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22 Words Only Michiganders Can Pronounce

Visitors often stumble over the pronunciation of several Michigan landmarks and city names, which is a sure sign that they don’t live here. But how could they not get confused, with names like Dowagiac, Hamtramck and Kitch-iti-kipi in our midst? Plus, we pronounce a few common words, such as Charlotte, Milan and Orion, a bit…differently.

Whether you recently moved here or you’re just passing through, consult our pronunciation guide to sound like a true Michigander! We’re highlighting all the words that have surprising (and uniquely Michigan) pronunciation.

 

Bois Blanc

Bois Blanc, Michigan
Photo Courtesy of Image Science and Analysis Laboratory, NASA-Johnson Space Center. “The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth”., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This first one has managed to cause quite the controversy amongst Michiganders. Most know it as “boys blank,” while others insist it is “boys blonk.” However, most just refer to this island in the Straits of Mackinac as “bob-low,” which avoids the debate altogether!

 

Charlotte

This charming small town just southwest of Lansing is not like the city of the same name in North Carolina. Most notably, it’s pronounced differently — as “char-LOT,” as opposed to “char-lit.”

 

Charlevoix

Situated along the shores of Lake Michigan on the northwest corner of the Lower Peninsula, Charlevoix has been tripping up visitors with its French name. But Michiganders know it is pronounced “shar-luh-voy!”

 

Dowagiac

Dowagiac, Michigan
Photo Courtesy of Michael Tomko, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Is it “doe-wag-eye-ak?” “Dow-wag-ee-ak?” Neither! This small city in southwest Michigan is pronounced “doe-WAH-jak!”

 

Ewing

While it’s tempting to say “ew-ing,” there is nothing “ew” about this small township in the Upper Peninsula. It starts with a “y” sound and is pronounced “YOO-ing.”

 

Gaylord

Believe it or not, this northern Michigan city is pronounced “gay-lerd” — not the typical “gay-lord!”

 

Grosse Ile

Grosse Ile, Michigan
Photo Courtesy of Mhistory at en.wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This township (containing an island of the same name) south of Detroit is fairly straightforward. You guessed “gross” correctly! But the second word is pronounced “eel” — making it “gross eel.”

 

Hamtramck

The “mck” sound at the end of this small city just outside Detroit has thrown people off over the years. But Michiganders don’t bat an eye, sounding it out as “ham-tram-ick” with an invisible “i” in the last syllable.

 

Houghton

It may be tempting to make a “haw” sound at the sight of this charming town at the northern tip of the Upper Peninsula. But it is in fact pronounced “HOE-tin!”

 

Keweenaw

Keweenaw County
Photo Courtesy of Phoenix-Five, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The state’s northernmost county, Keweenaw County, is also the state’s largest by total area (when the waters of Lake Superior are included) as well as the least populated. And Michiganders know it’s pronounced “KEE-win-awe,” with the long “e” sound in the first syllable, not the second.

 

Kitch-iti-kipi

Get the pronunciation of this stunning natural spring down so you can spend more time enjoying its splendor. Pronounced “kitch-itty-kip-ee,” Kitch-iti-kipi is Michigan’s largest freshwater spring measuring 200 feet across and 40 feet deep. It is a popular destination best admired via observational raft, as swimming and fishing are not allowed. Stumbling over the name? Don’t worry — you can just call it “Mirror of Heaven,” the nickname given by ancient Chippewas. And once you see its bright teal waters, you’ll understand why!

 

Lake Gogebic

Believe it or not, Lake Gogebic, the largest inland lake in the Upper Peninsula, is pronounced “goh-GHIB-ik!”

 

Lake Orion

Lake Orion, Michigan
Photo Courtesy of User:TheKuLeR, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Of course we had to complicate things by not pronouncing it like the constellation. Pronounced “lake oh-ree-en,” Lake Orion is a village in the northern outskirts of Metro Detroit along a lake with the same name.

 

Mackinac

You will immediately be pegged as a tourist if you pronounce this idyllic island that doesn’t allow cars or chain hotels as “mack-in-ack.” Michiganders know the correct pronunciation is “mack-in-awe!”

 

Milan

Forget about the pronunciation of the Italian city! The small city of Milan, Michigan is pronounced “my-LINN.”

 

Ocqueoc

Ocqueoc Falls, Michigan
Photo Courtesy of Tony Faiola from Mid-Michigan, U.S.A., CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The “qu” sound in this name has a tendency to trip everyone up. And Ocqueoc is the name of several landmarks in Michigan, including Ocqueoc Township, the Ocqueoc River, and Ocqueoc Falls, the largest waterfall in the Lower Peninsula. For all three, it is pronounced “AH-key-ock!”

 

Okemos

This Lansing suburb doesn’t have a “key” sound, as many assume. It is actually pronounced “OH-kuh-muss.”

 

Onekama

This small village along the shore of Lake Michigan is pronounced “oh-neck-em-uh.”

 

Ontonagon

Ontonagon, Michigan
Photo Courtesy of Tim Kiser (w:User:Malepheasant), CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Emphasis is key when it comes to this charming village in the northern shoreline of the Upper Peninsula. It’s pronounced “on-te-NAH-gen,” with an emphasis on the “nah” syllable.

 

Sault Ste. Marie

You have to be a local to know how to correctly say the name of Michigan’s oldest town. It is actually pronounced “sue saint marie” — not “salt!”

 

Sebewaing

Known as the Sugar Beet Capital, Sebewaing sure has a lot of vowels (including a silent “a” at the end), but Michiganders know it is properly pronounced “see-buh-wing.”

 

Ypsilanti

Ypsilanti, Michigan

Stick out like a sore thumb if you pronounce the “y” at the beginning of Ypsilanti, an artsy city just down the road from us here in Ann Arbor. Instead, pretend the “y” isn’t there and call it “ip-sill-ANN-tee.” Overwhelmed? Shorten it to “Ypsi” like a true local.

 

What Michigan Words Do You Struggle to Pronounce?

Let us know in the comments below!

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