say I want domed stadiums here, but I'm just wondering. The Detroit Lions play in a dome. They're going to host the Super Bowl. The Milwaukee Brewers have a retractable roof, and, I have to say, I kind of don't mind being able to see a baseball game even if it's 39 and raining. For the so-called purists, who say that open air is to our advantage when we play Minnesota or Tampa, I have this fun FACT: 40 of the guys on the Bears roster went to university south of St. Louis. How is cold weather to our advantage?

Anyway, back to the street name. This particular intersection poses quite a pronunciation problem for out-of-towners. "Thome" is hard enough, but then there's "Paulina." In any other city in the world, it would be pronounced PAUL-E-NA. Not here. Here, it's PAUL-I-NA. Whenever I apply for a new credit card over the phone, the India-based operator has problems with my pronunciation, especially when I'm giving my address. "It's Paul-i-na," I say, "spelled like Paul-e-na."

Nobody really knows why we pronounce it like this, but it's important to us that nobody mispronounce it. (Which leads to my 34th biggest pet peeve, the way the voice recording on the el says "Cly-BURN" instead of "Cly-BORN" ... but that's the least of the CTA's problems.) The DA-sound in TH-words like "the" makes sense--it has something to do with a lazy tongue from all the Wisconsin cheese we eat. But why the I-sound in Paulina?

As I said, nobody really knows the answer, but it does lead to the only Chicago joke you need to know:

Question: What are three Chicago street names that rhyme with a woman's private parts?

Answer: Paulina, Regina ... and ... (wait for it!) ... Lunt!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't forget Dev-in, I mean, De-vaughn.

1:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't even realize there was a Thome Ave. in Chicago. It is a family name on my mother's side. Our family says THHOME. Our distant German cousins searched Chgo. and suburban phone books years ago looking for the Thome relatives that came to the states many years ago. They found my mom's cousin who still carries that name. We hosted them here and we visited them in Germany. They pronounce it Tow-may over there with an accent on the second syllable. I'm interested in learning about who the street is named after.

4:14 PM  

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