I say Ne-va-da, you say Ne-vah-da
Radio host Robert Siegel stopped a correspondent in the middle of her report.
“I’m going to save you some angry calls here,” said the host of National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.”
He pronounced the stressed vowel in the state’s name like the “a” in lag, not like the “o” in log.
Correspondent Michel Martin then thanked Siegel and went on with her report on what Democratic candidate John Edwards would do after the New Hampshire primary that night.
“Two of our people said Neh-Vodd-uh and I felt obliged to correct them,” Siegel said in an e-mail. “Yes, I have been corrected over the years by our stations, especially when recording fundraising spots, and by Nevadans.”
But many east of the Rocky Mountains are not corrected when they say the word differently than Nevada residents. Television reporters covering the Jan. 5 flood in Fernley and the Jan. 19 state caucus have repeated what many residents see as wrong and, according to state Archivist Guy Rocha, what sounds like fingernails on a chalk board.
“It’s like eeeeeeeeeeeeee,” he said. “Like, ‘Oh God, did you hear that?'”
Rocha has watched the pronunciation of the state’s name for years. He even created what he has called a “vitriolic firestorm” when he corrected President George W. Bush in 2003 for saying Nevada wrong during a re-election campaign stop in Las Vegas.
What Rocha said became a national story and caused him to be hit with hundreds of e-mails from people who were angry he corrected the president.
“The only thing I didn’t get was a death threat,” Rocha said.
The criticisms were not political, though. He went on to correct former Democratic presidential candidates John Kerry and Howard Dean, as well as pointing out the error of ABC’s George Stephanopoulos when the anchor hosted a Democratic presidential forum in Carson City last February.
The crowd, however, booed Stephanopoulos before Rocha said a word.
After Rocha’s public complaints, the state launched a few programs that showed the correct pronunciation of its name.
The state tourism commission started with a special license plate in 2005. It had an accent over the first “a” in Nevada to show that the vowel should be pronounced with a soft sound.
The plates were soon canceled, though, after selling about 700 copies in a state of 2 million registered vehicles.
“It just didn’t work out to be a popular plate,” said Tom Jacobs, a Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles representative.
The accent word still is on the commission’s Web site and on some of its pamphlets. The accent is more for decoration than education, however, said Bethany Drysdale.
“If they come here and they’re visiting, I don’t care how they pronounce it,” the tourism representative said.
No one knows exactly why Nevada is pronounced how it is, but it could have come from California miners who anglicized the word in the mid-19th century, Rocha said.
He’s found recordings as far back as 1910 that have the pronunciation and disagrees that the way people from the East say the word sounds the way the Spanish pronounce it.
But what’s more interesting than how Nevada residents say the word is why they react to people saying it differently, said Valerie Fridland, a professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, who studies dialects.
Residents use pronunciation not only to determine who is a native to the state, she said, but who respects and cares about them. Fridland called it a “symbolic identity issue.”
To residents, if visitors, politicians, or advertisers can’t pronounce the state’s name right, those people either don’t have anything to offer people in Nevada or are offensively ignorant, according to Fridland.
“It’s all about respect for people and the way they live,” Rocha said.
People warned Fridland about pronouncing Nevada wrong when she moved to the state a few years ago but most, she said, weren’t rude.
It would have been different if she would have continued to say it wrong, though, because of what it would have said about her attitude.
Nevada does have an independent spirit, she said, but how residents feel about the pronunciation of the state name isn’t too different than people in Louisville, Ky., feel about that city’s name or how anyone feels about the pronunciation of their own name.
But Howard Rosenberg, vice chairman of the Nevada Board of Regents, said Nevada residents are more insistent on pronunciation than anyone he’s met in the East.
People here always correct him, he said, when he accidentally says the state’s name with a broad “a” like others would in his hometown of Boston.
After he moved to Nevada 41 years ago, he had a student that asked him why he couldn’t say Nevada correctly if he could pronounce the words “gang” and “plank.”
“And I said, ‘Why did you just flunk this course, smart ass?'”
Complaints from residents, however, might have helped to make the rest of the country more aware of at least their state’s name, Rocha said, but it’s difficult to tell when many speakers from the East continue to say the name wrong without being corrected.
“I’m not sure you unring a bell once rung,” he said.
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A grand opening will be held for Chick-fil-A Carson Valley, located at 4751 Cochise St., on Jan. 21.