Printed from:

Welcome to Columbia Magazine  

Mike Watson: Oh, for Names, Places and Pronunciation!

Update for Great Wooded South Lexicon, B.J. Fudge, Proprietor: Clarifying pronunciation of Uh-dair County, Cuh-well, and the real name of Petty''s Pettit's Fork Creek.

By Mike Watson

The Great Wooded South submissions have been less than a trickle of late, and they are missed. There is much to learn, one might say "a right smart bit," from the techno-jaw sessions. When reading CM, which I do daily, I often see items that appear to come from submitters "from off."

Then there are items from folk who don't adhere to the local "letter of the law" concerning place names. Now I understand that our tongues do not wrap 'round some words as they should; therefore, creating words that do not, as such, exist here. I'm certainly not a purist, anyone who hears me speak knows that! However, it does pain me considerable for the same to appear in print.

For instance, the name of our fair county, the jewel in the proverbial crown of the Commonwealth - Adair. Over the past 35 years or so I have encountered many visitors from off, in Columbia doing historical and genealogical research, who, not familiar, mispronounce the name of the county. I hold this not against them, for they know no better.

From them it becomes "A-dair"--with a long "A" as in apron or agent, with emphasis on the "A". Over the years this has come to bother me less, but I do attempt a subliminal correction by pronouncing it correctly at every opportunity.

Adair is pronounced with a soft "a", not a hard one, with emphasis on the second syllable. Should General/Governor John Adair, who rests peacefully in his grave in the Bluegrass, hear his historic name pronounced "A-dair" instead of "uh-Dair", he should certainly roll over, so to speak.

Petty's Fork is a fictitious place, though it appears in print from time to time. Pettit's Fork is, of course, real and has been for well over two centuries. Our tongues do not like to make the repetitive "t" for proper pronunciation, but allow it to become "Petty's" instead. In speech, no harm no foul, but in print...well.

The Petty family has been a prominent one in the history of Adair County, since the first half of the nineteenth century, but they came long after the naming of Pettit's Fork, branch of Russell Creek. That name was given to the stream by 1792, according to records from that time period. "Petty's" Fork first showed up on a Kentucky Department of Highways map in the 1950s, probably through a typographical error--or laziness on someone's part, and has been repeated many times over.

Those of the name "Caldwell" have been in this county since before formation. To our ancestors and up until fairly recent times, the name was pronounced not as it appears, but "Cuh-well." Of course, that was how the oldsters pronounced it and was traditional here. When some of William Caldwell's sons moved to Louisville and became prominent, they evolved into "Cald-well" and discarded "Cuh-well." Though when they visited Columbia, or so stories go, they were again kin to their father's clan. -Miike Watson

This story was posted on 2012-01-31 08:28:26
Printable: this page is now automatically formatted for printing.
Have comments or corrections for this story? Use our contact form and let us know.


Quick Links to Popular Features

Looking for a story or picture?
Try our Photo Archive or our Stories Archive for all the information that's appeared on


Contact us: Columbia Magazine and are published by D'Zine, Ltd., PO Box 906, Columbia, KY 42728.
Phone: 270.403.0017

Please use our contact page, or send questions about technical issues with this site to All logos and trademarks used on this site are property of their respective owners. All comments remain the property and responsibility of their posters, all articles and photos remain the property of their creators, and all the rest is copyright 1995-Present by Columbia! Magazine and D'Zine, Ltd. Privacy policy: use of this site requires no sharing of information. Voluntarily shared information may be published and made available to the public on this site and/or stored electronically. Anonymous submissions will be subject to additional verification. Cookies are not required to use our site. However, if you have cookies enabled in your web browser, some of our advertisers may use cookies for interest-based advertising across multiple domains. For more information about third-party advertising, visit the NAI web privacy site.