No Bull

I—along with possibly my whole family of origin, and possibly also a bunch of other people from the part of the country where I grew up—pronounce the syllable ul funny. At least, it sounds funny around here.

Until A, a purebred Midwesterner, pointed this out, I had no sense that there was any regional variation in this sound. (I was a little like my native Oregonian friend who once nearly scratched my eyes out to defend her insistence that pin and pen are homophones.)

I can’t really hear the difference between how I make the sound and how the newscasters would, so I’m at a loss to describe it. A says I make it sound “cute”. It has something to do with saying the L in the back of my throat rather than up by my teeth, and the harder I try to say it the standard way, the funnier it gets. I can’t hear the difference accurately, and I think my tongue might be incapable of the standard pronunciation, so I make randum ul-like sounds but have no way to evaluate whether I’m moving in the right direction.

I get that regional linguistic differences are the spice of life, etc., but I’m so aware of this difference that I get all flustered when I start coming up to an ul word, and I do all kinds of ridiculous circumlocution to avoid it:

dull = losing its sharpness
bulk = in bins
cull = weed out
gull = bird at the ocean
hull = the body of the ship
mull = ponder
null = Uh…just void.
pull = (This is a tough one. I blush a lot.)
sully = muddy, ruin
Sully Sullenberger = that airline pilot
Colin Turnbull = (Quit grad school, don’t need to worry)
bull = daddy cow
bullshit = B.S.
ululate = (Well, that’s easy to avoid.)
vulva = (Huh, I just say vulva. But not in public, very often.)
lull = pause or slowdown or soothe
bulbs = tulips and crocuses and things

Have you ever heard of such a thing?

P.S. There was no more puking, and Ingrid woke up fine the next day. It took me 14 hours to get all the blankets clean with our front-loader, which left vomit chunks on everything the first time through. What’s grosser than grosser than grosser than gross? McDonald’s cheeseburgers eaten, vomited up, washed in hot water, and reduced to crispy little flakes in the dryer. Just add water…


  1. You may recall my training is in linguistics. I am not familiar with this particular...issue...but it doesn't surprise me. That's dialects for ya.

    I love that you actually avoid this sound. :) I imagine you say it in a regionally-valid way.

    I totally say pin and pen the same.

    You may find more info here:



  2. I sympathize--C is always laughing at me because I pronounce "merry," "Mary," and "marry" in exactly the same way. Wear your regional accent proudly, is what I say!

  3. Caro, I had a Sri Lankan friend mock the way I pronounce "mirror" (I pronounce it like "meer"). Yes, a FOREIGNER mocked MY English. Heh.

    Melissa, merry=mary=marry. That's my story and I am sticking to it.

  4. It's all "merry" to me, too. Oh, and I used to say "may-zhure" instead of "meh-zher" (for "measure"). My mean college boyfriend mocked me harshly for it.