It may be obvious to Tennessee fans, but what’s the right way to say Vols? | Know Your Knox

It may be obvious to Tennessee fans, but what’s the right way to say Vols? | Know Your Knox

Know Your Knox answers your burning questions about life in Knoxville

It’s almost football time in Tennessee, so let’s get this out of the way.

There’s one, and only one, way to say the nickname of the University of Tennessee football team that plays in Neyland Stadium – Vols.

It’s pronounced “Vawls” rather than “Voles.”

That’s indisputable to any Southern football fan. Think of it like VOL-unteer and drop the second half of the word.

The Georgia Bulldogs are the “daaawgs” (rhymes with “logs”) not the “doe-gz.” The host of the popular SEC Network TV show is Paul Finebaum, pronounced “pawl” not “pole.”

Now, lifelong UT fans might not know this problem even exists.

But listen closely on Saturday afternoons throughout the Volunteer State, and you might pick up on a few scattered instances of this mispronunciation.

“Go Voles!”

It’s the kind of thing you’d expect to hear if the BBC took over the Vol Network for a game.

Or if Patrick Stewart played former UT coach Johnny Majors in a movie.

Or if former Vols quarterback Peyton Manning had spent a redshirt year in musical theater tightening his accent to the King’s English.

All those make your stomach turn, and perhaps so does hearing someone say UT’s beloved nickname in the wrong way.

Be patient with new fans on the Vols bandwagon

But don’t be offended if you’ve heard a well-intentioned person mispronounce Vols or Volunteers. They’re probably just jumping on the bandwagon and learning the lingo as they go.

Knoxville is growing, with new residents coming from every region of the United States and numerous other countries. And they’re bringing their accents with them.

The University of Tennessee enrollment is at an all-time high with freshmen hailing from 48 states and 40 countries.

And attendance at Neyland Stadium last season averaged more than 100,000 for home games for the first time since 2016. So many people saw their first UT football game.

But they didn’t all grow up shouting “V-O-L-S … Go Vols Go!” as if learning their ABCs.

Vols are in Neyland. Voles are underground.

The internet, which apparently reaches beyond the Great Smoky Mountains, isn’t in agreement about the vowel sound in UT’s nickname.

Search “pronounce Vols” on YouTube, and you’ll hear “Vawls” and “Voles” and a few variations in between.

But there’s an easy way to settle this because voles are another thing entirely.

Voles are rodents. They’re little furry critters that burrow in the ground and eat roots and plants. They’re like moles, but not as ugly.

A vole can make your grandmother curse because it ate her sweet potatoes.

A Vol can make your grandmother curse because they lost a nailbiter to Alabama.

A vole looks like a miniature squirrel without a tail.

A Vol is Squirrel White, the speedy UT wide receiver with a peculiar nickname.

See the difference now?

If not, just listen to Big Orange fans cheer on Saturdays this season and join in.

“V-O-L-S. Go Vawls Go!”

Know Your Knox answers your burning questions about life in Knoxville. Want your question answered? Email

Adam Sparks is the Tennessee football beat reporter. Email Twitter @AdamSparks.

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