The Linguistic Mystery of Missouri

Old Spirituals readers, I need your help. I’m used to floundering around to find an answer to historical mysteries but I’ve finally found one that I can’t seem to crack.

I’m working on Book #3, which is about a murder that took place in Missouri, and right there we have the mystery. How do you pronounce Missouri? Is it Missouree or Missourah?

You’d think I could get away with just writing it and not pronouncing it, but people often ask about my books so it comes up.

Last week, for instance, I had two conversations that illustrate why this is a pressing question. In the first one, I referred to Missouree, and the other person said, “It’s pronounced Missourah.”

Two days later, I mentioned to a different person that the new book takes place in Missourah, and this heartless person laughed and said, “You mean Missouree?”

I hate mispronouncing things, though I do it all the time. I went to YouTube for the answer, but came away even more confused. More people say Missouree, but that doesn’t mean it’s correct. Also, in the state itself, there’s a large percentage of people who say Missourah, including employees at the historical society I’ve been working with. Apparently, even the governor of Missouri alternately calls the state Missourah and Missouree.

The only other word I have this trouble with is “niche”, as in a niche market. (Is it neesh or nitch? Whichever way I say it, the person I’m talking to will invariably correct me and tell me the opposite.) I just stopped using “niche” but I can’t get away with avoiding “Missouri”.

In the future, it’s probably best to avoid writing about locations I can’t pronounce, but since I’ve already put in a lot of work on this one, can anyone shed some light on this mystery?

2 Comments

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  1. I lived in Hickman Mills, Missouri (which was incorporated into Kansas City) from 1955 to 1962. My grandmother was born in Greenfield, MO, in 1898. She always pronounced it Missourah. It was always pronounced Missourah the whole time I lived there, too. I just think people moving to the state plus younger generations have made the change in pronunciations.

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