Thursday, June 7, 2012

Vur-SI or Vur-SALES? An International Debate

Today my wife and daughter are touring the famous Palace of Versailles while I try to fix the aerator pump in our septic tank. But that’s okay, at least I’m not cutting the brush that obscures our potty pond, which is the ultimate destination of the “effluent” which is currently not being aerated.

The Palace of Versailles, in case you’ve never watched Madeline, is the historic center of French Government. It was perhaps in its heyday prior to the French Revolution of the late 18th Century.  It was also the site of the signing of the famous Treaty of Versailles, which outlined the terms of the armistice for World War I.

The Palace of Versailles, or more aptly Chateau De Versailles, is located in the once-remote-but-now suburban (Paris) community of Versailles. I state this fact to draw attention to the lack of sense shown by the French in employing the common Osage River Valley dialect of the English language when naming buildings and cities.

You see, as a Missourian, I am very familiar with the correct pronunciation of any town which may be spelled V-E-R-S-A-I-L-L-E-S.  Clearly, it would be Vur-SALES, as in the county seat of Morgan County near the beautiful Lake of the Ozarks.

But the pretentious French get this wrong in their own backyard. They pronounce the palace and town as Vur-SI, and in so doing provide we Missourians a grave disservice. But we here in The Show Me State don’t buy into all that mumbo jumbo. We realize calling Vur-SALES, Vur-SI, is like me calling my septic tank Pepé Le Pew.

Not that Versailles, Missouri in any way should be compared to a septic tank. It is a very fine community, and an extremely enjoyable gateway to the Lake of the Ozarks. As I recall, the community has a very fine golf course located on Missouri Route 5 north of town. If memory serves I birdied hole number 3 there in 1982. But memory does not often serve.

Versailles used to be home to a Ticonderoga pencil factory. Ticonderoga, if you recall from your 2nd Grade Scooby Doo Schoolbox, made the very functional Ticonderoga No. 2 pencil. It also made the Ticonderoga No. 3, which in my view was not at all an improvement on the Ticonderoga No. 2 as it would always break and would not present crisp lettering when writing a note to “your neighbor.” And besides, the No. 3 was never “specced” in the School Supplies Advisory published each August in the newspaper.  So if your mom bought you No. 3s instead of No. 2s you’d probably be in big, big, trouble.

But I digress. The real reason the Ticonderoga factory closed in 2005 was that the Dixon-Ticonderoga plant was purchased by the Italian conglomerate Fila. And, as with any Italian conglomerate, they can’t get passed losing World War II. They keep saying stuff like “The Axis will rise again” and “Long Live Benito” and they go to closing plants they own in any town that appears to have  a French name. The whole plant closure thing was just a bad case of mistaken identity and the good people of Versailles (Missouri) suffered because of it.

But in fairness, we Missourians have not always gotten it right when trying to name things after something legitimately French. A good example would be Lake Pomme de Terre. This is another beautiful lake in Southwest Missouri not far from the nice little bergs of Wheatland and Hermitage. The name absolutely  flows from the lips, whether or not one utilizes his native Osage River Valley dialect or the actual French.

But I’m not sure we did our homework on this one. Pomme de Terre means Apple (Pomme) of the Earth (Terre). So far, so good. But the bad news is the “apple of the earth” is, well, a potato. So the next time you’re fishing or skiing or otherwise recreating on Lake Pomme de Terre you need to realize you’re really just on something called Potato Lake. Somehow I don’t think the Chamber of Commerce down there is going to latch onto that one.

I suppose visiting France is a fine way to pass the time if you have nothing to fix or aerate. And, I’m sure Versailles and the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre are the European equivalents of the cool stuff to visit here like Silver Dollar City. 

However, I believe one can experience French, near-French, or French Wannabe culture right here in the Show Me State. Beyond Versailles, there are the Missouri towns of Paris and Bonne Terre and Desloge and Bois D’Arc (means Hedgeapple-go figure) and Ste. Genevieve. And if that’s not enough you can float the Robidoux Creek or snag paddlefish (a/k/a “spoonbill”) on the Marais des Cygnes. Who wants to endure the jetlag when all these enchanting places beckon from among our own backyard?

In closing, and in the spirit of Madeline, I’ll just say this: “That's all there is; there isn't any more.”

Vive La Ticonderoga! And Vive Pepe’ Le Pew!


  1. Great take on pronouncing city names, etc. I was just talking to a friend a couple days ago about that. Keep writing. I'm following you now. Oh, that sounds like I'm stalking. Noooooo!

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