TUKWILA, SEQUIM, LESCHI— which Northwest place do Seattleites mispronounce most? Trick question: It’s Seattle.
Our city name is a butchering of the Lushootseed name of Chief Sealth, says Michael Sullivan, who teaches Pacific Northwest history at University of Washington– Tacoma. “It’s a very complicated, very guttural kind of language,” Sullivan says, and it was tough for early settlers to say seeahlsh in the manner of his Duwamish tribe.
So Sealth became Seattle; what else are we screwing up? As difficult as Puyallup (pew-AL-up) is for newbies, none of us is actually saying it correctly—the Lushootseed original is closer to pooh-AL-up and can’t really be rendered in the Roman alphabet. You know how Alki is AL-kai? Only recently. The first white settlers said AL-kee, adopting it from a Chinook jargon name that uses a glottal stop and sounds closer to AL-th-kee.
But here’s what you really need to pass as a true Seattleite, even if you’re not quite faithful to the Native American originals: Leschi is LESHai. There’s only one syllable in Sequim (just ignore the e). And you can look down your nose at Spokane as long as you rhyme its name with pan. Just save your withering looks at mispronunciations, since the common mistake spo-KAINE (like cocaine!) is actually, er, not that far off from the Indian original.