In a post earlier this morning, I happened to mention that there were Berlins in New Hampshire and Maine. Berliners, so to speak, have been writing in from other states: We have cities or towns of Berlin in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Georgia, North Dakota, and, of course, Wisconsin (which I believe is our most German state). Most of the letter-writers are saying, “Yes, we pronounce the name of the town BER-lin, to rhyme with ‘hurlin’,’ just as your New Hampshire acquaintance said” about the Berlin in his state. And many of these letter-writers are saying that the pronunciation changed during World War I — when we started chomping on “victory cabbage.” (Our patriotic euphemism for “sauerkraut,” the “freedom fries” of its day.) (I’m not criticizing: I loved calling French fries “freedom fries,” during those months, as an expression of disgust with Chirac, Villepin, et al. And I thought those who said that this was mere stupid chauvinism were weenies.) (“Weenies,” of course, comes from the German “Wiener.” And “chauvinism” — that’s about as French as you can get!)
“BER-lin” brings up the general subject of American pronunciations of European place-names. I’m not going to get too much into this — because we could be here all day, and we all know about Ver-sales, Kentucky, etc. — but I did learn a new one (on me), from a reader: Rio — pronounced “Rye-o” — Grande (pronounced “Grand,” of course), Ohio. I like it, a lot.
P.S. A friend of mine, who was then a pretty firm Democrat, had an idea for the 1992 campaign. She said that the Democratic nominee ought to make stops in the various “Clintons” in America — there are a great many.
P.P.S. Mention of Berlin, Georgia, and of World War I, has reminded me of something: that President Wilson’s first wife, the saintly Ellen, was from Rome, Georgia. The second Mrs. Wilson? Edith Bolling Galt had been married to a jeweler, there in D.C. They were prominent in the Washington business community (then much smaller, obviously, than it is today). My family of Washingtonians knew them. Okay, that’s enough veering about . . .