By Kevin Patrick
“I’m callin’ about the stay away.”
“The stay away?”
“Yeah. The stay away.”
… “The STAY away?”
We began again. The serves and whiffs went on for a ridiculous minute before I realized a transplanted New Englander was responding to an ad I’d run to get help rebuilding a stairway (“stay away”). What you say hinges delicately on how you say it.
Place names tend to be less confusing, as they’re generally embedded in a rich contextual stew of language, geography and history. But even if the meaning is clear, many within earshot generally stand ready and willing to be offended by your pronunciation.