How to Sound Like a Local (The Unofficial Pronunciation & Important-Things-to-Know Guide for Reporters New to Atlanta)

(updated July 2019) Reporters, particularly television reporters, move around the country a lot. That means learning the local places, the history, and the best places to eat.ponce

But moving to Georgia offers a unique set of challenges to the reporter crossing the Mason-Dixon line for the first time. We’ve got lots of new reporters who’ve joined our local TV stations this year, so we’ve updated our primer, “The Unofficial Pronunciation & Important-Things-to-Know” Guide for Atlanta Reporters.”

Former AJC writer Dana Tofig got this started with a bit of input from his Facebook friends, but I’m always looking to my faithful readers to make additions!

Roads & Trains

• If you’re used to a city with an organized grid of roads … well, Atlanta is not that city. Construction and development mean roads that used to connect no longer do so. One way streets abound in the downtown area, branching off at all angles from the main drag, which is, of course, Peachtree Street.
• Also, many roads change names inexplicably. Why? That’s a long story for another time, but keep that in mind if you’re driving on Briarcliff Road and suddenly panic when you look up and see that you’re on Moreland Ave … and you haven’t made a turn!285
• We’ve got a nice interstate that goes all the around the city. It’s officially called I-285, but we just call it 285 or The Perimeter. It divides the city neatly into ITP (inside the perimeter) and OTP (outside the perimeter). When civilization falls, these two tribes will battle to the death. Oh, and “Outer Loop,” “Inner Loop,” and “Top End Perimeter” are all the same thing.
• Ponce de Leon Avenue is “Ponce de lee on” not “Ponce day Lee Own”
• Yes, there are about 20,000 streets with Peachtree in the name. You’ll find roads, lanes, avenues, bpeachtreeoulevards, courts, highways. Double check if there’s a NW, SE, SW, etc on them. It’s the difference between being in Henry County and Gwinnett County.
• MARTA could be an entire chapter. The transit entity is talking about renaming some stations. For example, the Civic Center station isn’t really at the Civic Center and taking MARTA is absolutely essential when you want to go downtown on a weekend when there are five giant events happening at the same time.

Cities & Towns

Georgia has more counties than just about any other state in the nation. Some are only about 20 feet square. And we’re not satisfied with having just one government in a given area. We usually like to have a county, city and town government all for the same folks.

  • Albany, Ga is pronounced “Al-binny” not “Awl-bun-nee”
  • McDonough is “Mc-donna”, not Mc-dunna.
  • Houston Mill Road doesn’t sound like a city in Texas. Think “Howston.”
  • The “i” in Gwinnett is short, not long. It’s not “Gwyynet” county
  • Lafayette is embarrassingly pronounced as “Luh-faye-it”.
  • If you’re sent on assignment to Grady County, it’s K-Row, not pronounced like Cairo in Egypt, and in Dooly County, it’s VIE-enna, not Vienna. And that’s where the Big Pig Jig takes place.
  • Taliaferro County is TOL-i-ver.
  • Houston County is HOW-ston.
  • The L in DeKalb County is silent — “De Cab.”
  • Marietta is “May-retta.”
  • Coweta is Ky-eat-ah
  • Bremen is “Breemun.”
  • Bowdon is like “take a Bow”-dun.
  • Hahira is “Hay-hi-rah.”
  • Senoia? Well, no one really agrees on that one. Locals will tell you the town is pronounced “Senoy” but that “a” at the end is so tempting.
  • Oh, and we do have a displaced German town in North Georgia. It’s got a traditional German name: Helen.
  • The county seat of Barrow County is known as Winder. It’s pronounced “Wine-der” not “Wind-er.”
  • Chamblee is “Sham-blee,” not “Cham-blee” and the emphasis is on the first syllable.
  • Oh, and “Valdosta” sounds more like “pasta.” There’s no “doo” in there.

Local Lore

  • That big shopping mall in Buckhead is Lenox Square, not Lenox Mall.
  • Dog is spelled “dawg” and has the letters U, G and A associated with it when used correctly (or so I’m told).
  • Chick-fil-A is pronounced as three words and you can’t get one on a Sunday.
  • If you ask for directions anywhere in Cobb County or Marietta, they will all begin with “start at the Big Chicken and then …” What’s the Big Chicken, you ask? Click here:
  • BBQ here is pork, not beef. (Please refer to Fatt Matt’s Rib Shack.) Many will argue if you try to use BBQ as a verb.
  • The Georgia Institute of Technology is known as Georgia Tech and should never be called Georgia Tech University.
  • The default iced tea is sweet tea – you need to ask for unsweet if you want it.
  • Know the difference between a regular onion and a Vidalia (vie-DAY-lee-ah) onion.
  • Usher lives here sometimes and his name is pronounced “Ursher.”
  • There are two “Five Points” around town. One’s just “Five Points” and the other is “Little Five Points.” One’s downtown near what used to be Underground Atlanta and the other’s got lots of great restaurants and shops.
  • Never say “HotLanta” or call the city “The ATL.”
  • Don’t call us the “Hollywood of the South.” We hate that.
  • Take a hike up Stone Mountain – the view is incredible – but don’t try to climb the side with the carving. Go see the laser show there at least once.

One last thing. We do get a little snow here every year. You might have seen us on the national news about in recent years. The snow is bad enough, but the ice storms are worse. You’ll see.

###A winter snow storm snarls traffic and closes schools and businesses in Atlanta

2 Responses to “How to Sound Like a Local (The Unofficial Pronunciation & Important-Things-to-Know Guide for Reporters New to Atlanta)”

  1. 1 Jack Moore September 11, 2014 at 4:12 am

    Very true and accurate. Having lived here over 30 years, you don’t think of all these little weird pronunciations and spellings that weed out the newcomers.

  2. 2 Mindy Larcom September 15, 2014 at 10:51 pm

    Excellent list. One addition: It is Lenox Square and NEVER Lenox Mall.

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