How Do the Candidates for County Executive Say "Cuyahoga"?

click to enlarge Republican Lee Weingart (L) and Demorat Chris Ronayne (R)
Republican Lee Weingart (L) and Demorat Chris Ronayne (R)

The Democratic frontrunner for Cuyahoga County Executive, Chris Ronayne, is convinced that he pronounces the word 'Cuyahoga' with a long 'o,' like hoagie.

"I'm willing to be convinced otherwise, but that's how I say it across the board: Cuyahoga County, Cuyahoga River, Cuyahoga Falls."

But even as he listed these examples off, his pronunciation of the controversial third syllable veered toward hawg.

"Huh," he said. "Yeah, sometimes for the Cuyahoga River that happens."

It was posited by no less than Pulitzer-Prize Winner Connie Schultz, when the Plain Dealer covered the pronunciation dispute back in 2009, that it was an "East Side-West Side thing, with East Siders leaning toward hoag."

When presented with this theory, Ronayne allowed that the elision in his pronunciation might be due to his "split lineage" as a resident of Cleveland's West Side but having worked professionally for 16 years on the East Side at University Circle Inc. He said he was fascinated, in any case, by the word's origins and its various meanings to Native American nations that occupied the area or influenced the language.

"Depending on the tribe, [Cuyahoga means] either 'crooked' or 'jawbone' or 'Land of the Small,'" he said. "I like the first two."

Ronayne said that he has even started greeting  local audiences as "Cuyahogans" in remarks.

"I don't know if this is new, and I'm interested to see how it plays," he said, "but the reality is, we're all one watershed."

Republican challenger Lee Weingart answered unconventionally. Not only did he pronounce the word in the hoagie style. He also said he thinks he pronounces it as a three syllable, not a four-syllable word. "Cuy-HOGA," or even Cuy'hoga. 

(We didn't pursue this digression, but the Summit County denizens in the North Akron suburbs tend to compress the word further still, down to two  hard-working syllables, e.g. Cawga Falls.)

Could this be considered a tomayto-tomahto situation, Scene inquired of the Republican?

"I guess," Weingart replied. "I'm a tomayto guy. The other sounds pretentious. Like 'rather' or "raaaaath-er.'"

Democratic challenger Tariq Shabazz, distinguishing himself from the pack, told Scene in an email that he believes he pronounces the word Cuyahawga.

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Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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