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Native tongues



The Dandy is out for a while, so I cleaned the mildew off my spats -- oops, I forgot to ask Hank how to tell if my cummerbund is right-side-up. He left his fedora here, hanging in his office. I'll be lucky if I can get the word processing program running -- Hank runs Linux -- hey, it's booting up.

Who was the tongue-wagger who called Larry Glass a carpetbagger? Glass was moving all the way from the yonder end of Myrtle Avenue, to Old Town, where he's run a small business since before anyone can recall, in order to qualify as a City Council candidate. His history disqualified him from carpetbaggerdom, since he was seeking office in a place where he obviously had a deep and abiding interest. He was viewed as a progressive firebrand by some of my Eureka Profunda conservative friends, but the quotidian exigencies of city business are doing more to bury prejudices than any number of meet-and-greet mixers could ever achieve.

Glass' proposal of a citizen-run commission on vehicular traffic and pedestrian safety sounds good to many of us. The new police chief, Garr Nielsen, when asked about it said, "I think it's a great idea." He probably wouldn't like my idea of spontaneous improvised speed bumps to slow traffic on H Street. The price of gas hasn't discouraged drivers from accelerating all the way up to red lights, but hopefully concerned residents tasked with coming up with appropriate traffic remedies will see to it that page two of the Eureka Reporterhas fewer upside-down SUVs on it.

Someone once called me a carpetbagger on one of Humboldt County's lesser blogs. It's true that I'm an auslander from San Diego, and it did take a couple of years for me to respond to "where you from," with a hale and hearty, "I'm from Eureka." Down in my native San Diego, we considered anyone who had lived there for several years to be a native for all practical purposes. It takes longer here in Humboldt County, but I'm patient. As much as I'd love to qualify as a carpetbagger, this would imply some financial gain in moving here (from Del Mar? You kiddin' me?). But there are obvious advantages to living here. There are no rhododendrons down there. North Coast natives can become inured to all of this useless beauty. They've been known to treat ferns as pesky weeds, while those of us who have come from hotter, dryer climes find ferns to be fascinating and moss to be positively exotic. I encourage the stubborn ferns in my yard, which are a vestige of the ancient forest of giant redwoods which once covered what is now Henderson Center, and I transplant the moss I remove from the roof to the garden on the north side of the house.

I may never behave as a native gardener would, but I do tend to catch on fast with pronunciations. No matter where one goes, there are shibboleths, those local pronunciations which identify outsiders. In Mexico, even native Spanish-speaking foreigners have a difficult time pronouncing the indigenous Popocatepetl and English speakers immediately cleave to the local nickname for the giant volcano, Popo. In Southern California, shibboleths often consist of mispronunciations of Spanish words. A mispronunciation of El Cajon will elicit an audible chortle from local rubes. A suburb of east San Diego, el-ka-HONE is the home of Duncan Hunter, Republican Representative, presidential candidate and best friend of disgraced and convicted Congressional Representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham. San Diego has long been a haven for remote carpetbaggers. They don't need a carpetbag. In fact, they don't even bother to show up. They've been fleecing the rest of the country for years by way of lucrative defense contracts.

Your alien roots could also be exposed by your correct pronunciation of a Spanish word for which a horribly anglicized pronunciation is now the accepted standard. I call it the Valdez, Alaska Syndrome. Examples of this back-assward phenomenon would be Manteca, pronounced man-TEAK-ah by local Gringos, and San Pedro, which is gratingly pronounced san-PEE-dro.

Place names in Southern California which derive from indigenous words that were hispanicized long ago often present obstacles for travelers seeking directions from locals. Examples would be Japatul(HAH-pa-tool), and Jacumba (hah-KUHM-ba). The zaniest phenomenon is the place name which derives from an indigenous word which was hispanicized, and then was awkwardly anglicized. Jamacha Road (HAM-uh-shaw) in San Diego is a major surface street and also a major shibboleth.

Luckily for refugees from the massive expanses of suburban development down south, Humboldt natives are friendly, and the few shibboleths which exist here are never a basis for ridicule. The first one I encountered was Del Norte. The del-NORT pronunciation strikes people from down south, even those who do not speak Spanish, as being just plain wrong. The most commonly discussed elocution in Eureka is Buhne. The Executive Director of the Eureka Chamber of Commerce, J. Warren Hockaday, cleared up the matter for me recently. In reference to 19th century Captain H. H. Buhne, or the erstwhile news blog Buhne Tribune, the word is pronounced BOON. The east/west street which bisects Eureka is BOONER. This version has been verified to my satisfaction through an informal poll which I have been conducting with grim determination for years.

A local graphic designer of my acquaintance, a Humboldt native, offers yet a third pronunciation. He says that the Danish pronunciation of Buhne was BOON-uh, and that we, who are loath to pronounce alien-sounding words, added the "r" in order to more comfortably say the name. This makes sense, and I applaud the quixotic elocutionist. He's out to repair the damage done to the good Captain's name over the last century and a half, but I can't bring myself to go with this pronunciation. My instincts tell me, "When in Crescent City, say del-NORT."

I don't eventhink about the pronunciation of Loleta anymore, but it does strike newcomers that spelling and pronunciation parted ways a long time ago. I'm still not sure how to pronounce Bracut (as in Bracut Industrial Center), so I just avoid it by saying The Mill Yard. You may get a gentle correction from folks up on the upper Klamath when you mangle Weitchpec, or pronounce Orleans with the emphasis on the first syllable. The only stern correction I've ever received in Humboldt County was from someone in the office at St. Bernard's High School. Evidently, they bristle when you pronounce it as you would the Great Saint Bernard Tunnel or the breed of rescue dogs. Hey, if they wanted people to say BERN-erd, they should have spelled it that way.

When in Del Norte, don't mispronounce Gasquet. The natives don't like it when outsiders utter variations of GAS-key. The rural hamlet is just east of Crescent City on the 199. Ooops! Did I just use an article before a numbered highway? That's a dead giveaway that I'm originally from the greater Los Angeles/Orange County/San Diego megalopolis. Oh well, at least I didn't schlep a carpetbag along with me.

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