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Politicians play Nevada name game -- and lose

Nevada slots 

Every election cycle in the Silver State, some public figure makes the same blunder. They – or one of their surrogates – mispronounce the state’s name.

Here, it’s Nuh-VAD-uh.

Not Nuh-VAHD-uh.

Nuh-VAD-uhns are sensitive to this. We’re not sure why. More than two-thirds of residents were born outside the state and a number of them swear they’re only staying for a year (and then never leave). But President Bush and Sen. John Kerry both caught flack for not realizing that the second syllable rhymes with “dad.” Same with TV newsmen George Stephanopoulos and Brian Williams. Just_fabulous

State Democrats, in the run-up to the 2008 presidential caucus, apparently sent all their candidates a welcome guide that included the correct pronunciation: Nuh-VAD-uh. And yet, this cycle’s campaign ads are already mangling the state’s name, which is Spanish for "snow-capped." (In Spanish, it would be pronounced Neh-VAH-dah.)

This summer, the National Education Assn. ran radio ads cheering Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, whose poll numbers could use a little pep as he seeks reelection in 2010. But the spot’s narrator repeatedly butchered Nuh-VAD-uh.

This week, Danny Tarkanian, one of the gaggle of Republicans who hope to unseat Reid, released a Web ad mocking how federal stimulus dollars were reported as going to congressional districts that didn't exist.  But the narration pronounced the state as Nuh-VAHD-uh.

One wonders how this might play out in Mi-ZOOR-ee, a.k.a. Mi-ZOOR-ah. Incidentally, in the western part of the Show Me State, there's a town called Nevada. But there it’s pronounced Nuh-VADE-uh.

-- Ashley Powers

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Top photo: Bloomberg. Bottom photo: Associated Press.

Comments () | Archives (27)

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The place to check pronunciation in Missouri is New Madrid. You already know the "ad" in New Madrid rhymes with the "ad" in Nevada. But did you know the accent is new-MAD-rid, like ne-VAD-a. Not new-ma-DRID, as in Spain.

Sort of like Oregon.

It's pronounced ore -ah - gun.

EVERYONE says Ore- ah - GONE.

Potato potato.

Hello pot, meet kettle: Shall we pronouce the City of Angels as "Lose Ahn-heh-les?"

That's one way we can tell who the California carpetbaggers are. ABHOR - anybody but Harry "Ogre" Reid.

Tuh-MAY-tow, tuh-MAH-tow.

Sorry, couldn't resist!


There is no such thing as "correct" pronunciation; only "standard" usage. Our language is constantly changing, and what we perceive as "correct" might seem completely foolish 50 or 100 years ago. This is how we've ended up with so many regional accents of English around the world.

It thus seems stupid to berate anyone for pronouncing a work in a non-standard way, especially when the meaning still gets through.

Loce AHNG-hail-ais

The Shibboleth of the Sierras strikes again.

Note to politicians: It's not "Or-ih-gone" either. It's "Oreh-gun."

Here in California. Our Governor can't even say the states name correctly. Get over it! NeVADa.

As a resident when I hear some easterner (being anyone east of the Rockies) mangle Nuh-VAD-uh I immediately turn off. Even the one year locals learn or suffer the ire of true westerners and true Nuh-Vad-uh ians.

No, no, it isn't nuh VAD uh and it isn't nuh VAHD uh - it's Nir VAN uh!

Great article. Too bad its snarky tone is undercut by the incorrect spelling of the word "flak," as "...both caught flack ..." When used the way it is here, "flak" means anti-aircraft fire, and is a metaphor for resistance or criticism The term comes from World War II, from the German Flugabwehrkanone, for "aircraft defence cannon." You know, as in "We caught lots of flak over Berlin during the last raid."

Thank you for posting this. As a person who was born in Las Vegas, it drives me nuts when people pronounce it the wrong way.

I hate it when locals decide they want to change how a word is supposed to be pronounced. It's like the people of Aptos, CA, insisting that it's Ap-TOSS instead of the technically correct AHP-tohss. But I try to accommodate the local yokels.

Just a great article. I'm from Ohio (oh-HI-oh) and go bonkers when when some one pronounces it oh-HI-yah. There's no Y or A in the spelling!

I've alway hated hearing Missouri called miz-ZUHR-ah as well and don't get me started about people calling Wisconsin (Wih-scon-sin) Weh-scohn-sen.

But I'm sure this has to do with people's dialects as much as their trying to sound like they know more than the rest.

Then there's the people who think there just smarter than the rest by pronouncing States and countries in pseudo foreign languages; Texas (tex-ass) is not Tee-Hahs, Hawaii (Hah-Wi-ee) isn't Hah-VAH-ee. And I don't care what anyone says, but I'm never calling the country of Chile (chill-ee) Chee-lay.

The state of Nevada, like many of our cities and states, has a Spanish name. Nevada means snowy. I would guess that's because the terrain is real mountainous. And unlike what Mr. Jase says about English, there most certainly is a correct pronunciation of a Spanish word. Sure there are regional accents (like the Italian-esque Argentinian accent) but the pronunciation is standard. Ne-VAD-duh is wrong. So why are they changing the pronunciation?

And what Tom posted about New Madrid strikes me as similarly crazy. MAD-rid?? Sounds like a Harry Potter character or something.

I've had the following conversation in various forms dozens of times over the years:

"She's moved to Ore-e-gone".


"That's right".

"Where did it go"?


"It's pronounced Ore-uh-gun".

In Spanish it would be Neh-BAH-dah. There is no v sound in Spanish.

The word Nevada comes from Spanish for Sierra Nevada, meaning snowy, where its pronounced closer to NE-VAHD-UH, unlike NE-VAD-ANS who erroneously believe the "hick" and "wild west" cowboy version is correct. Also, we say Sierra Ne-vahd-uh, not Sierra Ne-vad-uh. So technically, its the locals who are wrong by using a long "a" sound which does not exist in the original Spanish word nor in the name of our mountain range.

There most certainly is a v sound in Spanish

In the first paragraph of the piece, "flak" (as in shrapnel) is incorrectly spelled "flack" (as in PR toady).

The word "nevada" is a spanish word with a spanish pronunciation. However, "Nevada" is a name - in this case - of a state. The people who live there can pronounce it any way they like. It no longer is simply a spanish word, so it is no longer bound by the rules of that language. It is "correct" to pronounce the name of a place in the way the locals pronounce it.

I live in the South. The correct pronunciation is unknown until a Rhodes Scholar informs us on just about anything. For example, I was corrected for calling a Tennessee town Sevierville (the word being pronounced severe as in harsh). I was belittled by a Rhodes Scholar teaching at the University of Tennessee as being just another Southerner who didn't know how to properly pronounce foreign words. I told this Rhodes Scholar that he might want to explain that to the decendants of Governor John Sevier because they have been mispronouncing the family name for generations. Oh yes, a Rhodes Scholar is anyone from the north. It seems to be a commonly held feeling that the South is lacking IQ points and needs them to come enlighten our ignorance and relieve our stupidity. A Southerner "don't need 'em around anyhow."

When did the v sound disappear from the Spanish language, patnav? How do you pronounce villa, verde, or Venezuela? How does the mayor pronounce his name? "Billaraigosa"

It is --- always has been --- always will be -- Nevaada... Those coming to Nevada need to learn and respect our pronunciation. The spanish pronunciation of the beginning of Ne vada is also different. So---what would the assemblyman suggest about that? Nevaada.....and all the changes we can't control....are hard enough to endure. Don't let a silly suggestion take away our name. He won't succeed with me----I will never accept his suggestion....and will always correct....those that pronounce our name incorrectly. I won't miss this 'assemblyman'.


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A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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