The Smoky Mountains vs. the “Smokey Mountains”: Who’s Right?

Beautiful view of the Smoky Mountains at Newfound Gap.

Here in Sevier County, TN, we have been at the center of a debate that has raged on for centuries. The controversy has divided our nation; pitting brother against brother, father against son, and Facebook friend against Facebook friend. Countless relationships have been pushed to their breaking point as husbands and wives grapple with an issue on which they simply cannot see eye to eye.

We are talking, of course, about the age old question of “smoky” vs. “smokey”. When you visit East Tennessee and Western North Carolina, you will find that most people refer to our subrange of the Appalachian Mountains as the Smoky Mountains. However, there is a sizeable faction of locals and visitors who insist that the proper name is “Smokey Mountains”, with an “e”.

So, which spelling is correct? In the interest of fairness, Visit My Smokies will present arguments from both sides before laying down our official verdict.

The Case for the “Smoky Mountains”

For those who are firmly in the “smoky” camp, this is an open and shut case. The purists simply point to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which, as you may have noticed, is not spelled with an “e”. The endorsement of the National Park Service obviously carries tremendous weight.

I like my mountains how I like my BBQ suace...Smoky.Furthermore, “smoky” advocates will tell you that they have grammar on their side. When you write about a smoky fireplace, smoky BBQ sauce, or even smoky eye shadow, it is always without an “e”.

Finally, “smoky” supporters will make the aesthetic argument. Why put an extra letter in the word, when it is perfectly fine without it? “Smoky” is sleek, accurate, and to the point. It cannot be improved upon, so there is no point in trying.

(See Also: What Makes the Smoky Mountains Smoky?)

The Case for the “Smokey Mountains”

The “smokey” proponents admittedly have more of an uphill battle as they try to win the hearts and minds of America. Nevertheless, there are a number of compelling arguments to be made in defense of the “Smokey Mountains”.

A statue of Smokey the Bear.While the national park may not be on their side, “smokey” apologists do have a major celebrity in their corner. Smokey the Bear, the iconic forest fire prevention advocate, proudly sports an “e” in his name. It is also worth mentioning that the mascot for the University of Tennessee, located in nearby Knoxville, is Smokey the dog.

When it comes to the grammatical debate, “smokey” spokespersons can hold their own. Although “smoky” is used more widely, most dictionaries mention that “smokey” is an accepted (albeit less common) variant of the word. While it is generally frowned upon to use “smokey” as an adjective, it is frequently employed as a proper noun or name. Prominent examples include Smokey and the Bandit, Smokey Robinson, and Smokey Rogers. Since the “Smokey Mountains” are a proper noun, the phrase is grammatically correct.

In the end, the case for the “Smokey Mountains” is less about logic and more about emotion. Sure, the word doesn’t need an “e”. But isn’t it more fun that way? Doesn’t it give the mountains more character? Writing the word “smokey” is a way to show the world that you have plenty of personality, and you’re not afraid to show it.

The Final Verdict

Longtime readers of our blog will know that “smoky” is the preferred spelling here at Visit My Smokies. For a professional website like our own, using the widely accepted (and less controversial) spelling just makes the most sense. “Smoky Mountains” is the official name.

The North Carolina - Tennessee State Line in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.That being said, this is America after all. If you want to use the phrase “Smokey Mountains”, it is your God-given right to do so. While the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is always going to be spelled without an “e”, the mountains themselves are up for grabs.

In general, it seems like “smokey” is more popular on the North Carolina side of the mountains, while “smoky” is more common in Tennessee. So, if you are a diehard “smokey” advocate we welcome you to visit us in Sevier County, TN, but you may have to defend your spelling when you do!

To learn about everything the Smokies have to offer, check out our guide to Things to Do in the Smoky Mountains.

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