Welcome to Warshington? Commonly mispronounced names around the state

Oct 26, 2016, 6:31 AM | Updated: Oct 4, 2022, 2:27 pm
It's pronounced "EYE-verz." (Ivar's/YouTube)...
It's pronounced "EYE-verz." (Ivar's/YouTube)
It's "EYE-verz," not "EYE-VARZ." (Contributed/YouTube) Someone should have told President Obama that it is pronounced “OH-so" before he boarded that plane. (AP) If usage is any indication, "AL-KEYE" is the current correct pronunciation, or current accepted pronunciation of Alki. (AP) People are still fishing for the answer over whether Des Moines is pronounced "duh MOINZ" or "duh-MOIN." (AP)

A feud broke out last week between Washington (the state) and the other Washington (the nation’s capitol). Say WA?!?

The Seattle Times fired a preemptive strike against what Washington, DC wants to call itself if and when that odd little piece of “taxation without representation” land becomes the 51st state: “The State of Washington, D.C.”

Even the public radio station there got into the act, posting a tongue-in-cheek list of reasons why they think the District of Columbia is superior to the Evergreen State.

We could have avoided this mess entirely way back in the 1850s. What’s now our fine state was originally going to be called Columbia Territory, until a future Confederate helpfully suggested we instead honor George Washington.

All this arguing about who owns the “State of Washington” moniker got us thinking about some of the names of other places around here that generate friction without anyone even trying to steal them away from us. And no, it isn’t because the names offend someone.

It’s because they get mispronounced.


This is the quickest way to test how long someone has lived in Western Washington. Call it our very own deep-fried shibboleth. Locals know that the correct pronunciation of this seafood restaurant is “EYE-verz,” with emphasis on the first syllable, and a perfect rhyme with “divers.” Those not in the know (recent arrivals, summertime tourists, weekend anchors) say “EYE-VARZ” with equal emphasis on both syllables and a close rhyme with “dive bars.”  Ivar’s, incidentally, is named for real-life late restaurateur and gold-plated self-promoter Ivar Haglund.

Colville, Stevens County

This Eastern Washington town is rarely mentioned in polite conversation on the west side, but when it is, it is almost always mispronounced as “Coal-ville.” The correct way to say it is “CALL-ville,” though this city-produced video appears to pronounce it both ways. Colville was originally a fort, and is named for Andrew Colvile (with one “l”), a London muckety-muck of the Hudson’s Bay Company. This writer often calls local radio and TV stations (anonymously, of course) to offer helpful advice when Colville is mispronounced.

Bangor (naval base), Kitsap County

A brilliant ad agency described in song how the version of this city in Maine is pronounced BAYN-GOR, with equal emphasis on both syllables. Over in Kitsap County where the Navy Trident subs are based, it’s pronounced “banger” (rhymes with hanger).

Oso, Snohomish County

The site of the deadly 2014 mudslide alongside the Stillaguamish River and Highway 530 is rarely, if ever, mispronounced by locals; everyone knows it’s pronounced “OH-so” (Spanish for “bear”).  However, President Obama, while speaking with the media after visiting families affected by the tragedy, had the misfortune to pronounce it “AH-so” multiple times during an event at the local firehouse.

Des Moines, King County

This is a tough one, and the debate over how to say the name of this southwest King County city pops up in the media every few decades. A published history of the city (and the current city clerk) insist that the “s” is silent (like the local city’s namesake, Des Moines, Iowa). Tell that to the man who recorded the greeting for the voicemail system at City Hall. He pronounces it with the “s” (actually, it’s more like a “z”) – “duh MOINZ.”

Des Moines City Clerk Bonnie Wilkins is a “silent s” person, but she’s philosophical about the differences, and tolerant of either pronunciation. She says the city council even passed some kind of resolution about the pronunciation many years ago, though she’s a little fuzzy on the specifics.

“It’s a really heated debate, because [some] people who live here say it’s “duh-MOINZ” and then [some] people who live here say it’s “duh-MOIN,” Wilkins said. “Our [history] book says “duh MOIN,” so it doesn’t really matter. We’re not out to make people do it the right way.”

A pamphlet authored by late WSU Professor Hugh Rundell is something of a bible for broadcasters. Rundell goes with “duh MOINZ.” The French “de moines” means “of the monks,” but Des Moines, Iowa was originally a Native American name (with no relation to French monks) that somehow became garbled.

Alki, Seattle

For that beach in West Seattle, do you say “AL-KEYE” (equal emphasis on both syllables) or “AL-kee” (emphasis on first syllable)?  If usage is any indication, AL-KEYE is the current correct pronunciation, or current accepted pronunciation. It was the place where settlers who would go on to create what became Seattle landed in 1851. They called it “New York,” since they aspired to build a metropolis here. A wiseguy appended “Alki,” a Chinook jargon word for “eventually” or “bye and bye.”

The debate over Alki has also flared up on different occasions over the years (most recently in the late 1950s), with one writer (of a letter to the editor) citing great local historian and author Edmond S. Meany’s 1908 pamphlet about Indian names as definitive proof that the correct pronunciation is “Alky.”

“ALKI – accent on the first syllable, in which the vowel is short; the second vowel is also short, as if it were spelled ‘Alky.’”

This may be a case where usage has ultimately triumphed, and AL-KEYE is here to stay.  Bye and bye?


There’s no debate about how to say the name of the state’s biggest city these days (though this writer’s ancestors in Europe in the 1940s assumed it was pronounced “SEE-dull”). But, according to place name expert James Phillips, the city’s Native American namesake had many different spellings and pronunciations of his name in the 19th century, including See-alt, See-ualt, See-yat, Sealth and Se-at-tlh.

State of Washington

It wasn’t too many years ago that a lot of people in the Evergreen State pronounced our state’s name something like “Warshington” or “Worshington.” These people likely moved here from other parts of the country during the booming economy of World War II, when defense plants attracted tens of thousands of war workers from, among other places, the Midwest and the South. This pronunciation seems to have almost completely disappeared, but it was common as recently as the 1980s.

As early as October 1952, late UW Professor Carroll E. Reed wrote:

“A number of speakers pronounce words like ‘wash’ and ‘Washington’ with an ‘r-colored’ vowel, so that extreme examples sound like ‘worsh’ and ‘Worshington.’ Although regional distribution does not give the whole picture here, most of the speakers thus involved were from Spokane, King and Clarke (sic) counties, that is, in the vicinity of the largest cities. Besides ‘worsh’ there is, of course, another type of pronunciation that is found wherever Southern mountaineers have settled, namely, ‘woish.’”

State of Warshington?

I say let the nation’s capitol become the “State of Washington, DC” or “Washington, DC State” or whatever they want to be called.  We’ll just go back to being called something we can all agree on: good old Warshington state!

“Say WAR?!?”

Local News

Frank Sumrall

State Rep: ‘None of these locations are suitable’ for a future airport

According to Jason Rantz, the acting chairman of CACC, Warren Hendrickson, stated he believes none of the airport locations will move forward.
18 hours ago
(KIRO 7)...
Shawn Garrett, KIRO 7 News

Deputies seize nearly 100 pounds of drugs during Tacoma arrest

Deputies with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department seized nearly 100 pounds of drugs while arresting a man with a felony warrant in Tacoma
18 hours ago
police pursuit...
Matt Markovich

Source of pursuit deaths updates controversial data

Stats used by legislators to consider changing police pursuit laws may be in question.
18 hours ago
Nicole Jennings

‘Recycle, don’t throw out’ newest message from King County initiative

King County has launched a new initiative to get people to recycle or reuse items before automatically throwing them out.
18 hours ago
KIRO Newsradio Newsdesk

Pedestrian hit by train in Belltown, police investigate

Seattle Police are investigating after a man was hit by a train near Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood Thursday night.
18 hours ago
Bill Kaczaraba

Lovable radio host Frasier returns, but not to Seattle

Frasier, the lovable but loveless radio host who put Seattle on the map will not be returning to the Emerald City.
18 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Welcome to Warshington? Commonly mispronounced names around the state