An old school picture
An old school picture from Madison Co. NC

Several years ago I was in a book/record store looking at some bluegrass & old time music when a quote on the back of a CD caught my eye.  It made an impression because I’d fought the same battle of pronunciation between Appa-latch-a and Appa-lay-chia (which usually began with having my own corrected) many times growing up.  I can’t remember the name of the album, but I finally found the origins of the (heavily abbreviated) quote, and I thought I’d post it in context:

“Over in Northern Ireland once I visited a beautiful walled city that lies east of Donegal and west of Belfast.  now for the last thousand years or so the Irish people who built that city have called it Derry, a name from darach, which is the Gaelic word for ‘oak tree.’  But the British, who conquered Ireland a few hundred years back, they refer to that same city as Londonderry. One place: two names.

If you go to Ireland, and ask for directions to that city, you can call it by either name you choose.  Whichever name you say, folks will know where it is you’re headed and mostly likely they’ll help you get there.  But you need to understand this: When you choose what name you call that city–Derry or Londonderry–you are making a political decision.  You are telling the people you’re talking to which side you are on, what cultural values you hold, and maybe even your religious preference.  You are telling some people that they can trust you and other people that they can’t.  All in one word.  One word with a load of signifiers built right in.

Now, I reckon Appalachia is a word like that.  The way people say it tells us a lot about how they think about us.  When we hear somebody say Appa-lay-chia, we know right away that the person we’re listening to is not on our side, and we hear a whole lot of cultural nuances about stereotyping and condescension and ethnic bigotry, just built right in.  So you go on and call this place Appa-lay-chia if you want to.  But you need to know that by doing that you have made a po-li-ti-cal decision, and you’d better be prepared to live with the consequences.  Friend.” (Sharon McCrumb, “The Songcatcher” from chapter 5, cited in Listen here: women writing in Appalachia by Sandra L. Ballard, Patricia L. Hudson, p405-406)

Well, there you have it… I can’t speak for the accuracy of this parallel from the Northern Irish or Irish perspective, but the point about how some choices carry more weight than we know comes across well.