Thursday, September 4, 2008

Thursday Afternoon in Williamsburg: Wondering Why the L Train Announcements Mispronounce Lorimer Street and DeKalb Avenue

Since we moved back to Brooklyn a couple of years ago and started taking the L train at least once nearly every day, we've been wondering why the very helpful announcements at each stop pronounce both Lorimer Street and DeKalb Avenue in a way that sounds funny to our native Brooklyn ears.

Since we both live by Lorimer Street and have written a short story collection with Lorimer Street in the title (the title story, "And to Think That He Kissed Him on Lorimer Street," has scenes at the subway stop in 2005 and on the LL train in the 1970s), we're interested in hearing from anyone who can tell us how the pronunciation got altered.

To us, it was "LAHR-im-er" street with the vowel sound in the first syllable sounding sort of like Bert Lahr's last name. Our beloved landlady and decades-long friend, who passed away last year (we miss her every day) is the only one we ever asked about this. In 1921 she was born in this house (the top floor of which is Dumbo Books HQ) which her maternal grandfather bought over a century ago from the original German owner who fled when Italian immigrants started coming to the neighborhood. She never lived anywhere else.

"I never heard it pronounced any other way than Lahr-im-er," she told us. Us too, back in the day. Actually, a lot of us pronounce it almost like llama, but not quite.

So why does the L train announcement say "LORE-im-er," with the first syllable sounding like lore as in folklore? (Actually, we pronounce lore exactly the same as we pronounce the word law.)

And we've always pronounced DeKalb Avenue with the vowel in the second syllable pronounced like the A in Hal or Al or pal.

We never heard the subway announcement pronunciation of "DeKalb" spoken by a human being. It sounds snooty to us. The second-syllable A sounds sort of like the O sound in Ollie.

The blogger Mik Awake seems to have another issue with the pronunciation involving the L in DeKalb. But he is from Georgia - the state we kept being forced to change planes at when we lived across the border in Florida, not the former Soviet republic - and so anything he says is suspect. And we actually went to the Brooklyn Paramount on DeKalb and Flatbush in the 1960s and taught there when it became part of Long Island University in the 1970s, so there.

Anyone providing us with definitive information leading to the arrest of the subway announcement pronunciations will receive a free Dumbo Books book. Anyone who gives us incorrect, stupid or obnoxious answers will receive three free Dumbo Books books.

LOR-i-mer or LAHR-i-mer? De-KALB or De-KAWLB/De-KOLB?

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