Scott D. Pierce: C’mon, TV reporters and anchors, can’t you pronounce ‘Emigration Creek’ correctly?

Except, um, what is the correct pronunciation?

People work to protect homes into the night along 1700 South in Salt Lake City from the rising flow of Emigration Creek through Wasatch Hollow Park on Wednesday, April 12, 2023. As rapid snowmelt and possible April showers stoke fears of heavy flooding in the Northern Plains, state officials are announcing flood response plans, and residents are assembling thousands — if not hundreds of thousands — of sandbags to combat floods themselves. (Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

In recent weeks, local television reporting about flooding along Emigration Creek has made something perfectly clear: There is no complete agreement among Utah TV reporters, anchors and weathercasters about how to pronounce “Emigration.”

Most pronounce it the way it’s written. EM-igration. Some pronounce it as if the first letter is an “I” — IM-igration.

Many years ago, when I was a young reporter and an immigrant to Utah (having emigrated from New York), I was scolded by an editor when I pronounced Emigration Canyon the way it’s written — EM-igration. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I was wrong, that I should never pronounce it that way again, and that I sounded dumb.

(This was at a Salt Lake City daily that is not The Salt Lake Tribune.)

I’ve asked a lot of people about this. Some native Utahns. Some long-timers. Some short-timers and newcomers. And I have come to believe that the IM-igration pronunciation was favored by at least some native Utahns of a certain age (older than me). But if what we hear on TV these days is any indication, that pronunciation is falling out of favor.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Alex Klivecka puts down sandbags as Emigration Creek rises in Emigration Canyon on Wednesday, April 12, 2023.

You could argue that this is not of any great importance, and you’d be right. The flooding is the important thing about Emigration Creek these days.

But you can’t argue that pronouncing place names correctly is of zero importance. Incorrect pronunciations mark you as an outsider. Or maybe just sort of dumb. Like that editor clearly implied I was.

Unless you’re completely new to Utah, if you hear someone on a newscast pronounce Mantua the way it looks — something like Man-TOO-uh, maybe — you’re going to cringe. (It is, of course, pronounced MAN-uh-way.)

And if a TV news person pronounces the name of the town of Hurricane as if it’s a tropical storm, well, that’s just wrong. It’s closer to HER-uh-kin.

(Conversely, I attended a Brigham Young University football game many years ago and the public address announcer kept telling fans about the Tulsa Golden HER-uh-kin, which was ridiculous.)

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) A mudslide blocks a lane of traffic in Emigration Canyon on Wednesday, April 12, 2023.

Weber is pronounced WEE-bur, not WEBB-er. Duchesne is pronounced Dew-SHANE. Oquirrh is pronounced OH-ker because … how else would you pronounce it?

And before you try to tell me that place names should be pronounced the way they look, let’s consider Tooele. Tell me you wouldn’t have negative thoughts about a TV reporter or anchor who pronounced that TOOL-ee.

(When I moved to Utah decades ago, one of my roommates was from Tooele. I heard the name without seeing it written and assumed it was spelled Twilla. When I was confronted with the correct spelling, I thought my roommates were pulling my leg.)

Utah has uniquely pronounced place names, but it’s hardly alone in that. I grew up in upstate New York, and I’m confident that native Utahns would struggle to correctly pronounce a lot of place names that roll off my tongue — Apalachin, Canandaigua, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Irondequoit, Oneonta, Skaneateles, Rensselaer and more. And there are some places that are not pronounced at all the way you’d expect: Cairo is “CARE-oh”; New Berlin is “New BURR-lin”; and the third syllable, not the first, is stressed in Colo-NIE.

I can absolutely guarantee that local TV news people in New York hear from viewers when they mispronounce place names.

It’s easy for those of us in print journalism because all we have to do is get the spellings right. You have no idea if we actually know how to pronounce, well, any word. Any name. Anything.

I, for one, am grateful for that.

(Sofia Jeremias | The Salt Lake Tribune) Staff at Ruth's Diner located in Emigration Canyon discuss building a wall of sand bags to divert expected Emigration Creek flood waters from flowing into the restaurant on Wednesday, April 12, 2023.

Most local TV news types — many of them not native Utahns or long-timers — are pronouncing Emigration Creek and Emigration Canyon the way they look. Maybe that’s affecting the rest of Utah. Maybe there’s nobody left with an inclination to tell newcomers they should be pronounced as if they start with an “I.”

Maybe it doesn’t grate on the ears of younger Utahns the way it grated on that editor who smacked me down all those years ago. And maybe she was just having a bad day, although that behavior was not ... um ... unusual for her. Sigh.

To be clear, I’m not sure who’s right and who’s wrong in this pitched pronunciation battle. Y’all will have to fight this out amongst yourselves.

But there is an argument to be made that by homogenizing pronunciations, maybe we’re losing a bit of what makes Utah unique. And that is sort of unfortunate.

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