Why the long A, Eldorado?

Eldorado sign

The sign at the southern entrance to the hamlet of Eldorado, just across the way from us here in Queensborough and straight up Highway 62 from Madoc. How would you pronounce it?

Okay, readers, I have yet another excellent central-Hastings-County mystery for you to solve! This one comes from a fellow reader, James, who tells me (in a comment he posted a couple of days ago, which you can find if you scroll way down here, in the “About” section of Meanwhile at the Manse ) that he moved to the area of the hamlet of Eldorado (just a few miles northwest of us here in Queensborough) a little over a year ago. (Welcome to our wonderful part of the world, James!) I know that some of you get alerts when new comments are posted so will have already seen it, but many of you do not. So for your benefit, here is James’s question:

All the history books and people from out of town refer to and pronounce Eldorado “El Dorado”, as it was originally called when the village was founded back in the gold mining days. As I understand, the name was shortened to “Eldorado” when the post office opened but the pronunciation is the same. Every other place or thing called Eldorado or El Dorado is pronounced the same way – like “Colorado”, “Cadillac Eldorado” or “Eldorado Gold”. I hear some locals say Eldorado with a long /ā/ sound, more like “Elder /ā/ do”. So my question is why? Do you know who started to pronounce it that way and possibly when?

Great question, James! Would that I had the answer.

Because you are absolutely right: anywhere and everywhere else in the world that the name El Dorado, or Eldorado, is used, it is pronounced with a soft A, as in the original Spanish. (Meaning “the gilded [or golden] one.”) If you click here, the knowledgeable folks at no less an organization than National Geographic will tell you all about the legend of El Dorado, and Sir Walter Raleigh, and why all kinds of real, or once-real, or illusory, or hoped-for, mining towns (like our very own Eldorado, Hastings County, Ont., site of the brief but ever-so-exciting 19th-century gold rush that James refers to) got that name. Pronounced (in all those other cases) with a soft A.

But not here! Here in Hastings County (and environs), we seem to like our hard As, as another reader, Wendy, pointed out in a response to James’s query. She even invoked a matter close to my heart (I wrote about it here), which is the mysterious pronunciation of the name of the small but for some reason well-known hamlet (in neighbouring Lennox and Addington County) of Kaladar:

I have wondered about the pronunciation myself in recent years, although not during the time I was growing up in MAYdoc. It seems to be a bit of a HastingsCountyism to insert the long A sound in names that would otherwise be pronounced with a short a. Many local people also call Kaladar, KaladAAr. (difficult to describe). Who knows when this all began?!

Wendy’s comment reminded me that people who don’t know the proper pronunciation of Madoc (which is “town” for us here in Queensborough, and which is, as Wendy says, pronounced MAYdoc) tend to assume it is something along the lines of “MeDOC,” as in a certain region of France. And yes, those same people would probably never think to pronounce Kaladar as “KalaDARE” – but that’s the more common version here where we live.

Is it possible that the hard A is an Ottawa Valley regionalism, and we are just close enough to the Ottawa Valley to have inherited it? Is there any chance that it’s a tendency that came here thanks to the specific part of the British Isles that many Hastings County settlers came from? Could the United Empire Loyalists have anything to do with it? I could throw out as a possibility the strong francophone influence that we have historically had in this area, but French is not at all big on hard As, so it can’t be that.

Perhaps it’s just that the rugged inhabitants of this rugged part of the world (“The Country North of Belleville,” to quote Al Purdy) decided that soft As were a little too fancy-schmancy for them, and by god they were going to pronounce things a little harshly, just as life here in Shield country was being harsh to them.

People, what do you think? Any theories?

10 thoughts on “Why the long A, Eldorado?

  1. If you figure it out, then maybe you will be able to explain why we also say Chewsday for Tuesday and burries and churries instead of berries and cherries. Or, what abour SAerday for Saturday? I’ve been asked many times why and can only think it’s because I’m from ‘The Valley’ where Gidday is normal also. For a long time, being from ‘The Valley’ or being from ‘North of Seven’ ‘ment’ pretty much the ‘sam ting.’ A curious wonder for sure but it certainly serves to identify us when we talk to those ‘from away’.

    • Absolutely, cs! Your Valley accent may be a bit stronger than that of others in Queensborough because of your origins a little further east of here – though truth be told, I don’t notice your accent at all when I talk to you. Hey, is that because I too speak with a “North of 7” accent? Very probably!

  2. Here is another. How to spell Queensborough? On highway 7 there are signs to turn onto Queensborough Road. Some are spelled Queensborough and others are Queensboro. Which is right?

    • Excellent question, Nancy Lou! I tried tackling that thorny issue a while back, in a post here. The short version: as far as I can tell, the spelling Queensboro (or Peterboro, or Scarboro) is an old-fashioned one that most people no longer use; and perhaps it’s a sign of the wealth of our society that we feel we can – most of the time, at least – afford longer signs that accommodate the “ugh” on the end of all those names.

  3. Wow, the topic of language and regional variations is so interesting. I’m interested to hear more!

    Recently I was thinking about my early childhood in Stormont County. This memory seems to surface at this time of year as the rhubarb season will soon be here. Some of the very old farming people used to pronounce rhubarb as something like “rub-barb” or rur-bub” , or even, “rub-bub”. There were many other odd sayings, filed far back in my memory right now.

    (Our littlest cat is named Rhubarb – she can be “sweet as pie” under the right circumstances!)

    • Interesting. Rhubarb played an important role here in my Queensborough childhood – every mum made rhubarb pie, or jam, or crumble, or some such, and we kids used to pick and eat it raw (and the Queensborough kids dressed the sour raw stalks with salt, it you can believe it) – but I don’t think I ever heard it pronounced in any way other than, well, rhubarb. And we’re not all that far from Stormont County. But as you say, Jane – regional variations, and that was a somewhat different region.

  4. A bit of bravado from the land of Nelly Furtado: Perhaps aficionados of short-a Eldorado are simply incommunicado?

  5. Don’t know about the long A in Eldorado, Katherine, but our UK relatives and friends always say we live in MADock, as in the Welsh pronunciation. There’s that mysterious connection to the Welsh prince Madoc [MADock] ap Owain Gwynedd, credited by some with discovering North America in 1170 (retrieved from Wikipedia), but with no explanation as to what the connection is. No matter… it’s been MAYdock for as long as I’ve known it.

    • Indeed, Brenda, anyone I’ve ever known from “away” (i.e. not central Hastings County) wants to pronounced MAYdoc as MADock, as you say, or even Médoc, as in France. Wrong wrong wrong, people!

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