Weird Pronunciations of Massachusetts Towns

Worcester. Peabody. Norfolk. Leominster.

If you're from the Boston area, those words will roll right off your tongue. If you're not -- well, good luck.

Even for those of us Bay Staters without Boston accents, there is a distinctive pronunciation of many Massachusetts towns and counties that baffles out-of-towners. As a Metro Boston native who stayed in the area for college, I have spent many gleeful car trips pointing to highway signs and asking my out-of-state friends how they would (wrongly) pronounce the towns we passed by.

A lot of the pronunciations seem totally random. But some of them seem to have generalizable patterns. So, claiming no expertise but that I grew up saying some of these in the local way and later correcting others, here is a totally unscientific and non-exhaustive list of helpful and/or more confusing hints related to pronouncing some of the weird-sounding towns in this crazy state:

  1. In most of the world, Peabody is pronounced pee-BODY. But in Massachusetts, it's PEE-b'dee.
  2. In general, towns ending in -ham put the emphasis on the first syllable and pronounce "ham" more like "um". For instance, Needham is NEED-um, not need-HAM, and Dedham is DED-um, not dead-HAM. But Framingham is framing-HAM and Waltham is more like wall-tham, so don't get too attached to this rule.
  3. People from Boston love to leave out their r's... yet Norfolk is pronounced Norfork. No idea why on that one.
  4. Quincy should have a 'z' in it: it's quin-zee, not quin-see.
  5. If there are a lot of vowels in a word, chances are some of them are ignored: Leominster is leh-min-ster, not lee-oh-min-ster, and Billerica is bill-rica, not bill-er-ica.
  6. But sometimes you need to add a vowel: Woburn is woo-burn, not wo-burn.
  7. Worcester may be the weirdest of them all.. It's two syllables, not three: wuh-ster, not wor-che-ster.

Now don't get me wrong, I love the local quirks of these town names. But some places I just try to avoid saying altogether. Cochituate? Gloucester? It's been years and I still stumble over those. And if you're talking to someone with a Boston accent about any of these towns, you'll get a whole different set of rules and pronunciations. And don't get me started on the many T stops and street names that follow their own New England-y speech rules too. My best advice? Write it down, or wait for someone else to say it first. And remember that even a lot of us of who've lived here for years hardly know what we're saying.

Have other pronunciation hints or stories? Email us at feedback@massrealty.com and we'll share them!

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