'Missour-ee' or 'Missou-rah'? It may be neither

POSTED: 11:58 AM CDT Jul 22, 2013    UPDATED: 12:06 PM CDT Jul 22, 2013 
Missouri map
COLUMBIA, Mo. -

How do you pronounce the name of the Show-Me State? According to a University of Missouri professor, it's neither "Missour-ee" nor "Missou-rah."

Charles Gilbert Youmans, professor emeritus in the College of Arts and Science’s department of English, says the word has a French origin and therefore its pronunciation would have reflected that language.

"French explorers were the first Europeans to use the word Missouri, and English speakers borrowed it from the French," said Youmans. "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.’”

Youmans says the Missou-rah pronunciation most likely evolved from a spelling-based English pronunciation, Missour-eye, according to research from another MU English professor, George Pace. He says final syllable “eye” shrank to “uh.”