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Monday, 12 July 2004

Years ago, when I lived in Worcester, Massachusetts, it was not unusual for many of my non-native New England friends to be somewhat bewildered about my place of residence. As often as not, their tongues would get twisted up in variants of "Wooster," or "Worchester,'' never actually knowing that we Worcesterites simply pronounced our burg as "Wusta.'' Of course, New England place names -- often just a bump away from their English counterparts -- have always been a bugaboo for many tongue-tied Americans. Try "Leicester,'' or "Concord,'' or "Athol'' (think lisp), or even "Grosvenordale.''

I mention that last one, Grosvenordale, Connecticut, in particular, because that was where I moved after departing Worcester. The universal reaction -- again, largely from those outside the six states -- was once more, "Where?'' (Not, "Ware?'' No, that would be, of course, "Ware, Massachusetts''). Actually, I had moved to the Town of Thompson, Connecticut, in which two of six official villages were known as Grosvenordale and North Grosvenordale. (Now, I'll really get boring. In fact, I lived in the village of Fabyan. My alternative mailing address was simply in North Grosvenordale).

Grosvenor ("Lord Grosvenor,'' anyone?) has been always been a tricky one for American tongues. Just ask any junior diplomat posted to the American Embassy in London who might be required, from time to time, to give directions to the mission's West End location in Grosvenor Square. Is that GROSE-veNOR, or GRAS-venor? Oh, never mind.

Even in my former patch in northeastern Connecticut, we had a bit of a tussle over Grosvenordale, the spelling portion of it, that is. There were two camps, the "Grosvenordale'' (one word) camp and the "Grosvenor Dale'' (two words) camp. I leaned to the one-word version. At the time, it seemed streamlined and consistent with other "dale'' forms in the state. Check out Cannondale, near Norwalk; Milldale, near Meriden; or Oakdale, near Norwich. (That would be,incidentally, "Norridge'' to those unfamilar with Yankee pronuciations).

Official and unofficial usage of two Grosvenordale variants was inconsistent, arbitrary, and, to some degree, confusing. The spelling duality began in 1868 when two of Thompson's villages were rechristened by the town's top employer at the time, a textile manufacturer named Grosvenordale Co.
The village of Fisherville became "North Grosvenordale/Dale'' and the village of Masonville became "Grosvenordale/Dale.''

Neither of the former village names, ended in "-Ville.'' Despite this fact AND the Grosvenordale's Co. single-word appelation, somehow and for some reason that no one seems to remember the two new village names soon became bifurcated and an entrenched historical abberation.

Histories of the town and Windham County also show the alternative spellings. In 1920, H.V. Arnold in "A Modern History of Windham County, Connecticut,'' was refering to "North Grosvenordale." But Richard M. Bayles, in an earlier history, insisted on the two-word spelling.

Rand McNally & Co., the mapmakers, opts for "North Grosvenordale,'' but for "Grosvenor Dale.'' The post office is "North Grosvenor Dale'' in "North Grosvenordale'' (as refered to in the U.S. Postal Service's Zip Code Directory) and "Grosvenordale'' in "Grosvenor Dale'' (again, the Zip Code Directory).

The state Department of Transportation contributes to the confusion. In one main road, a DOT sign gives directions to "Grosvenordale.'' Down the road, DOT refers to "Grosvenor Dale.'' That last spelling is the "official'''one, say state officials. That's how the village is spelled in State of Connecticut Register and Manual. There's no mention of North Grosvenordale, nor is spelling.

Other contractions abound. The Thompson Housing Authority uses the one-spelling in its address. So does the Recreation Department. The Planning Commission and Industrial Commission favour the two-word spelling.

It gets worse. Anyone for "Grosvenor-Dale Co.''? That third spelling variant is how the Grosvenordale Co. etched its name in its principal mill building.

By the way, it's pronounced "GROVE-ner.''