During the past few weeks, Ooltewah High School has dominated the news, with a rape/assault investigation involving the boys varsity basketball team. Sifting through countless Facebook messages, e-mails and phone calls, I’ve gotten compliments, criticism, and complaints about the news coverage. Here’s a sampling:
- Why doesn’t the news get to the bottom of this?
- Why don’t you force the police to talk? (That’s a good one)
- Why aren’t y’all saying more about this story?
- Why don’t y’all shut up about this story?
- Why don’t you tell the truth about what happened, and give us every detail?
- Why do you insist on reporting every detail?
- I can tell you exactly what happened. I have a friend whose cousin used to work with somebody who knows a man who used to be a police officer.
- Y’all need to stay on this, and stir something up!
- Y’all are just putting this on the news to stir something up! And finally:
- How do you pronounce “Ooltewah?”
Yes, how to pronounce “Ooltewah.” For many years, I pronounced it with the “L” sound, as in “OOL-tuh-wah.” Then someone, I can’t remember who, convinced me the “L” was silent. So I started saying “Oooh-tuh-wah.” That’s how I’ve said it for the past 20 years or so. So I posed the question, on Facebook and Twitter. I knew my social media friends would settle the issue for me, once and for all.
Now I’m more confused than ever. Of those who expressed a preference, 90 people said, “Pronounce the L.” 72 said, “Do not say the L sound.” A slight majority want to hear the L, but it’s hard to ignore those who say, “Get the L out of there,” or words to that effect.
According to Wikipedia, Ooltewah is derived from a Cherokee Native American word meaning “owl’s nest.” If that’s true, I would lean toward pronouncing the L, since you can’t say “owl” without it.
However, read this story from an unidentified 1890 newspaper:
Now if you believe this version, you would pronounce it without the L, right?
To confuse things even further, a website called chenocetah.wordpress.com, describing itself as a site with Cherokee place names, has this to say: “Ooltewah, Tennessee, stands about where the Cherokee settlement of Ultiwo’i was. The meaning is unknown and does not appear to have been originally a Cherokee word.”
As you can see, there’s definitely an L in Ultiwo’i. Facebook friend Debra Fisher adds: “It comes from the Cherokee “Ultiwah.”
Meanwhile, my Facebook friends point out that even celebrities struggle with Ooltewah. President Ronald Reagan, during a visit to Chattanooga in the 1980s, reportedly called it “Ool-TEE-wah.” Today Show weatherman Al Roker famously called the Ooltewah High band “Ool-TAH-wah” during a recent New Years parade. And CBS college football announcer Verne Lundquist said one hometown athlete hailed from “Ool-tuh-WAY” High School.
Clearly, there’s more than one way to spell, define and interpret Ooltewah. You say tomato, I say to-mah-to. Well, actually I say “mater.” Going forward, I have decided to continue saying Ooltewah without the L sound. I know, that puts me in the minority of my own poll, but it was unofficial, and awfully close.
I’ve been told, “If you’re from around here, there’s no L when you say Ooltewah. If you’re from out of town, you say the L.”
At some point, we’ll have to examine the pronunciations for Whut-well, La-fet, Bledsaw County, Sappitchburg (say it fast) , Murville and Ringo, Georgia. Y’all know where these towns are?