How to speak STL: A pronunciation guide for new St. Louisans
You’re probably going to say it wrong — It’s OK.
If you’re new to St. Louis, your life experience might lead you to pronounce a French-looking word in a French way. Makes logical sense. But you are in St. Louis, not Paris. Here, we ripped the cover off our high school French book, topped it with provel cheese and called it pizza. Here, we say things the St. Louis way.
St. Louis is unusual among American cities in having so many streets and places with French names — a nod to the French settlers, Pierre Laclède and Auguste Chouteau, who established St. Louis as fur trading post in 1764. But there are many other street and neighborhood names that aren’t of French origin, yet still trigger a head scratch when it comes to their pronunciation.
St. Louisans don't always pronounce things the way those settlers or their descendants would, as in the cases of Chouteau, who has an avenue named after him, or Laclède, namesake of the historic riverfront entertainment district, Laclede's Landing.
Here’s a list of local street names and neighborhoods that are frequently mangled and a guide for pronouncing them correctly.
(Are we missing one? Send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: “How to speak STL.”)
- Bopp [BOPE]
- Cabanne [KAB-un-nee]
- Chouteau [SHOW-doh]
- Cote Brilliante [ COAT brill-EE-ant]
- DeTonty [duh-TAHN-tee]
- Dorsett [DOOR-sit]
- Goethe [GO-thee]
- Gratiot [GRAT-chit]
- Gravois [GRA-VOY]
- Heege [HE-gee]
- Interstate 64 [HIGH-way FOUR-dee]
- Jungermann [JUNG-ger-men]
- Juniata [joo-nee-AH-tah]
- Kingshighway [kings-HIGH-way]
- Lindell [LINN-dull]
- Pernod [pair-NOD]
- Spoede [SPAY-dee]
Neighborhoods and municipalities
- Bellefontaine [BELL-fon-TAYNE]: historic cemetery in north St. Louis
- Bellefontaine Neighbors [bell-FOUNT-ten NAY-burrs]: north St. Louis County suburb
- DeBaliviere Place: [de-BAH-liv-ver]: St. Louis neighborhood north of Forest Park
- Carondelet [kuh-RON-duh-LET]: south St. Louis neighborhood
- Creve Coeur [CREEV-CORE]: west St. Louis County suburb
- Des Peres [duh-PAIR]: west St. Louis County suburb
- Florissant [FLOOR-ih-sent]: north St. Louis County suburb
- Frontenac [FRAHN-teh-nack]: mid-county suburb
- Laclede’s Landing [luh-CLEEDS LAND-ing]: historic St. Louis riverfront district
- Lemay [LEE-may]: south St. Louis County suburb
- Kosciusko [kah-SHOOS-koh]: south St. Louis neighborhood
- Sauget [SO-ZHAY] or [SAW-ZHAY]: Metro East village
- Soulard [SOO-lard]: St. Louis neighborhood south of downtown
- The Ville [VILL]: north St. Louis neighborhood
St. Louis’ distinct sound
Besides the interesting ways locals pronounce French names, St. Louis also has a couple of distinct accents that set it apart from other cities.
In the early 2000s, St. Louis rappers Nelly and Chingy brought national attention to how many Black St. Louisans pronounce words that end with an “R” sound like “urr.” Words like there, hair and ear can sound like “thurr,” “hurr” and “urr.” The sound also pops up in the middle of words, making words like Aaron and iron sound similar.
Inspired by “Hot in Herre,” “Right Thurr” and other hits by the St. Louis artists, a group of linguists at New York University studied the “urr” sound in the mid-2000s. At the time, many linguists still wrongly believed that African American English sounded the same all across the country — a myth that persisted in the field for decades.
Local comedian Tru Wag caught internet fame earlier this year with his videos on Instagram and TikTok that showcase his unique drawl via “accent challenges.” A few years earlier, Kelsey Thomas started the #314DayAccentChallenge in 2017 to celebrate and highlight the St. Louis accent for 314 Day.
Another accent heard deeply in the central corridor of the city, and on the south and north sides and inner-ring suburbs, is characterized by the so-called Northern Cities Vowel Shift — where “OR” sounds can be replaced by “AR” sounds — but it’s fading among younger generations. The accent can make words like forty and north sound like “farty” and “nahrth.” Other words, like wash, get the "AR" treatment too: "warsh."
Randy and Jeff Vines, St. Louis enthusiasts and owners of STL Style on Cherokee Street, have long had a fascination with the local dialect. They served as colloquial guides for author Edward (Ted) McClelland’s book “How to Speak Midwestern,” which dissects the many dialects of the Midwest.
During an episode of St. Louis on the Air, Randy Vines recalled how his grandmother used to say that he and Jeff were “barn at Barnes,” referring to Barnes-Jewish Hospital. “This is one of those colloquial features that evolved over time due to immigration and settlement patterns,” he said.
All of these speech quirks are celebrated during 314 Day, March 14. The day has become a source of civic pride throughout the region, and residents are encouraged to shop local, wear gear representing St. Louis sports teams, proudly and loudly bump St. Louis musicians and eat the most St. Louis meals possible.