Dr. Know: How do you pronounce "Glisan"?

My roommate and I got into a bar fight over the pronunciation of "Glisan," as in Glisan Street. My understanding is that the street's namesake pronounced it "Glisten." Why must Portlanders mispronounce this name?

—Goody Two-Shoes

Allow me to give you a suggestion, Goody: Never go into a Portland bar and say, "People who say 'Gleeson'? You're over there. People who say 'Glisten'? You're with me. OK, let's fight!" I'm amazed you could type this letter while holding a steak over your one remaining eye.

While I can't find any relevant peer-reviewed research, I don't think I'm going out on too much of a limb to say a majority of Portlanders say "Gleeson." I say it myself. "Glisten" is something dumb that tourists say—like "COWch Street" or "Let's wait 90 minutes for completely ordinary doughnuts because the box is pink."

However, there is one problem: Technically, we're all wrong. (About "Glisan," that is; not about the doughnuts.) By all accounts, Dr. Rodney Glisan, the 19th-century surgeon and Portland bigwig for whom the street is named, pronounced his name with a short "i."

Perhaps the surname has evolved over time? No dice. Sally Glisan, of the family's current generation, confirms they still say "Glisten." "We try to correct people," she says, with perhaps a trace of weariness. "It's definitely a losing battle."

The problem is that, in this case, saying it right doesn't prove you know what you're talking about. Maybe you're too historically well-informed to say "Gleeson"—or maybe you just fell off the arugula truck and have no clue as to local usage. Until there's a way to make sure that being really smart won't be mistaken for being really stupid, most folks will probably stick with the herd.

QUESTIONS? Send them to dr.know@wweek.com

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