I’m originally from Alaska, so I’m all too familiar with hard-to-pronounce place names. I started Kindergarten in an elementary school that had a Yup’ik name that would break your tongue if you attempted it (here it is in case you want to try; it means “little kids school”). And yet, when I first moved to upstate New York back in 2000, I had to learn how to pronounce the crazy names of some of the area towns the same way every other out-of-towner does: By memorizing the WAMC station location list every time it Joe Donahue announced it over the air. Okay, maybe not, but I still pronounced Coxsackie as…well, pretty much the way you’d expect until I was schooled by a life-long Greene County resident. “It’s ‘Cook-SAH-kee,'” they corrected. Duly noted.
Needless to say, I feel for these clueless west coasters (and one New Yorker, a downstater, no doubt) as they struggle to articulate words like Canajoharie and Canandaigua and Skaneateles, the latter I thought was pronounced “Skuh-NEEDLE-ees” until I learned it was actually “Skinny-Atlas.” But that just makes the video below that much more funny. By the way, the video should have also included “Shawangunk.” As in the mountains, or the town in Ulster County. Bet you’ve been pronouncing it the way it’s spelled. Silly you. It’s “Shawn-Gum,” of course.