Is It Missou-REE Or Missou-RAH?

There's a debate going on in the middle of America, and it's been raging for generations. Host Scott Simon speaks with poet and humorist Calvin Trillin in an attempt to settle the age-old dispute over how to pronounce the name of the state of Missouri.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

There's a different debate going on in the middle of America. It's been raging for generations. You know that state west of Illinois, north of Arkansas, bumped up next to Kansas, below Iowa? What do you call it exactly?

Residents of the 24th State have argued for years over whether to say Missou-ree(ph) or Missou-rah (ph). It's even gotten a few politicians in trouble. The current Governor, Jay Nixon, decided to play it safe.

Listen to this.

Governor JEREMIAH WILSON NIXON (Democrat, Missouri): I, Jeremiah Wilson Nixon, do solemnly swear to support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Missou-ree(ph), and to demean myself faithfully in the office of governor of the State of Missou-rah(ph).

Unidentified Woman: So help me God.

Governor NIXON: So help me God.

Unidentified Woman: Congratulations...

SIMON: And to help us through this confusion, we're joined now by Calvin Trillin. He's from Kansas City, Missou-rah(ph), but joins us on the phone from Santa Fe.

Is that in New Mexica(ph)?

Mr. CALVIN TRILLIN (Poet and Humorist): Yes, which is very easy to pronounce.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: What do you call it, Calvin?

Mr. TRILLIN: I say Missou-rah(ph), which is to say I pronounce it correctly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: And you believe this is correct because...

Mr. TRILLIN: Well, I believe what we would say is that that's what my daddy taught me. He grew up in St. Joe, Missou-rah(ph) and I think Missou-rah(ph) is particularly prevalent - I've read this, I didn't know this of my own accord -in the northwest part of the state and a majority in Kansas City. And Missou-ree(ph) I've always thought of as a St. Louis and therefore eastern pronunciation.

SIMON: I am told, cause in my ear I can listen to the producer of this segment and she is from St. Louis...

Mr. TRILLIN: Yes, I know. We had a little discussion, your producer...

SIMON: Yes. I understand. And she...

Mr. TRILLIN: I believe she admitted she was wrong.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: But she instructs me that the state is named after an Indian tribe and a river that is pronounced Missou-ree(ph).

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TRILLIN: The river is pronounced Missou-ree(ph) if you happen to live in St. Louis.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TRILLIN: But it's not pronounced Missou-ree(ph) if you happen to live in Kansas City. Although I'd mentioned this to somebody from St. Louis yesterday, and she said the reason that the people in western Missou-rah(ph) say Missou-rah(ph) is that they can't spell.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TRILLIN: She was from St. Louis.

Mr. TRILLIN: (Unintelligible) a snotty eastern St. Louis attitude.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Well, Calvin Trillin, the poet and humorist, verse columnist for The Nation, and of course the famous native of Kansas City, Missou-rah(ph), thanks so much.

Mr. TRILLIN: Thank you, Scott.

(Soundbite of a song)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Well, it's spring time in Missou-ree(ph) and those blossoms are in the air. That old train goes rolling by a little too fast to care...

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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