One does not have to have been born in the Northwest, but one can not be a Nortwesterner without it, “it” being the proper pronunciation of “geoduck.” The state is allowing harvest of the giant clams on two DNR tracts near Langley, so geoducks are back in the news.
Newcomers to the Northwest read the name of our gargantuan clam as “geo-duck.” Their reaction is surprise when told that the proper pronunciation is “gooey-duck.” Some are nonplussed, while others think we’re kidding. How could something spelled “geo” be pronounced “gooey.”
What is required is not a solid background in phonics or Latin roots, for no explanation will be found there. “Geo” should by all rights be pronounced as it sounds — never “gooey.” Mrs. Roholdt, our fourth-grade English teacher, would refuse to call our state mollusk a “gooey” duck on principle. “Geo” simply does not spell “gooey,” regardless of the usage.
The fact is, Mrs. Roholdt would be right. Otherwise, we would be studying for our gooeyography test, preparing by reading the latest edition of National Gooeygraphic magazine.
In gooeyology class, young students would naturally be drawn to the gooeyode, a rock that when split open exhibits a beautiful display of crystals. What we’re actually doing is studying geodes in geology class.
A popular new activity is called geocaching, where people hide treasures and wait for others to find them using GPS tracking. If it were pronounced “gooey-caching,” the game might be more fun, with prizes having to be in the gooey category, such as gooey worms or gooey chocolate brownies.
The fact is we can think of no other “geo” word that is pronounced “gooey,” and that’s what makes our geoducks so special. Evergreen State College appreciates our native clam, calling its athletic teams the Fighting Geoducks. The mascot uniform is the ugliest in the world, with clamshell body, large, protruding syphon, and flailing human arms and legs. TV stations refuse to report on Fighting Geoduck athletics, fearing the mascot will sneak into the film report.
We have other words, all based on best-effort translations of Native American names, that also befuddle out-of-staters, such as Puyallup, Quilllayute, Pe Ell, Illwaco and Humptulips. A fellow named James W. Phillips wrote a book about them some years ago.
Nothing, however, defines a true Northwesterner better than the knowledge that geoduck is pronounced gooeyduck. Once you know that, you’re on your way to becoming one of us.