Thanks for the pronunciation info on "Glisan," but surely the real linguistic elephant in the room is the pronunciation of "Willamette." It's always seemed wrong to me. Who dropped the ball on this one? —Willamette? Weak!

Technically, that's an onomastic elephant, Will. Linguistic elephants have bigger ears, but I get your point. You'll be pleased to learn there's nothing wrong with the river's pronunciation. It's the spelling that's fucked.

The problem is that "Willamette" gives every impression of being a word borrowed from French. And if it's French, it would be pronounced "will-a-MET." So what the l'enfer?

The answer is that it's not French. "Willamette" derives from an American Indian word originally transliterated as "Wallamet." They pronounced it pretty much the same way we pronounce it today.

In the mid-19th century, however, folks decided that the "Wallamet" spelling was dirt-munchingly provincial, and trotted out some very questionable theories to support spelling it à la française. It's like when your 15-year-old brother decides he'd look real suave with a pencil-thin mustache—the "-ette" suffix became a sort of Axe body spray for language.

The Wallamet lovers put up a hell of a fight. Judge Matthew Deady took to the editorial pages of The Oregonian (the YouTube comments section of its day) to decry "Willamette" as having "a thin, meager sound, and a petty, foppish appearance." Le snap! (Deady also noted, devastatingly, that the case for "Willamette" as a French word was somewhat weakened by the fact that, at the time, the French alphabet had no letter "W".)

At this point, the ship has sailed, and, short of adding "rhymes with dammit" to all the signage, there's not much we can do.

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