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You say tomato…

Nicole McAlee | Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Being a born and bred East Coaster makes life at Notre Dame a pretty interesting change of pace. It’s a wonder to drive around and spot mysteriously named grocery stores (“Meijer? How do you pronounce that?”) and a challenge to dress for weather that changes approximately every 10 minutes. But the most interesting thing is the amazing microcosm of the world that I get to mingle with every day. The people I’ve met here have consistently prompted me to think about nearly everything in a different way.

There’s one specific and unique curiosity that I find fascinating: The breadth of accents I encounter on a daily basis.

Take my friend Amber from the Bronx, who asks for my “oh-pen-yon” instead of my “opinion.” Then there’s my roommate, Laura from Milwaukee, who says the word “bag” in a way that is impossible to spell phonetically. I did a double take the first time my friend Emily from Texas said “y’all” without a hint of irony.

And then there’s me.

I hail from the suburbs of Philadelphia. It’s something I’m quite proud of; after all, Philadelphia has contributed much to the world, like American freedom, Kevin Bacon and cheesesteaks.

The place has also contributed a few strange quirks to my speech patterns.

My generations-bred Philadelphia accent has conditioned me to call H2O, aqua and that stuff that makes up 65 percent of the human body “wooder.” I’m mocked for complaining about the cold wooder in the shower and filling my wooder bottle at the wooder fountain. The wooder/water confusion is, in fact, the hallmark of the Philadelphia dialect.

The way I say them, the words “mad” and “sad” don’t rhyme. “Mary,” “merry” and “marry” have three different vowel sounds and, to complicate things even more, I say the name “Murray” and the word merry exactly the same way. Unless I make a concerted effort, my pronunciation of “tomato” might sound a bit more like “tomatuh.”

The first 18 years of my life were spent in blissful Philadelphian ignorance: Everyone I knew shared the same dialectical quirks. It was something admittedly inconsequential that I took for granted.

Going to Notre Dame is awesome for a whole host of reasons, but one of them is the way in which I’m constantly re-evaluating myself. My view of the world is broader because I’ve met people from all over it (and have carefully assessed their accents).

I hope that chick from Philadelphia who calls water “wooder” has broadened someone else’s horizons.

Contact Nicole McAlee at nmcalee@nd.edu

The views expressed in the Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.