The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.

Hote or Hut?

by Jim Clayton - Quill Reporter

It seems that each time I have chosen to write in the first person it involves something French. A few months ago I wrote about the origins of the name of the town of La Harpe and found it was named after a person, not a musical instrument.

I have stumbled upon another quandary involving the French and our community. Actually, this one has perplexed me more than the origins of La Harpe.

I was born in Terre Haute, IN on the banks of the Wabash River, a town of about 60,000 people. It grew out of the War of 1812 or the French Indian.

The English translation of Terre Haute is "high ground' and in Indiana came about as a result of the way the ground sloped eastward and up and away from the Wabash River. The French who settled the area found this to be a desirable location near the river to settle.

The United States built a military installation in 1811 and became a major focal point as an outpost during the War of 1812. The fort was named Fort William Henry Harrison named after the ninth president of the U.S.A. who proved himself a valiant warrior during this period of American history.

I was born there on April 21, 1960 in Saint Anthony's Hospital, which has since been torn down and in its place a very upscale complex of housing for senior citizens (my daughters get quite a kick out of that).

All my life everyone I know from Terre Haute, IN always referred to is at "terra hote' (phonetic spelling). And we were always quick to defend the "proper' pronunciation.

In the spring of 2006 I started becoming familiar with this area and was excited to see that there was a nearby town that had the same name as my hometown and I took it as a positive sign.

At least until I heard someone pronounce it as "terra hut' well my dander was definitely up and I was very quick to correct that person and assured them that we Hoosiers had the correct pronunciation.

Now, Terre Haute, IL as been around awhile too, it seems the same people who came across La Harpe, felt Terre Haute was also a nice place to settle and saw that it too was on high ground and a convenient trek to the Mississippi River.

It was difficult to find much more historical data (I am sure someone will let me know soon) in regard to Terre Haute, IL.

I did find that, according to Sperling's Best Places, Terre Haute, IL has the lowest cost of living in Henderson County, and that the air is 81% clean which is a very high number nationally. The population as of the 2000 census is 246 and has actually grown. And, I might add, a very pleasant scene in rural Illinois.

But my dilemma was in the proper pronunciation. I went to the trusty French/English online dictionary and found that the actual pronunciation should sound more like one word.

The first syllable sounding like a "tear' in a piece of fabric with a hard guttural r from the back of ones throat. And the second syllable sounds like, "oat'.

So, for all intents and purposes Indiana and Illinois were both wrong. But I do recall my American Folklore professor, Ron Bake, saying, "If it is pronounced one way by an entire community then when one is in said community, that communities pronunciation is correct.

We call that a regional colloquialism." So, on second thought, we were both right.