The Grammarphobia Blog

Who put the “howdy” in Houston St.?

Q: In New York, you can tell someone’s a tourist when he asks for directions to Houston Street and pronounces “Houston” like the city in Texas. Why is “Houston” pronounced “HEW-ston” in Texas and “HOW-ston” in New York?

A: I’ve wondered about that myself, but I never got around to checking it out. Luckily, the New York Times recently discussed the subject in an article offering tips to out-of-towners arriving in the city for their freshman year at college.

The article had a history and pronunciation lesson for any newbies who plan to visit the street in Lower Manhattan that “put the H in SoHo.” As it turns out, the city in Texas and the street in New York are named for two different guys.

The city is named after the first president of the short-lived Republic of Texas, Sam Houston, while the street is named for William Houstoun, a Georgia delegate to the Continental Congress who married into a Manhattan family that owned land on the street.

The street, whose name was shortened from Houstoun to Houston in the early 1800s, runs east-west across Manhattan from the Hudson River to the East River. Greenwich Village and the East Village are to the north; SoHo (South of Houston) and the Lower East Side are to the south.

If you don’t want to sound like a tourist when asking a cabbie to take you to Houston Street, just remember that the first syllable of “Houston” sounds like the “how” of “boy howdy.”

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