ST. LOUIS – More than six million people call the Show Me State home, but not everyone agrees with how to pronounce their home state’s name.
There are two common variations in how residents pronounce Missouri: “Missour-ee” and “Missour-uh.”
Determining the proper pronunciation of Missouri has stumped linguists and historians for years. But new research conducted on behalf of St. Louis University says there’s one version you’re more likely to hear in conversation.
According to data from a recently published SLU/YouGov Poll, more than 90 percent of Missourians are likely to pronounce their state as “Missour-ee,” and less than 10 percent are likely to pronounce their state as “Missour-uh.”
The findings are based on interviews with around 900 likely Missouri voters who were asked how they pronounced their home state. They were ultimately asked to select from one of two recordings, one with emphasis on an “EE” sound at the end, and another with emphasis on an “UH” sound at the end.
Research reveals that how one says Missouri could be linked to where they live in the state, their age or their political preferences. Among the discoveries from the poll:
- 15 percent of voters polled from Northwest Missouri indicated they used the “Missour-uh” pronunciation. That’s compared to only 6 percent polled from the St. Louis region.
- 16 percent of polled voters who were 65 years old or older agreed with “Missour-uh.” That’s compared to only three percent of voters below the age of 29.
- Voters polled who later identified as “very conservative” or “conservative” were around 4.5 percent more likely to say “Missour-uh” than those who identified as “liberal” or “very liberal.”
Christina Garcia, Ph.D., an associate professor of Spanish in Saint Louis University’s Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, selected the recordings of “Missour-ee” and “Missour-uh” that participants chose between. She said there are subtle difference with each dialect, but it’s important to recognize both.
“Variation is ingrained in all languages, and there is nothing inherently ‘better’ about one way of pronouncing something over another,” said Garcia. “However, society creates associations between different forms of speaking and social characteristics, both positive and negative. Since ‘Missour-ee’ carries prestige in this case, it is likely that Missourians may be under-reporting their use of ‘Missour-uh.’”
The recent SLU/YouGov poll wasn’t the first time there was a large effort to collect or analyze data on pronouncing the state’s name either. The Missouri Division of Tourism conducted two polls in 1976 and 1989, both with participants favoring the “Missour-ee” pronunciation by at leaat 60 percent. Another poll conducted at the 2002 Missouri State Fair found that 74 percent of polled fairgoers agreed more with the “Missouri-ee” pronunciation.
For what it’s worth, Merriam-Webster lists mə-zúr-e as its guideline pronounciation with emphasis on the “EE” ending sound.