Military Culture

How the heck do you pronounce ‘Norfolk’?

As has become customary thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m catching up on shows I always wanted to watch but never got around to. One of those happens to be “The Last Ship,” a naval show about a deadly global pandemic that feels all the more timely considering the circumstances.

Once you move beyond the corniness inherent in almost any military TV show, including the overly saccharine portrayals of patriotism and attention to duty, the show is quite decent. Seeing the infamous blueberries or aquaflage uniforms — may they rest in peace — are oddly welcome callbacks to an era gone by.

But there’s one cardinal sin the show repeatedly commits. All the characters, based out Naval Station Norfolk, pronounce it “Nor-FOLK” — emphasis on the hard “L.”

Having grown up there, every poorly pronounced reference my beloved port city — home to the world’s largest naval base — elicits a cringe and a sudden urge to hurl my remote through the screen.

Considering that at some point in their Navy careers, most sailors find their way to Norfolk, a base that, according to Military.com, serves as the home of “75 ships and 134 aircraft alongside 14 piers and 11 aircraft hangars,” it might be beneficial to learn how to actually pronounce it.

Enunciating a hard “L” while stationed there will put you on the receiving end of groans and eyerolls from locals and crusty old veterans alike. In fact, such a pronunciation is met with so much ire that, in recent years, it’s become the subject of a meme.

“The meme’s foundation is a screen-grab from the 1999 movie Office Space,” reported the Virginian-Pilot. “It shows three characters — labeled “Nawfuk,” “Norfuk,” and “Nawfik” — destroying a malfunctioning printer labeled “NorfoLk.”

Sailors who have been stationed in Norfolk are all-too-familiar with the strife that comes with mispronouncing the city's name.
Sailors who have been stationed in Norfolk are all-too-familiar with the strife that comes with mispronouncing the city's name.

Personally, I’m a “Nor-fuk/Nor-fik” user, but my family, like so many other Navy households, isn’t originally from the area. However, it’s common knowledge that “Naw-Fuk” and “Naw-Fik” are the OG, local native pronunciations.

Entire Reddit threads are dedicated to helping non-residents learn how to say it.

“I don’t eat, nor sleep, nor fuck,” wrote Redditor brodoyouevenscript. “That’s how an old man at the bar taught me to say it.”

And a wise old man he is.

Local historical records confirm this as well.

“Norfolk correctly pronounced ‘Norfoke’ is a Saxon word compounded of north and folk made with some propriety be rendered north people,” wrote William S. Forest in the 1853 Historical and Descriptive Sketches of Norfolk and Vicinity.

“By persons residing in the city and vicinity, the sound of the l is omitted in the pronunciation; but it is often improperly sounded by persons residing abroad.”

So, if you find yourself stationed in that bustling metropolis do yourself a favor and avoid the major side-eye.

Observation Post articles reflect author observations or attempts at humor. Any resemblance to news may be purely coincidental.

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