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RAGBRAI: You are pronouncing it wrong

  • 21 July, 2018
  • Linh Ta

ONAWA, Ia. — Thousands of cyclists from across the globe converged in Onawa likebees to honey on Saturday — complete with water bottles, sunglasses and chamois butter in tow.

Like any good host of the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, the western Iowa county seat of nearly 3,000 people welcomed the two-wheeled enthusiasts with sweet corn, Gatorade and all of the ’80s music their hearts could handle.

But for those that make the annual trek to RAGBRAI, they may be shocked to learn that they have the most basic thing about the ride incorrect: They’re pronouncing RAGBRAI wrong.

You may be tilting your head. After all, everyone from Lance Armstrong to the Des Moines Register’s own staff pronounce it “RAGBRYE,” but according to John Karras, the co-founder of the Register’s annual bicycle ride, it’s actually supposed to be pronounced “RAGBRAY.”

In his 1999 book, RAGBRAI: Everyone Pronounces It Wrong,” the co-founder of the ride pulls back no punches.

“The diphthong ai in American pronounciation rhymes with a long a, as in hair, lair, fair, pair and so on. Only an ignoramus would comb his hire, stare at the giant boat at the state fire, or tell his woman that they make a peach of a pyre (well, maybe once in a while),” Karras writes. “And yes, some of the best educated, most cultured and most sophisticated people in the nation, if not the world (along with a few klutzes), persist in pronouncing it RAGBRYE. There’s no accounting for some things in life.”

In downtown Onawa, Vicki Houston, contemplated the intended pronunciation of the bike ride next to a bike repair tent.

“I kind of like RAGBRAY,” said Houston, of Woodland, California.

But her friend, Ellen Higgins of New York, quickly disagreed.

“I like RAGBRAI because it kind of sounds like “brai” sounds like “ride.”

For Brad Stamp of Eagle, Colorado, hearing the intended pronunciation was a shocker.

“No way,” Stamp said. “In 40 years, I’ve never known anything but that.”

Even Karras conceded in his book that he doesn’t imagine people will change their pronunciation of the Register bike ride anytime soon.

After all, the harsher-sounding vowel pronunciation at the end just feels right.

“And what is my hope with this broadside?” Karras writes. “I don’t expect any of the offenders to change their ways.”

RAGBRAI 2018 preparations in Onawa

RAGBRAI 2018 preparations in Onawa

Sunday on RAGBRAI

The route: Onawa to Denison, passing through Turin, Soldier, Ute and Charter Oak. Riders who take an optional gravel loops will hit Moorhead.

Statistics: 43.5 miles (62.3 with loop), 1,558 feet of climb (2,627 with loop).

Weather, from WHO-HD: Partly sunny, with a chance of afternoon showers. High: 81. Low: 62. Wind: 10-15 mph from the north.

1 Comment

  1. Chris McKenna

    Except that the “AI” is not a dipthong, but part of an acronym that doesn’t follow standard English grammar rules.

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