Pronouncing Colorado

I recently came across a discussion about pronunciations in the English language. And as you all know, ours is a truly weird language. There’s little or no explanation for many of our pronunciations, and then you throw in our many different dialects and foreign language influences and you get something you wouldn’t wish on any ESL student. (I’ve always felt extremely lucky to have been born in an English-speaking country, even if it is American English.)

I’m a Colorado transplant, originally from Oklahoma. I’ve been here since 2005 and in that time have struggled to learn and remember certain local pronunciations. My list of confounding Colorado names includes the following. Go ahead, take your best shot:

Zuni (a street in Denver)
Arriba (a city in eastern Colorado)
Montrose (city in western Colorado)
Limon (another city in eastern Colorado)
Saguache (mountain range in southwestern Colorado)
Louisville (city north of Denver)
Wynkoop (street in Denver)
Cache la Poudre (river in northern Colorado)
Berthoud (city north of Denver)
Olathe (city in western Colorado)
Arvada (city just west of Denver)
Del Norte (city in southwestern Colorado)
Ouray (another city in southwestern Colorado)
San Luis (valley in south-central Colorado)
Genoa (city in eastern Colorado)
Buena Vista (city southwest of Denver)

A street in Denver

So here’s the scoop, with my apology for not attempting to look up and type all the proper diacriticals:

Zuni — I grew up saying ZOO-nee because, I think, that’s what I’d always heard. But here, and apparently only here, it’s pronounced ZOO-nye, ignoring the fact that the tribe itself says ZOO-nee.

Arriba — All those summer trips from OKC to the Rockies along I-70 took me through Arriba, which, mentally, I pronounced uh-REE-buh, as in Spanish. Only after reading a Colorado Public Radio article did I learn that in this state it’s pronounced AIR-uh-buh.

Montrose — MON-trose, not MONT-rose.

Limon — For a long time, in my fractured Spanish, I assumed it was lee-MOAN. Nope. It’s LIE-mun.

Saguache — I couldn’t even attempt this one, so just listened carefully to local broadcasters. Apparently it’s suh-WATCH. French? Beats me. I studied Spanish.

Louisville — No, not LOUIE-ville, as in Kentucky. Just plain old LEWIS-ville.

Wynkoop — It’s WINE-coop, not WIN-coop. However, there’s a brewery here by that name and they pronounce it WIN-coop. Of course I can never remember which is which.

Cache La Poudre — Again, I waited and listened to what the locals were saying. It’s French, and in frontier days it referred to a stash of gunpowder. It’s pronounced CASH luh POO-der, usually shortened to just POO-der, as in Poudre River.

Berthoud — I learned this was pronounced BER-thud while playing Ingress. Our side had a farm up there.

Olathe — Famous for its sweet corn. I’d assumed it was OH-layth, but I was wrong. It’s oh-LAY-thuh.

Arvada — I always stumble on this because we’ve several “A” cities in the area. This one is ar-VA-duh, not ar-VAH-da or ar-VAY-da.

Del Norte — Here again I was wrong. It’s not del NOR-tay, it’s del NORT.

Ouray — I didn’t attempt this one until I’d heard it mentioned several times by locals. It’s YOU-ray. Go figure.

San Luis Valley — I kept san loo-EE to myself, fortunately, because it turned out to be san LOO-ees.

Genoa — Not GEN-o-uh, as in Italy, but gen-OH-uh.

And last but not least, there’s Buena Vista. Not the BWAY-nuh VIS-ta that seems obvious, but BEW-nuh VIS-ta. This one had me completely stumped until I found an article posted by the Buena Vista Chamber of Commerce. And finally the mystery was solved. The resident who suggested the Spanish name insisted the first syllable be Americanized and pronounced “bew” as in “beautiful” (Buena Vista means “beautiful view”). Finally I can stop cringing every time I hear someone mispronouncing Buena Vista.

Olathe sweet corn, now in season. Yum!

27 thoughts on “Pronouncing Colorado

    1. LOL! Congratulations. The only reason I got Limon right the first time was because I’ve driven through it so often. But then again, the same drive goes through Arriba, and I’ve been wrong about that one since I was old enough to read the sign.

  1. Amusing and informative (not that I’ll ever need ’em) ! I suspect you Americans to create pronunciations that are .. uhh .. different just because you’re American. [grin]

  2. How much fun.
    That’s the cool thing about having so many cultures and languages merge
    You can always tell the “newbies” on tv news as they struggle with pronunciations- battling how it would have been pronounced where they came from and how it is “correctly” pronounced in their “new” location.
    Old timers always said “The correct way to say a name/place is exactly how the locals say it.”
    Makes travel even more fun?

    1. Local tv news plays musical chairs with their personnel, and yes, you can always spot the newbies. I don’t envy them, but I do expect them to check local pronunciations and get them right when they’re on the air. I mean, they do read over their scripts ahead of time, right??

    2. As much as anything, I’ve been intrigued by all the different pronunciations of the word “mountain.” And no, I won’t attempt any of my crude phonetic approximations. After all, I’m not a Colorado native either.

  3. I admit that I took your quiz feeling a bit smug… until I saw the “correct” pronunciations. Since so many streets/areas/locations around where I live are Spanish in origin, I thought I’d ace the test. Ummm… not so much. I think I’d have a hard time ignoring the proper French or Spanish pronunciations so it’s a good thing I don’t live in Colorado 🙂

    1. LOL. I know exactly how you feel. I took three years of Spanish in high school (and one in college) and grew up in this part of the country. If anything, it steered me wrong! Any assumptions about French, Spanish, or illiterate pioneers were wrong. It’s pure Colorado.

  4. Fun research! I’m with you on Arriba — glad to know the corrrect way just in case it’s ever needed.

    One you left off: Estes Park. ESS tess, not Ess TEEZ as so many visitors say….

    1. Oh no, really? Ugh. Wasn’t there once some politician named Estes (pronounced Estees)? I imagine you get a little bit of everything going through those gates. Hope most of it is pleasant.

  5. Sorry I missed this post yesterday. This is one of my favorite topics. I grew up all over the U.S., which exposed me to differences in regional dialects; my career took me to many countries and taught me several languages. Those two facts may explain why I got many from your list – Arriba, Limon, Olathe (Kansas has an Olathe pronounced exactly the same way). Zoon-eye was an eye-opener, though.

    It’s always fun to consider what Murrikins (Americans) will make of foreign words. The great majority of us don’t know any language but Murrikin, so it’s anybody’s guess when confronted with “Buena Vista.” In Kentucky, locals call their city Lu’uhvull (hard to render in standard English). American (English) has borrowed lots of words from French, but it’s hard to find even one that is pronounced “correctly.” Lingerie? Chaise longue? Sauvignon? No way. “Deja vu” in Murrikin will sound to a Frenchman like “already you?” – but we can settle for that because it would be unfair to expect people to get the French “u.” I guess we do OK with “detente.” Or is it “dee-tent”?


    1. My only excuse is being very un-traveled. I was encouraged to study French, I suppose because of the arts and, I suspect, because it was deemed more “cultured” than Spanish. I reasoned that in this part of the country, Spanish made more sense, practically speaking. And I loved the Mexican-Indian cultures. I did live in the Northeast for a few years, and some of the names there were brutal. The worst I recall was Schuylkill River, but that’s Dutch.

  6. I got one right (Olathe) and I come from Ohio where we have plenty of places are not pronounced like one would expect. Russia, Lima, Milan, Versailles, Bellefontaine,and Berlin to name a few. ~nan

    1. Now I’m intrigued. I would guess BER-lin because I once saw a street pronounced that way. The others look pretty obvious, but since you mentioned them, I’m guessing the obvious must be wrong. ru-SYE-uh? LIE-muh? ver-SEZ? bell-FOUNT-un? Just crazy guesses. I hope I can look these up somewhere …

      1. It’s also interesting how many states in the U.S. use the same town names, but they may be pronounced differently. I can’t speak for Ohio, but there’s a Berlin in Pennsylvania which is definitely BER-lin; Illinois has a Versailles (pron. “ver-SALES, and nearby Peru is just plain ol’ “Pru.”

        1. “Pru” sounds like something they’d say in Oklahoma. I spent a year or two near Philly and that’s probably where I heard BER-lin. ver-SALES also sounds like what would be said in Oklahoma. I also found it interesting that Texas has Houston (pronounced as we all know it), but Atlanta’s Houston Street is pronounced “HOUSE-dun.”

  7. Here in Missouri (pronounced by some, not me, as Miz-urah), we have a town named Nevada (nev-A-duh.) The state says nev-adda. Some say nev-ah-dah. Just across the line from us in Oklahoma there’s a town named Miami. The residents insist on My-amma.

    1. I was born in miz-ER-ee (KC to be exact) so no arguments there. To me, Miami OK and Miami FL have always been the same. And after years of inner debate, I think “nev-adda” is what comes out when I’m not thinking about it. But don’t hold me to that.

... and that's my two cents