I Wonder: Is Boise really "boy-see" or "boy-zee?"

I Wonder: Is Boise really

Credit: Photo: Levi Bettwieser/KTVB

I Wonder: Is Boise really "boy-see" or "boy-zee?"


by Don Day

Bio | Email | Follow: @DonLDay


Posted on October 25, 2009 at 3:20 PM

Updated Sunday, Mar 16 at 8:00 PM

BOISE - In this town, Boise State takes center stage during football season - and every few weeks or so, ESPN puts the team on national TV for all to see.

The school's blue turf is usually a hot topic, but during a 2009 game against Fresno State, analysts Joe Tessitore and Rod Gilmour focused on something else: is it boy-see, or boy-zee?

"If it's pronounced 'boy-see,' shouldn't it be 'fress-no?'," Gilmour said.

While the ESPN guys might have been kidding - it's long been a point of contention for locals: if you are a true Boisean, you use the "s" sound rather than the "z" sound.

"Of course all the locals know it is 'boy-see.' Always has been. You can tell an out of towner by 'boy-zee'," local Kirk Jeffery said on Twitter.

"It was 'boy-zee' until we moved here and noticed most people say 'boy-see,'" new Boisean Cheryl said on Twitter. "Husband still says 'boy-zee,' but I will turn the kids!"

"'Boy-see,' resident Brian Harrison said. "Think of the origin of the name - Les Bois (French). Bois is pronounces 'bwah' not 'bwahz.'"

The opinion on Twitter was overwhelmingly in favor of the soft s sound, and Boise's mayor agrees.

"I'm not a full authority, but I'm a second generation Boisean," Mayor Dave Bieter said. "The city is 'boy-see.' For years and years, we could always tell when someone was from out of town because they said it wrong."

Bieter said he hopes most people would want to say the name like the locals would.

"Most towns you want to say a city right," Bieter said. "I remember a friend from Louisville said 'it's not lou-ee-ville it's lou-uh-ville."

Boise State University linguistic professor Jon Dayley says he generally agrees with Bieter, but in a strict sense - there really isn't a right or wrong.

"From a linguistics standpoint, it's kind of relative," he said. "There's no way to judge whether one is more correct or not - other than it's more correct if you're in Boise to say boy-see."

Dayley says the prevailing local opinion causes many to change their ways once they spend some time in the City of Trees.

"People moving in from outside tend to change their pronunciation within a while because people make fun of them," he said. "'Oh you're from California, you're from the East Coast,' or whatever."

Dayley says the confusion is logical - and the use of the hard "z" is common for similar English words.

"In English, a single s between vowels is often pronounced as a z, like in resist and reason and so on."

But debates like the one between Tessitore and Gilmour last week may actually change national opinion.

"With the football team - the Boise State Broncos - getting ?publicity, it may be that it changes outside of the state as well," Dayley said.

Bieter says he hopes locals stick with the soft s sound.

"That's the way it is, that's the way it's always been, and we hope it's the way it always will be - at least while I'm the mayor that's how we'll do it."

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