Goethe Street in Chicago

OK, I grew up in Chicago, and most of my life I’ve been told the “correct” pronunciation of this street is “GER-tuh.” That pronunciation and the simple “GOATH” seem to be the two in use in Chicago. I studied German a few years back and, confirming my suspicion, there is no “r” sound in “Goethe.” It’s something like “GÖ-tuh.” The “ö” sounding kind of like the vowel in “fir” or the “eu” in French “peu.”

Why in the world have my teachers always insisted on pronouncing a non-existant “R” in the street name, and why do my fellow Chicagoan insist this is the proper pronunciation, when it obviously is not?

My suspicion tells me it has to do with some language books which tell you “ö” is pronounced as “ER” (but only in British English) or as “ER” with a note telling you not to pronounce the “R.”

Any ideas? And why has this misinformation been so widespread?

Why is Cairo in southern Illinois pronounced KAY-ro?

Why is Prarie du Chien in Wisconsin pronounced Prayer-ee doo SHEEN?

Why is La Grange road called La Grain-jeh?

And let’s not even get into the various manglings of Indian place names, like Chicago…

People have problems pronouncing foreign words, but once you get enough people mispronouncing a word for long enough, the mispronounciation becomes the new standard. The people in KAY-ro have been calling it KAY-ro for generations, so KAY-ro it is.

As to why Goethe is misprounounced in this particular way, the o-umlaut sound is unnatural in English. So people substitute the closest common English sound, which is “er.” Those who take German classes or read footnotes in dictionaries know this is incorrect, but it takes practice to say this unfamiliar sound correctly.

Try this simple test. Pick a random (non-German-speaking, non-expert-in-Romantic-Literature) person, and say “Goethe” with the correct pronounciation. Then ask them to repeat it back to you. I’d wager that most of them say “Ger-tuh.”

What Wumpus said. Obviously this IS the proper pronunciation of the street, although it is not the proper pronunciation of the author’s name.

Although personally I prefer when the bus drivers announce it as “Go-Thee.”

Many foreign words, the German “Goethe” included, contain phonemes which don’t exist in English. So most Americans can’t really hear this properly. So Goethe becomes Ger-tuh as a semi-reasonable substitute. Then there are those who don’t understand German pronounciation rules that call it “gothe” or “goetee” or whatever. They just don’t know any better. Eventually these become accepted usages by enough people.

Warning: Politically incorrect stereotype joke approaching.
Hence the old gag about the Irish builder being interviewed for a building job and getting asked what’s the difference between a girder and a joist. “Ah, that’s easy, one wrote Faust and the other Ulysses.”

Dequindre in Detroit and San Felipe in Houston – both roadways that crack me up given their pronunciations.

Ok, I’ll bite. I know Houston has San Fill-uh-pee (not to mention San Jacinto with an English “J”); how is Dequindre pronounced?

I grew up in Houston, and my family and I often went out to the San Jacinto Battleground when I was young. This of course is the battleground upon which Texas won its independence from Mexico on April 21, 1836. We always pronounced it with the English “J” sound.

Years later, I was present there for the commissioning of the USS San Jacinto (CG 56). A couple of years after that, I participated in exercises with the ship. Inevitably, people not associated with the ship tried to pronounce the ship name with a Spanish “J” (“Y”) sound. I always corrected them. After all, the ship was named after the battle (like all of the Ticonderoga class cruisers were named after battles), and WE (the Texans) won the battle! :slight_smile:

“Dee-quin-der.” I used to live about a mile away from it…

Detroit should be Detrwa, with a rolled r. Beloit, Wis., should be Belwa. New York should be Democratic.

Des Plaines, Illinois.

My New Jersey wife still can’t get over that one.

Does she say, “De Plane, Boss, De Plane?”

Yes, agreed to all, but the thing is all the other examples you have make sense from an English standpoint. I can see how “Cairo” is pronounced “KAY-ro,” and the others.
(Although if you’re talking about La Grange Road just outside Chicago, I’ve never heard anything but “Luh GRAINJ.” Same for the 'burb.)

Anyhow, all the examples y’all have given make sense. This one does not to me. The “oe” in Goethe sounds nothing like an “er.” Nothing. Even before I learned German or French I was never under the impression that this vowel sound contains an “r,” and I don’t understand how people hear this nonexistant “r.”

You know, “Goath” or “Goath-ee” is fine with me…at least it’s more-or-less following English pronunciation. But “GER-tuh”? C’mon. What bugs me is that I’ve heard people insist this is the correct pronunciation of the street.

Agreed, there is no “R” sound in the correct German pronunciation of “Goethe”, but the “oe” vowel sounds just like the vowel commonly used in English before an “r”, as in “fur”, etc., so English speakers who never hear that vowel except before an “r” think they have heard an “r”. Actually, in some regional pronunciations of English, the “r” is not actually pronounced, so the sound of “ir”, “er”, or “ur” may be exactly like German “oe”.