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Despite this we stay for July 21, 2011

by Carol Dunn
Unless you grew up here, you may have noticed that “Huerfano” is an odd word. Remember when you moved here and your relatives wanted to know where you were living? And you said, “Huerfano County, Colorado.” And they said, “Where?? You’re breaking up! How do you spell that?” And you knew it was a moot point, so you said, “It’s south of Denver.” And they said, “Denver! We know where that is.” Huerfano quite possibly is a great place to hide out because the people who are hunting down other people can’t say the word when they see it on the map, so they skip to the next town: “Weer . . . Hoor . . . Harr . . . oh never mind, let’s look in Alamosa.”
People all over the world have trouble saying Huerfano. You can try and tell them how to pronounce it, “It’s WHERE-FUN-O,” you say patiently. But sometimes it’s kind of fun to see how someone will pronounce it without any assistance. Years ago, before I even thought about moving here, I heard a lady in Denver call our county, “Wur-FEEN-o” which I thought was sort of cute at the time. I’ve also heard “HARF-ano” and “Wur-FAN-o .” And there is the ridiculous “Hewer-FANE-o.” Or even worse, “HOOFER-no.” Sometimes people don’t even get past the “HER…” and they trail off, knowing you’ll know what they’re trying to say and hoping you’ll have mercy on them and not call their bluff. If you ever want to see one of those slick news anchors trip over their tongue, just slip the word Huerfano onto their teleprompter.
It’s entirely possible that there are people who don’t move here because they can’t pronounce Huerfano. Admit it, you didn’t say the word in public for months after moving in, for fear you’d say it wrong and the whole room would go silent with everyone looking at you like you just sprouted a horn in the middle of your head and mentally removing you from the guest list for their next party.
There is a camaraderie among residents in this area, possibly for the very reason that we have all figured out how to say Huerfano. It’s like a badge of courage. We should all wear a button that says, “I Can Say Huerfano, Can U?” It could be just one more charming thing about living here.