If census projections are right, Secaucus’ population could very well top 20,000 in 2010, the next time the national census will be conducted.
Although it may shock the old-timers, there will be lots of residents who don’t remember the flower growers who predated the pig farmers, and who can’t recall going to Marra’s at midnight for cough syrup.
Therefore, the new neighbors may proudly totter about telling folks they live in Sih-KAW-cus or See-KAW-cus.
However, natives prefer that the accent be on the first syllable, as in: SEE-kaw-cus.
“How’s it supposed to be pronounced?” asked Deborah Jennings, a resident of the relatively new development known as Xchange at Secaucus Junction, last week. A native of Connecticut, Jennings places the emphasis on the second syllable. After being informed that natives seem to prefer SEE-kaw-cus, she took a couple of stabs at the correct pronunciation.
“It’s harder to say it that way,” Jennings concluded. “Are you sure that’s right?”
The out-of-town lunch crowd over at the Feelgood Restaurant and Lounge found the town’s pronunciation equally hard to swallow.
“Yeah, I think I knew it’s supposed to be SEE-kaw-cus, but I always end up still saying Sih-KAW-cus,” said Rebecca Nesbit, who lives in Brooklyn and commutes to a job in town. “People from here have corrected me. I do the best I can!”
“How would other people like it if we said JerSEY City, or Ho-BO-ken?” – Jim, lifelong Secaucus resident
No, not to natives and long-time residents who can’t understand why other folks insist on putting the accent on the second syllable.
“Secaucus is just what it is. Why can’t people just pronounce the right way?” asked Jim, a lifelong resident and an attendant at the Citgo Gas station in the Plaza, who declined to give his full name. “How would other people like it if we said JerSEY City or HoBOken, instead of Jersey CIty and HOboken, like they way it’s supposed to be said.”
Sēkô`kàs, you are not alone
Of course, Secaucus isn’t the only town with an unusual name, nor is it the only one whose moniker is regularly butchered by well-meaning but ignorant. All across New Jersey and throughout Hudson County, Secaucus shares its misery with good company.
Bayonne is bay-OWN, not ba-YON, locals say. Kearny is Kar-nee, not Keer-nee. And Moonachie and Ho-Ho-Kus probably confound more newcomers than Secaucus ever will.
Elsewhere around the nation, natives of DuBois, Pa., call their town Do-boys, even though French speakers would tell them it’s du-BWAH. Residents of the Battle Born state call their home Nev-AAAAD-uh, known to the rest of us as Nev-AH-duh. And it would be kind of nice if the good people of Beauford, S.C., and Beauford, N.C., could agree on a common pronunciation. In one state the town is pronounced BO-fort; in the other it’s BEW-fort. (We won’t ask the residents of Houston Street in New York City – pronounced HOUSE-ton – to reach a similar resolution with the folks in Houston, Texas. That could get ugly.)
Like Secacans, residents of all these places must regularly school newcomers to local language and folkways.
Could 20,000 people be wrong?
Secaucus has generally been interpreted to mean “black snake,” from the Lenni-Lenape Indian words for black (seke or sukit) and snake (achgook). The name reportedly comes from the many large black snakes that visitors used to encounter when visiting Snake Hill Park, now known as Laurel Hill Park. Interestingly, the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission web site speculates that Snake Hill may have actually been named after Jacob Schneck, who owned much of the property in that area in the mid-1800s.
If true, could that throw a little monkey wrench in the whole SEE-kaw-cus vs. Se-KAW-cus debate? After all, the emphasis would seem to fall on the middle of Schneck’s name, not the beginning.
“There is no debate,” insisted Gary Olsen, a Secaucus native who now lives in Bayonne. “Secaucus pronounces it SEE-kaw-cus. That’s the way it’s always been. And it’s always going to be that way.”
Reach E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.