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Boro or borough: What's the proper spelling for Massachusetts towns?

What's the proper spelling for Massachusetts towns: boro or borough?
What's the proper spelling for Massachusetts towns: boro or borough? 04:02

BOSTON - From Foxboro to Southborough, Northborough to Westborough, if there is a borough, we are thorough in being thoroughly confusing. 

In Marlborough, you'll see two spellings on the same street. One sign says Marlborough the other reads Marlboro. We saw that oddity in every borough except Attleboro. 

Mayor Cathleen DeSimone spelled it out for me: "A-t-t-l-e-b-o-r-o." 

"We dropped the u-g-h a long time ago," DeSimone said. "1914 to be exact." 

There are 11 boroughs in Massachusetts. Ten of them officially spell their name with an "o-u-g-h." Attleboro is the only one officially ending in "o-r-o." 

The mayor joked, "I'd like to think Attleboro is ahead of the game, way ahead of the game and they should try to catch up to us. We innovate we move and shake." 

Our bevy of boroughs comes from our old ties with England. Hundreds of years ago, a borough was a walled off community that was self-governed. Our boroughs don't have walls. Our ancestors just liked the names. 

Peter Drummey is a historian with the Massachusetts Historical Society. Drummey says the boroughs back in England were always "o-u-g-h." But we were abbreviating with periods and apostrophes as early as 1800 to fit the names on official state maps. 

Drummey says with a smile, "It's all so perfectly Massachusetts in that it's wonderfully idiosyncratic. If everyone is going in one direction, people want to go in the other direction." 

There's only one state that has more than our 11 boroughs. North Carolina has 22, but they are all "o-r-o" boroughs. You want more confusion? Well, the Mass. Department of Transportation uses the shorter "o-r-o" version for clarity. Also, fewer letters mean a slightly smaller and cheaper signs. 

In Westborough, residents told me they like the "fancier" spelling. The owner of a downtown boutique says, "I'm from Ireland originally. My grandmother did spelling with me every Saturday morning. And she would kill me if I did o-r-o." 

But the folks in Attleboro will tell you they're consistent and the mayor joked that she is consistently saving time and energy writing three less letters. 

"The way I write and text is pretty bad," DeSimone said. "So, I probably save at least 10 minutes a year! So, I can take a longer lunch, a little longer walk." 

If you have a question you'd like us to look into, please email .

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