First off, apologies are in order for my extended absence. Last quarter was unduly hectic, and I just didn’t have time to do grammar. But now I am back (at least until this quarter gets unduly busy) with a vengeance. The first target? Some book on place-names and resident-names that I keep on seeing on the shelf at the local (really semi-local) used book store. Being, as I am, bonkers for cartography, I of course picked up this book and began to flip through it, because it’s always interesting to see what crazy and idiosyncratic names are given to residents of an area. My first question was simple: what’s the proper name for myself, as a resident of San Diego? Happily, it was San Diegan, which is what I had been calling myself. So great — haven’t been making a fool of myself. The next question: which is considered more standard for a dyed-in-the-wool steelmaker, a user of needs done, a hill-climbin’ pierogi-lovin’, Ahrn-swillin’ Pittsburgh-bred person like myself — Pittsburgher or Pittsburghian? (I use them both, depending on the circumstance and how strongly I want to avoid thinking about a delicious hamburger.)
The book’s answer was that Pittsburgher was standard, at which point I ought to have stopped reading. But no, I read on, only to learn that the authors of this book believe that Pittsburger is also acceptable.
It is not.
You know that friend with a common name that’s spelled in an uncommon way? You know how they get really agitated when people misspell their name, and you can’t figure out why they’re complaining? For instance, I knew a girl in elementary school who went by Katie, but then one day decided that she’d prefer to go by Katy (which, being at a Catholic school, was pretty dang rebellious). This was all well and good, except that she used to get cheesed at people who would spell her name with an ie. Likewise, I had two friends, one a Jen and one a Jenn, who were occasionally stewing about the inclusion or omission of an n in their names.
My point is that that’s not at all akin to our problem as Pittsburghers. First off, my forefathers fought and died for that h (or at least, they fought for the h and died). The totalitarian (and UNELECTED) U.S. Board on Geographic Names decided in 1893 that “standardization” required the obliteration of our precious h, so for an infamous eighteen years, we were officially Pittsburg to our inside-the-beltway overlords at the USBGN. This went over like a lead balloon. Pittsburgh was the name used on our original city charter, based on the Scots English form -burgh (cf. Edinburgh), so this was a real slap in the face to our Scots-Irish heritage (a heritage which also netted us the oddities of Pittsburgh English). The successor to the USBGN eventually overturned the 1893 law and we returned to being Pittsburgh, but no one can erase this injustice from the history books. Worse, it has left Pittsburg on old maps and correspondence, which in turn has led to the semi-popular misconception that our town lacks an h, like those various Pittsburgs in California, Kansas, etc. (none of which have anywhere near the population/clout of us, so it isn’t that people are getting us confused with them).
All this means that it is the duty of any writer worth his or her salt to correct this misconception when given the chance (I was really hoping that J.K. Rowling would use her position in the literary world to to clarify this by including a chapter in which Ron and Hermione are transported to Pittsburgh), rather than claiming that something so very wrong is “acceptable”.
I apologize for all this ranting, but my fellow patrons in the book store were not terribly interested, despite my passionate entreaties to them to march on the publisher’s headquarters with torches and pitchforks. Seriously, who could turn down torches and pitchforks? Only the sort of fools who’d omit our dear h.