Skip to main content

How do people in Toronto say the name of their city?

Canadians who live elsewhere have peculiar ideas on this subject. "How are things in Tarana?" they will say, with an exaggerated drawl, poking fun at our way of talking.

This strikes me as mistaken. I was born here, grew up here and have lived all but 10 years of my adult life here. I have never said "Tarana." Most Torontonians, when they are speaking casually, drop the second T and say "Toron-oe" instead.

Director Ben Affleck referred to this habit in his recent hit Argo. The CIA agent he plays is plotting to sneak a group of American diplomats out of revolutionary Iran disguised as a film crew from Canada. Coaching them on how to act convincingly Canadian, he recommends dropping the second T in Toronto.

According to an interview with Argo screenwriter Chris Terrio that I came across, this detail is true to life. The real CIA agent, Tony Mendez, actually did coach the diplomats on how to say Toronto if questioned by Iranian authorities when clearing airport security.

If so, Mr. Mendez got it wrong. In my experience, Torontonians drop the T in conversation but restore it in more formal situations. If the border agent asks me where I'm from when I cross into the United States by car, I say Toronto, not Toron-oe.

Just listen to Matt Galloway, the well-spoken host of CBC Radio's Metro Morning. He is careful about his pronunciation and usually says Toronto with both Ts, especially when he says the City of Toronto or some other proper title with the word Toronto in it. But when he is chatting with guests or talking fast, he often slips into Toron-oe like the rest of us.

Wikipedia, bless it, says that "the same speaker may pronounce 'Toronto' differently depending on the subject of the conversation in which it is used." Properly, it is said Toh-RON-toh. Conversationally, it can be said TRON-oh or TRON-toh or several other ways – including, it claims, something like Tarana.

Its article on the Name of Toronto even has an audio clip of someone saying Tarana. So, as a matter of fact, does YouTube. As I say, I have never heard it pronounced that way except as a joke, but there you have it.

The word Toronto comes from the Mohawk for "trees standing in water." I spoke to Maureen FitzGerald, a retired professor at the University of Toronto, about this. She says that the name seems to have come from fishing weirs that stood in the water where Lake Simcoe narrows into Lake Couchiching. The waterway is part of the portage route that linked Lake Ontario with the upper Great Lakes. It began at the Humber River, so the name Toronto attached itself to the city that grew up near the river's mouth.

Over time, natives in this hurried city learned to drop the second T. Saves us time. People in Ottawa tend to do something similar with the name of their city. Outsiders say Otta-wah. Natives tend to say something like Otta-wuh. They don't lean so heavily on the "wah."

Rob and Doug Ford usually drop the second T in Toronto (although, come to think of it, they usually drop the first R in libraries, too, rendering it "lie-berries"). But this isn't a suburban/urban, Tim Hortons/Starbucks thing. Dropping the T cuts across those lines. The fast-talking John Tory tends to say Toron-oe when he is speaking on his drive-time radio show, for example. Most of us do.

When Americans say the name of our city – and here Mr. Affleck was right to correct them – they tend to enunciate each syllable. "Oh, I love Toe-ron-toe!" "My husband and I visited Toe-ron-toe last year. It's so clean!"

Those of us who actually live here don't sound out our "toes" that way. And we drop the second T, at least when not crossing international borders or giving speeches. It's the Toron-oe way.