I heard at an early age that Southerners pronounce route to rhyme with bout, and that Northerners pronounce route to rhyme with root. This is true, but there is more to it than different pronunciations.
The different pronunciations have different meanings. When pronounced to rhyme with bout, route means a route with designated places to deliver things — a paper route, or in the old days a milk route.
Younger readers may not have heard of a milk route, but we had milk routes as late as the 1940s. Dairies delivered milk in glass bottles to residents. I refer to the glass bottles because as someone who threw morning newspapers, I had to be careful not to hit the glass bottles with the folded paper, which was heavy enough to break the bottles.
When pronounced as root, it means a straight shot, so to speak, as in Route (root) 66, that highway that ran from east to west, and was made famous as the name of a television show, “Route 66.” Remember? Two young men, one played by Martin Milner would jump into their Corvette to head for an adventure on Route (root) 66.
The word creek, pronounced as creek in the South, and often as crick in the North also has a complication.
Some Southerners say the saying, “I’ll be over to see you if the Creeks don’t rise” in the days of pioneers was in reference to the possibility that the Creek Indians might go on the warpath and block the trip. And some say that “if the creeks don’t rise” was in reference to the flooding of streams, which would prevent travel.
Cultural and regional differences will always cause complications in the use of the same language such as we have in the good ol’ USA. When you consider how many languages we are “coming from,” it amazes me that we understand each other as well as we do.
Sometimes there is no “right” or “wrong” way to say something. Our schools will always be the best route to follow.
And the people who use the language effectively and with intelligence will always, I hope, set the standard.
Gillis Morgan is an associate professor emeritus of journalism at Auburn University and an award-winning columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org