By Victoria Merlino
New Yorkers take pride in the correct pronunciation of their street names. You can tell a true Manhattanite from 30 yards away when you hear someone yell, “It’s not Hue-ston Street, it’s House-ston Street,” at a tourist or visitor.
You know you’re meeting a Brooklynite when they inform you (sometimes snottily) that it’s “Pad-a-get, not Peter-get Street, gosh” or tell you that weird Taaffe Street name is pronounced like the salt water candy.
So then, why is there so little consensus around the name of one of Queens’ main thoroughfares, Roosevelt Avenue? Why do some borough residents pronounce it Rose-a-velt Avenue, and some pronounce it Ruse-a-velt?
“It’s Rose-a-velt. No self respecting Queens native says Ruse ,” said user Ashley Reed.
“If it’s a cross street, I say ruuse (74th and ruse-a-velt) but otherwise it’s rose,” responded reporter Catherina Gioino.
“It depends, with a Colombian and or Ecuadorean accent, it is totally different. But close enough to Ruse,” said user Monica Sibri.
“Rooz-uh-velt. Or, Roos-belt en español.” said user Zameena Mejia.
It’s unclear when the Rose-a-velt versus Ruse-a-velt debate first began, but even members of the famous Roosevelt family couldn’t reach a singular conclusion. The presidents Theodore and Franklin Delano Roosevelt both said Rose-uh-velt, but Teddy’s daughter Alice Roosevelt Longworth told the author of a 1984 Washington Post article that she pronounced it “Ruse.”
(A letter from a grandson of Teddy’s later rebuked the Post author, telling him that everyone in his family, including Alice, pronounced the name the “Rose” way.)
To up the ante even more, Queens College linguistics professor Michael Newman said there are actually four ways to pronounce Roosevelt. Newman is part of a group of CUNY professors who study accents within New York City English.
“Some Queens residents use — to get all technical on you — what us linguists call the ‘GOAT vowel.’” Newman wrote in an email to the Eagle. “However, many people use the 'GOOSE vowel’ and say it as ruse. Then there’s another difference. Whether the ’s’ is an ’ss’ or a ‘z’. So you get four possible variants:
1) Rose-a-velt, 2) Roass-a-velt, 3) Ruse-a-velt and 4) Rooss-a-velt.”
“1 I think is the most common followed by 3, then 4 and last 2, but that’s pure speculation from having grown up in Jackson Heights,” he continued.
He said the use of the “GOOSE” vowel is called a “spelling pronunciation,” where people pronounce a word as written, and there are many examples of these types of pronunciations throughout English.
While the people of Queens may not come to a consensus on the Roosevelt question anytime soon, everyone can agree that at least it's easier to say than Brooklyn’s Schermerhorn Street.
How do you pronounce the street name? Notice any other disputed street names? Let us know in the comments.