Guest Post: Vineyard Tongue Twisters

By Rick Conti

This is slowdown time.  The crowds are thinner and the restaurant and hotel workers are taking their first deep breaths since mid-June.  Never mind the fact that September and October might be the best months to be on the Vineyard!


The quieter months give us time to relax and consider important issues like how to pronounce the various names one encounters on the Island.  Chiefly due to their Native American etymology, place names on Martha’s Vineyard can be challenging, especially to mainlanders, whose numbers, I am loathe to admit, include me.


Among the ones that have tripped up more than one visitor over the years:


  1. Sengekontacket Pond has got to be the worst.  The length alone is daunting to most, but the informal short-form that is sometimes used, Senge, is no help at all.  Is that a soft or hard “g”?  I’ve given up and simply refer to it as that pond behind State Beach.  That I can say!
  2. It’s hard to settle on a pronunciation for Cape Pogue since there doesn’t even appear to be unanimity on how to spell it (anyone for Poge?).  I’ve always settled for “poe-ghee” and no one has hit me yet.
  3. Wasque Point?  I’ll excuse you if your weren’t aware that it’s spoken as “way-skwee”.  I wasn’t either.
  4. Katama is short enough and shouldn’t be a problem, but it trips up plenty of people.  The main source of confusion is on which syllable to put the emphasis.  Here’s a lesson to all:  The accent is on the second syllable where also lives an “a” that is long, not short as in cat.  Which reminds us that the “Kat” part is also unlike “cat”.  It’s Kuh-tay’-muh.  To be instantly labeled a newbie landlubber, go ahead and say, “Cat’-uh-muh.  You might as well call Mad Max a Katamaran.
  5. Chappaquiddick gets a free pass because of its prominence in popular culture based on one infamous incident there.  Otherwise, who knows how the average tourist would screw it up.
  6. The worst pronunciation I’ve run into, believe it or not, is for Edgartown.  Some persist in referring to it as “Edgarton”.  These are the same folks who ride their mopeds the wrong way on Main Street.  I don’t even want to think about what they’d do with the original Native American name of Nunnepog.
  7. Arguably the simplest town name on the island is Oak Bluffs.  Two common one-syllable words.  How can anyone go wrong?  But they do.  I’ve heard more people than I can count call the place “Oaks Bluff” as if some guy named Oak was trying to win a poker game with a pair of deuces.  Free meal at Subway for you.
  8. Mytoi Garden leaves you off the hook, since it can be pronounced either “my toy” or “mee toy”.
  9. Menemsha, Squibnocket, and Aquinnah are all straightforward enough, but I’d wager they’ve been the victims of unwarranted verbal violence at the hands of the linguistically challenged.


There are many other tongue-twisters, not just in place names, but for restaurants, people, and more.  No matter how you say it, though, the Vineyard in the fall is pulchritudinous.  (Look that one up in your Funk and Wagnall’s.)


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