Dear Orange Friends:
About 3,000 of you have now emailed me (and texted, called, and talked with me) about the correct pronunciation of “Syracuse.” The messages have come from all over the United States and 15 foreign countries. You are almost evenly divided between “deers” (the first syllable rhymes with “deer”) and bears (the first syllable rhymes with “bear”).
People who say they grew up in Syracuse (or their parents or grandparents grew up here) are also almost equally divided, although “bears” have a slight lead. “Deers” seem to dominate in Western New York, the Midwest, China, and in the Newhouse School; “Bears” seem to dominate in Liverpool, Long Island, Korea, and on the rugby team. I heard from brilliant people who argued for one pronunciation (or neither) based on history, linguistics, psychology, marketing, and an affinity for herbivores or carnivores.
So I guess there is no one official pronunciation. What I need to pick is how I should say it. I was raised near Rochester in the “deer” camp, but it’s not fair to let a Western New York upbringing decide. That’s why I kept alternating between deer and bear at Commencement.
So here is what I will do. I am asking our Department of Recreation Services to organize a competition between deers and bears at the start of the fall semester. They will pick the rules. Whichever team wins, I will say it their way for the rest of the year.
Many thanks to all of you who helped at Commencement—you made it a great day for our graduates.