In the world of broadcast journalism, the only practice more important than spelling a word correctly is *pronouncing* a word correctly. For instance: If you live in Los Angeles, are you an Ann-jell-LEE-no? An An-jell-LAY-no? Or maybe you're an Angeleño (An-hell-LAY-nyoh). As Off-Ramp Producer Kevin Ferguson explains--it all depends.
For me and my neighbors in Los Angeles, there's no real consensus over what to call us--or how to spell it. Merriam Webster's goes with "Angeleno." But plenty of people spell it "Angelino." Just North of the 101 freeway you'll find a small, residential neighborhood called Angelino Heights. The word's origin comes from the Spanish word "Angeleño" and you'll see that, too. Which is correct?
I thought I'd get a definitive answer from the local lifestyle magazine, Angeleno. I asked them about how the word's pronounced--they refused to comment. So I talked with KPCC's Patt Morrison. She says it's all about history--and geography.
"Right now we say 'Angeleno,' 100 years ago you would have said 'Angeleño.' And in the roaring fifties, you had this sort of chamber of commerce white guy pronunciation that [then Los Angeles Mayor] Sam Yorty used: 'Los Angle-luss' 'Angle-leenos,' that nasal 'eh,' she said.
Yorty was originally from Nebraska, and like a lot of midwest transplants, the politician took his accent with him.
"It did look like a word that could be easily Anglicized," said Morrison. "And you did have these hoards from the Midwest. The Iowa influx into Long Beach, for example, who would have been a little impatient at the idea that they should be adapting their language to the Spanish word which, in fact, it is."
But that hasn't always been the case. In 1934, there was a very different battle with the city's name: the United States Board on Geographic Names — hadn't heard of them before either —announced its decision to officially anglicize our city's name.
The traditional, Spanish pronunciation our city had lost the formal backing of Uncle Sam. In an editorial, the Los Angeles Times was furious:
Attempting to change the long-accepted (and correct) pronunciation of the names of their cities by official fiat from Washington will find no favor with the people of Southern California. Yet the United States Geographic Board is quoted as decreeing that we are to take the Spanish out of our city's name and henceforth speak of it (as those ignorant of its origin already sometimes do) as "Loss An-je-less," making it sound like some brand of fruit preserve.
"What next?" the editors feared. La Canada Flintridge? The San Jew-wah-kin Valley? La Jawl-la? Tuh-jung-uh?
At an event at KPCC's Crawford Family Forum, author and historian DJ Waldie said the time to decide how the word should be pronounced has passed. They're all important--and they all give us a sense of place. He cited Google's ngram viewer, a tool that lets users search for words in historical texts. Surprisingly, the dominant word used is "Angelino."
"I tend to think that perhaps we lost a little bit of the poetry of who we are," said Waldie. "That the beauty of Angeleño--both the historical significance and just the loveliness of saying that is something we ought to recognize when we call ourselves Angeleno."
Having said that, on KPCC's air at least, the only way you'll hear us say it is still "Angeleno."