From ‘Res-er-vwah’ to ‘Lawnceston’: butchering the names of places Australians call home

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Sarah Rhodes/AAP</span>
Photograph: Sarah Rhodes/AAP

A suburb in Melbourne’s north has been giving Victoria’s top health officials some difficulty. It’s not Wollert, where the current outbreak originated, or Craigieburn, home to one of the most worrying exposure sites.

It’s Reservoir. Keen watchers of Victoria’s daily coronavirus press conferences will have noticed that the state’s health officials, able to confidently rattle off extremely long updates about the latest cases and exposure sites, keep tripping over the pronunciation of this suburb by making it too fancy. The actual name is pronounced Res-er-vore, rhymes with door, with the -voir pronounced like the Latin term voir dire. It’s not Res-er-vwah – like the dam containing drinking water.

Related: Covid Victoria restrictions explained: new coronavirus rules for Melbourne and regional areas

It has been nice, as we’ve sat in our homes in Melbourne for the past three weeks, to bicker about something as benign as the correct pronunciation of a suburb.

I sympathise with the tendency to bungle unfamiliar words by making them sound a bit posh. It may be a result of studying a language at school – if you don’t recognise a word, try it in an atrocious Italian accent.

As a young journalist in rural Western Australia I was laughed at for five minutes by the Capel shire president when I rhymed Capel with lapel (it’s CAPE-el). One job later, in Tasmania, I decided to give the local ski field Ben Lomond a French twist and pronounce it Ben Lomonde. Right spirit, wrong accent – it’s named after a place in the Scottish highlands.

I was told you could spot mainlanders by the way they’d say ‘Lawnceston’, but the real trick is Sorell (pronounced Sorelle). If they say it like the weed, you found an upper islander.

My sister developed a pronunciation hack for West Australian place names: say the name of every suburb with an ocker accent worthy of the late Steve Irwin.

So Malaga, a northern suburb of Perth, is not pronounced Mal-ahhhh-ga, not Málaga like its namesake. Mandurah, south of Perth, is Man-dra. Coogee, pronounced Coudgie in Sydney, is Coo-Gee in Perth.

Disappointingly, Cockburn is Coh-burn.

The Perth trick also works for most places in regional Australia, until it doesn’t. So the Yarra River is Ya-rah, not Yah-ra as a colleague’s American husband pronounces it. Another American friend once asked if we lived in You-You-Ca – or Echuca, to those of us less inclined to enunciate. Locals in Castlemaine have bumper stickers that say ‘there’s no ‘r’ in Castlemaine’ – it’s castle as in passel.

But Suggan Buggan is properly Soogin Boogin, which just sounds weird.

In Melbourne the trick seems to be to swallow your vowels, unless it’s an ‘a’, in which case you stretch it out. So Mel-bin not Mel-bourne, Berrick not Ber-wick, Mullvn not Mal-vern, Cranben not Cran-bourne, Pran not Prahran, and, most confusingly, VER-mont not Ver-MONT.

Another colleague tried to convince me that everything in New South Wales is pronounced phonetically, blissfully ignoring the existence of Bulahdelah, Canowindra, Wauchope, Woonona, and Jervis Bay, which even the locals can’t agree on.Well

What suburbs and towns do you mispronounce? Let us know in the comments and feel free to point out what we got wrong.

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