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John Kelly's Washington

New in Town, Stranger?

By John Kelly
Friday, October 1, 2004; Page C09

Oh, the problems the 19th letter of the alphabet causes newcomers to this area. Either they stick it in where it doesn't belong (Silver Springs, anyone?) or they take it out where it does (John Hopkins).

The peripatetic S was just one of the irritants mentioned when I asked readers for mistakes and mispronunciations that bedevil the towns, roads and organizations of our region.

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Just Plain Wrong

"John Hopkins." When she was a student at Johns Hopkins, Kathleen Stacey had a bumper sticker that read: "It's Johnzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz Hopkins." "I wish I had that sticker now," she said.

(And why would anyone mangle the perfectly glorious first name of "John"? The philanthropist who funded the university and hospital got his first name from his great-grandmother's last name: Margaret Johns.)

"Silver Springs." Evva Starr, now of Potomac, was one of many readers who decried that extra S. She said she even sang a song at summer camp: "Silver Spring has only one spring. There is no 's' at the end of Silver Spring, Silver Spring, Silver Spring." (Someone should tell Metro. The abbreviation "SIL SPGS" has been showing up on Metrobuses.)

"National Institute of Health." It's the National Institutes of Health. Nearly two dozen institutes make up the medical complex, from the National Cancer Institute to the National Instutute of Nursing Research.

"Virginia Tech University." "There is no such institution," wrote Maria Bland LaWalt of Herndon. The proper name is Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. The nickname -- "sanctioned by the University," said Maria -- is simply Virginia Tech.

"U.S. Botanical Garden." People often say this, says the District's Bill Crews, when they really mean the U.S. Botanic Garden.

"Department of Interior." Jim and Gen Collins of Rockville cringe when they hear this. It's the Department of the Interior.

"United States Marine Corps Band." No, no, no, said Jack Dewell of Ellicott City. It's the United States Marine Band. "And it's a hell of a band," he pointed out.

"Brookings Institute." As with the Smithsonian, it's an institution, not an institute. "When vendors pitch for business here and get that wrong, we know that they haven't done their homework," said Fred Dews of Reston.

"The 495" -- or any other highway number with "the" in front of it, said Scott Babcock of Burke. "In California, putting 'the' in front of a highway number is commonplace," Scott said. Around here, we put "the" only in front of named roads, such as the Beltway, the Dulles Toll Road and the GW Parkway.

How You Say?

Sometimes it's not what you say but how you say it that marks you as an outsider. The following may seem perfectly clear to us -- or to some of us, at least -- but imagine if you'd never heard them pronounced before.

Bowie. Dave Prevar of Annapolis said he's heard that first syllable pronounced like the first syllables in both "bow wow" and "bow and arrow," instead of the correct "BOO-ee." Dave also said that Rowe Boulevard in Annapolis should rhyme with "pow," not with "slow."

McLean. Pronounce it any way other than "mick-CLANE" and it's a doggone shame, said Jane de Lange of, where else, McLean. "Mick-CLENE" is just wrong.

La Plata. Even if it is Spanish for "the silver," say it "luh-PLAY-duh," not "lah-PLAH-ta."

Staunton. The Shenandoah Valley town is "STAN-tun," not "STAWN-tun."

Taneytown. Take the "aww" sound you want to put in Staunton and add it to the name of this Carroll County burg: "TAWNEY-town."

Catharpin. Quit your carpin'. This Virginia town is pronounced "cat-HAR-pin," not "cathhh-ar-pin."

Buena Vista. Where do you think you are, California? You're in the Blue Ridge of Virginia, pardner, and it's "BOONA Vista," or, if you're feeling frisky, "BEYOONA Vista."

Havre de Grace. Pronounce it the way a cheese- eating surrender monkey would -- "AHH-vruh de grahs" -- and you'll get the hairy eyeball (or "globe oculaire du velu"). It's "HA-vruh duh GRASE."

Berlin. The Eastern Shore town is "BURR-lin," not "burr-LIN."

Dumfries. We are sorry to report that there are those who have been known to say "dum-FRIZE" in stead of "dum-freeze."

Taliaferro Hall. Underclassmen who pronounce this academic building at the University of Maryland in the Italian fashion are teased mercilessly. True Terps call it "Tolliver."

Botetourt County. You'll never get it in a million years. This Virginia county is pronounced as if you had purchased an infant: "bought-a-tot." (And Buchanan County? It's "buck-cannon.")

Thames Street. Our friends in Balmer say it like it's spelled, not as the English do. (As for Baltimore's Hampden neighborhood, that "P" is as silent as the one in "pterodactyl.")

Washington. "The one that really bothers me the most is when someone puts the letter R into the word 'Washington,' " said Gregory Milas of Alexandria.

This, of course, creates "Warshington."

"Newt Gingrich is the person I hear the most do it," said Gregory.

As for two Metro stations -- Grosvenor and Judiciary Square -- imagine how boring the morning commute would be without the creative pronunciations that they're given.

Locals and nonlocals alike are welcome to join my weekly online chat, today at 1 p.m. Go to www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline.

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