So my wife grew up around Vancouver, Washington, USA. Every once in a while she will say words in peculiar ways that I have jokingly taken to call her "Warshington accent" because it makes the beginning of "Washington" sound like "War". That said, I have never actually heard or read anyone else bring up this accent outside of her family; but I also don't know where I picked up the term either, because I certainly knew it before we met. Am I just picking at my wife/in-laws particular peculiarity, or is this actually an accent?

Besides me personally teasing her about a random vowel change in her accent here and there, I have noticed a consistency in adding an "r" sound to many words. Examples are of course "Warshington" (Washington) like above, but also "propersal" (proposal), and "suffercate" (suffocate), and more along these lines. I sometimes joke that Washington took all of the Rs that Massachusetts didn't want.

Interestingly enough, when I have teased her about it and tried to help her say the same words more clearly she has still managed to keep the "r" sound in nearly the same spot, but these words now sound more like "proprosal" and "suffricate". I am certain she isn't just messing with me because she legitimately gets upset with me for bringing it up now.

Other than these particulars, her accent sounds like a pretty standard West Coast US accent. I myself lived in Portland, Oregon (which is just across the river from Vancouver) when I was young. I never picked up this accent, nor really noticed it as a kid, but my wife's parents are from Tacoma, Washington, which is much more inland and may have an affect on that.

UPDATE: After describing the Midland accent and the intrusive "R" to my wife she responded with,

"Ha! now you can't make fun of the way I talk. HA HA HA HA!"

I immediately replied with,

"Don't you mean HAR HAR HAR HAR..."

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    It's not just Washington...my father (born 1932 in NY) used to pronounce 'wash' that way, and I have no idea why. Commented Apr 22, 2020 at 17:33
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    Warsh as in warshing yer hanz is something I associate with Appalachia and parts of the Midwest, not the Pacific Northwest. I even have a friend from Kansas who moved to Missouri and mocked the accent there. These dumb Missourians say 'warshing your car' instead of 'worshing your car'….
    – choster
    Commented Apr 22, 2020 at 17:38
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    Of related interest: Where does the intrusive R come from in “warsh”?
    – choster
    Commented Apr 22, 2020 at 17:40
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    An experiment to do is to say "wash", then "warsh", noticing the change in how far you open your mouth, then try again to say "wash" again while only opening the mouth as wide as you would for "warsh". This kind of explains the phenomenon.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Apr 22, 2020 at 17:42
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    @TitaniumTurtle There is a thing called 'familect', and it often derives from inside jokes that kids may not 'get' when they are constantly exposed to it while growing up. Commented Apr 22, 2020 at 17:54

2 Answers 2


Anecdotally, in middle school, I took "Warshington State History" from a guy who spoke like this. None of my classmates used this pronunciation, but a lot of us had parents who'd moved from some other state.

KUOW (our local NPR affiliate), published a story about this "r-insertion" a few years ago.

“The phenomenon you’re asking about is what sociolinguists call r-insertion,” Wassink said by email. “R-insertion is present, but receding in Washington English.”


“This appears to be a retention from New England English, which was one of the dialects that forms our heritage,” Wassink said.

This is slightly hard to accept, since in the past 120 years there's never been a time when more than 10 percent of Washingtonians came from New England (and there weren't too many white people in Washington prior to that - only about 500,000 total residents in 1900 and 360,000 in 1890). A much larger portion of immigrants came from the Midwest, especially in the first half of the 20th century.

The KUOW article goes on to say,

But while the dialect that begot “warsh” and “squarsh" is fading fast in the Pacific Northwest, it still lingers in other parts of the country. You’ll hear similar examples of r-insertion in the Midwest, where some people like to “warsh” their dishes — and some might even say “garsh” instead of “gosh.”

This seems like a more compelling explanation.

We share other dialect features with Midwestern or Upper Midwestern English. Perhaps most notable is the "prevelar raising".

For speakers in much of Canada and in the North-Central and Northwestern United States, a following /ɡ/ (as in magazine, rag, bags, etc.) or /ŋ/ (as in bang, pang, gangster, angler, etc.) tenses an /æ/ as much as or more than a following nasal does. In Wisconsin, Minnesota, and central Canada, a merger of /æ/ with /eɪ/ before /ɡ/, making bag, for example, rhyme with vague, has been reported.


I personally can attest to this feature being much more common in Washingtonian English than r-insertion, and it's been given some amount of serious study, for instance in the work of this University of Washington PhD student: "BAG, BEG, BAGEL: Prevelar raising and merger in Seattle Caucasians"


Half a century ago, I knew some “Pencil-Vey-Nyuns” who always said “Warshington, De-Sea” whilst in Tidewater VA the older ladies there would always talk about the “Watt Hauss {rhymed with Gauss}” when referring to the White House... interestingly, my Canadian friend also pronounced house as “hauss” -- he also pronounced herb with the h too! No, none of these people were of German background, not even the guys from PA.

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