Maybe now that “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” has been nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award we’ll get consensus on how to pronounce “Missouri” — because we clearly don’t have it now.
“Girls Trip” star Tiffany Haddish and Andy Serkis of “War for the Planet of the Apes” announced the Oscar nominations Tuesday morning during a live broadcast.
“Three Billboards” scooped up seven nominations, which meant the stars had to say “Missouri” several times.
They said it two different ways: “Missour-ee” and “Missou-rah.”
Haddish, in particular, struggled with the word. (At one point it sounded like she said “Ebony,” instead of Ebbing, too, but we digress.)
People were so confused.
So which is it?
“Missour-ee” or “Missou-rah”?
Maybe neither, according to Charles Gilbert Youmans, professor emeritus in the English department at the University of Missouri, who tackled this sticky subject a few years back.
The correct pronunciation of the Show-Me state’s name is buried deep within the state’s Native American, English and French roots, according to Youmans.
“The name Missouri, meaning ‘people of the big canoes,’ or something similar, was applied to the local Native Americans by a neighboring tribe,” the linguistics expert said in 2013.
“This was not what the ‘Missourians’ called themselves. Evidently, French explorers were the first Europeans to use the word ‘Missouri,’ and English speakers borrowed it from the French. “This is probably the source for the Missour-ee pronunciation, since that is how French speakers would pronounce the final ‘I.’
“Based upon the French spelling, my guess is that the ‘original’ French pronunciation of the name would have been something like ‘Mi—ss—oo—ree.’”
He said research by another MU English professor, the late George Pace, explained how saying “Missou- rah” evolved from the English pronunciation, “Missouri-eye.”
Eventually, Youmans said, that last syllable, “eye,” became “uh” — the default vowel for unstressed syllables in English.
There are more complications — such as how some people pronounce the two S’s like Z’s — but they’ll only make your head hurt, as will probably happen a lot as Hollywood tries to figure out how to pronounce “Missouri” this Oscars season.