Pittsburg"h"

Where the hell did the “H” come from in Pittsburgh, PA? I know of about a thousand other “burgs”, but none of them end in “H”. So what’s the straight dope?

According to Bill Bryson (THE AMERICAN TONGUE), “Pittsburgh” was named by a Scotsman who wanted it to be pronounced like “Edinburgh.” (Not that it ever was pronounced that way except possibly by the person who named it.)

Around the turn of the century, the U.S. Post Office insisted that all towns ending in -burgh drop the “h.” Most complied (which is why the spelling is rare), but Pittsburgh refused (even though “Pittsburg” was a common spelling). It was sort of “the government isn’t going to push US around.” Eventually, the Post Office gave up.


“East is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does.” – Marx

Read “Sundials” in the new issue of Aboriginal Science Fiction. www.sff.net/people/rothman

RealityChuck said:

I’m curious, what was the reason for this request?

i really have no idea, i’m just taking a guess. but that is what these discussions seem to be.

could it have anything to do with a noah webster-esque seperation from british customs?

IIRC, half the towns were burg and half were burgh. It got pretty confusing. No zip codes or anything back then.

“half the towns were burg and half were burgh. It got pretty confusing. No zip codes or anything back then.”

how does spelling all the burgh towns with BURG make things less confusing?

it doesn’t. if anything, it would make it more confusing. i don’t even see that happening.


what is essential is invisible to the eye -the fox

The post office wanted to standardize the spelling. There was a standardized spelling movement around that time (that’s when we started spelling “gaol” as “jail” and changed “cheque” to “check”), but I don’t know if there was any connection.

There were other movements to try to standardize place names, like insisting all city names be one word. That was less successful.


“East is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does.” – Marx

Read “Sundials” in the new issue of Aboriginal Science Fiction. www.sff.net/people/rothman

“The post office wanted to standardize the spelling. There was a standardized spelling movement around that time (that’s when we started spelling “gaol” as “jail” and changed “cheque” to “check”), but I don’t know if there was any connection.”

Changing word like ‘cheque’ to ‘check’ had nothing to do with ‘standardizing’ the spelling. it was an attempt at further independence from the british led by a nut known as noah webster.

that is why i asked if there was a connection to him in an earlier post. no response.

but i still ask: what does dropping the H from town names have to do with lessening confusion?


what is essential is invisible to the eye -the fox

I don’t know the answer as to why Pittsburgh retained its “h”, but it’s interesting to note that it didn’t always have an “h” at the end.

Check out this link for an 1895 map of Allegheny County that shows “Pittsburg” without the “h”.
http://www.livgenmi.com/alleghenyPA.htm

I’ll keep looking for a more thorough explanation.

OK. According to the Carnegie Library website, Pittsburgh has officially been spelled with the h "since its founding in 1758–except for the period between 1890 and 1911.

“In 1890, the United States Board on Geographic Names decided that the final h was to be dropped in the names of all cities and towns ending in burgh…In 1911, after protest from citizens who wished to preserve the historic spelling, the United States Board on Geographic Names reversed its decision and restored the h to Pittsburgh.”

The website (http://www.clpgh.org/CLP/exhibit/hname.html) gives an overview of these decisions, but never explains why the US Board of Geographic names felt compelled to change the spelling of all towns ending in “burgh”. It appears that the government just wanted to standardize US place names where possible. This standardization also led to changing names ending in “borough” to “boro”, combining multi-word names into single-word names, and dropping “city” and “town” from place names, among other moves.

If the Fed insisted on standardizing -burg, why does New York have Plattsburgh and Newburgh?

Probably for the same reason that Pittsburgh got its “h” back.

For the record, burgh (Edinburgh), burg (Hamburg), bourg (Strasbourg), borough (Peterborough), boro (Scottsboro), and bourgeoisie have a common origin, as far as I know.

According to Bryson (the book’s title is MADE IN AMERICA), the Board on Geographic Names worked to make sure there were uniform geographic names (it is somewhat ironic, that the board kept changing its name throughout its history: Board on Geographic Names, Geographic Board, and Board on Geographical Names).

They pushed to end the use of accent marks (Wilkes-Barré) and eliminate apostrophes (Pikes Peak). They tried to cut back on multiple word names (New Castle became Newcastle). On the good side, they changed names such as Nigger Creek to Negro Creek (though late in their rein). I believe they also did a certain amount of bowdlerization of place names out west (though they missed the Grand Tetons – I guess they didn’t speak French).

However, consistency was never their strong point. And, after all, if people are going to insist on spelling something one way, there’s very little anyone can do about it.


“East is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does.” – Marx

Read “Sundials” in the new issue of Aboriginal Science Fiction. www.sff.net/people/rothman

Just as an odd little aside, there’s actually an Edinboro (yup, they spell it that way; it’s pronounced like the Scottish town) about two hours’ drive from Pittsburgh, up near Erie. Those wacky folks from Western PA.

–Amy

Missed this one before:

Because you don’t have to worry if there’s an “h” at the end of a town with a last syllable “-berg”.

“East is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does.” – Marx

Read “Sundials” in the new issue of Aboriginal Science Fiction. www.sff.net/people/rothman