For this edition of CuriosiD, we tackle a question from a listener named Dan. Click on the audio player above or use this link to hear the audio story.
“Up until the mid 1960’s, maps and road signs of the Northwest Detroit street now known as Lahser, were called and spelled ‘Lasher’. What’s up with that?”
(NOTE: because of how confusing this can get. We’ll make incorrect spellings of Lahser in pink)
First things first. Today, the correct spelling and pronunciation of Lahser road is as follows:
Both Wayne and Oakland County officials have records that go back at least until the 1940s, and neither county has a record of the road ever being spelled “Lasher.”
Still, depending on who you ask, pronunciations range from LAW-ser to LAW-sher to LASH-er and iterations in between.
Amy Landon is a manager at a bowling alley at the corner of Nine Mile and Lahser in Southfield. She says her aunt lived on the road and, like Dan, she remembers the pronunciation and spelling as “Lasher.”
“[From an early age] I remember my mom and dad saying ‘lash’ as in ‘eyelash’ when looking for the road to go to my aunt’s house.”
How your brain’s autocorrect function might play into the confusion
So, why might Dan, Amy and others have seen signs spelled “Lasher?”
Craig Bryson, the Public Information Officer with the Road Commission for Oakland County, has a possible answer. Bryson says, believe it or not, sometimes street signs contain typos.
“Like anyone else, our employees who create the street signs are human,” says Bryson.
Bryson estimates street signs are spelled incorrectly about once a year. The county doesn’t keep records of which typos occur.
But Stephen Chrisomalis, an Associate Professor of Anthropology and Linguistics at Wayne State University, says it makes sense that a mistake would happen with a street name spelled “Lahser.”
He says there are only a handful of words in the English language with ‘hs’ in the middle of them. As a result, we’re not used to reading words spelled that way.
“Because those of us who are literate are very often reading words, not one letter at a time, but in a sort of whole word kind of way, we often transpose letters that will either correct a typo, or, in this case, create a misunderstanding.”
Remember the email that was forwarded around several years back that began like this?
“I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg.”
Or, as most people effortlessly decode:
“I couldn’t believe that I could actually understand what I was reading.”
That’s a bit of an exaggerated illustration of the concept Chrisomalis is discussing here. And this is how our brain might autocorrect “Lahser” to “Lasher.”
So, to answer Dan’s question, the road sign he saw spelled “Lasher” was likely a typo.
The man behind the road
Charles Augustus Lahser, born in 1869, grew up in what’s now the Old Redford area of Detroit back when it was mostly sand dunes. He became very involved in the Redford community. He was a postmaster for 27 years. He ran the community’s first general store and became president of Redford State Bank.
Carl Lahser, Charles’ grandson, is 77 years old and lives in San Antonio, TX. According to Carl, his family folklore is that Henry Ford – who lived “practically next door” – asked his grandfather Charles for a loan to build Model T’s.
“The bank thought it was not a good investment,” he says, chuckling. “So, I guess that’s why he wound up running a general store instead of being a millionaire.”
But Carl’s grandfather did do something that had a lasting impact on the Detroit area. He cut down the trees to make way for the road that would go on to bear his family’s name.