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Common Food Mispronunciations and Misnomers


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The one Welsh name that may be known in international circles, Tŷ Nant, the water. The lovely people at Per Se, NY, were getting it wrong when I was there a couple of years ago, although I did put them right :-) Tea Nant. The accent (acen) on the Y elongates the sound.

The sc-own/sc-on thing, I aways thought was working class / posh thing. But it appears to switch working class and posh depending on where you are in the UK. Where I grew up in London sc-on was posh. I have friends from more northern parts who insist sc-on is definitely the rufty, tufty, working class pronounciation.

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Sorry again--I'm not usually that unpleasant. I've actually enjoyed most of the thread. A few things just got to me--you may or may not like Caprial Pence, but her pronunciation of mascarpone is not wrong. In South Italy, from which virtually all Italian-American families originally came, dialects (though an excellent case can be made that the "dialects" of much of Italy are in fact separate languages, individually derived from Latin; "standard Italian" is itself a construct based largely on Dante and the grammar and pronunciation of cerain influential cities)--anyway, in the dialects around the Bay of Naples, the norm is the deletion of final vowels. In other words, calzon', mascarpon', mozzarell', etc., are not ignorant variants of somehow perfect "Italian" originals.

This is an issue I've posted on a few times. Yes, prior to 1986 more Italians spoke dialect in the home than did Italian. And in Italy, dialects are generally not regional or even micro-regional, but in fact local (or even micro-local). Never mind that people in the Veneto don't have a common dialect... people in different areas of Venice might speak different variants of veneziano.

So tons of Italians came to the United States starting in the late 19th century. These were largely poor people, and largely from the Southern parts of Italy. They all spoke different-but-related dialects of Southern Italy, and many (most?) of them probably didn't speak Italian. I still know a few older people in Italy who really only speak dialect with any fluency. So unless people from the same town just happened to move en masse to the same American neighborhood, there was likely to be some difficulty in making one another understood and also not much critical mass for perpetuating the dialect in any meaningful kind of way. And, of course, the new immigrants wanted to assimilate. This is borne out in the fact that usable Italian or dialect language skills can be observed to decline dramatically in the first "new world born" generation of Italian immigrants. I grew up in Boston, where there is still a strong presence of Italian culture, and had several friends whose parents spoke to them in Italian but replied to their parents in English and had limited Italian speaking skills themselves.

As you point out, the Southern Italian accent and many of the Southern Italian dialects feature radical de-emphasis of unstressed final syllables. There is also a tendency for vowels and consonants "softer" as one goes South. So, while someone from Milano might pronounce the word bene similar to "bay-nih," someone in Palermo might pronounce it similar to "bah-na." So, in this way, we can understand that a Southern Italian might say mozzarella something like "mah-za-rel" instead of "mow-tza-reh-lla" or capocollo something that sounds like "gaw-ba-gawl" instead of "kah-poe-koe-llo."

So what happened is that first generation Italian-Americans, who generally-speaking wound up less than fluent in Italian, would hear their parents refer to a certain kind of sausage as "gaw-ba-gawl. So that's what they would call it. Or rather, they would call it the same thing only with an American accent added. And then their children, who generally don't speak much Italian at all, would emulate their parents and the next thing you know the pronunciation of "capocollo" becomes "gabbagool." And many Italian-Americans have come to believe that all Italian words should leave off the final unaccented syllable.

This isn't quite the same thing as continuing dialectical pronunciations or names (although this does happen with some things, such as pasta e fasul). Especially since many of these products come from areas of Italy where these dialects or accents are not applicable. Mascarpone is not pronounced as "mar-sker-pone" by Northern Italians in Lombardia where it comes from. And precious little would have been making its way down to Calabria prior to the 19th century Italian diaspora. Rather, this is a habit of pronunciation that filtered down into non-Italian-speaking Italian-Americans across multiple generations and was applied to an Italian product which was encountered in the new world.

Edited by slkinsey (log)

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Scone rhyming with gone, in Scotland, also the home of Scone, rhyming with soon.

I think it would sound a bit pretentious for an American to pronounce "scone" with a British accent, though. I always say it with the "oh" vowel.

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Lovely responses, all, the crux being a corollary of the French rule that "ll" is always pronounced as a y except when it is pronounced as a double l. :laugh:

Very good point. I've been pronouncing Noilly Prat "NWAH-Lee praht" rather than "NWAH-yee praht" based on that "rule", and that's how I heard people say it in France. But I am not sure which one is right, it just sounds better to me that way.

In France, pronunciation is often a source of confusion and a source of endless debates, so there is always a chance that there is no consensus on that there either. We should check with the French Academy which is the final authority on these very important matters. :smile:

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Anyone heard of/had 'Nduja, that killer-good hot spreadable sausage from Calabria? I think it's a corruption of andouille, but not sure how to pronounce it, since j isn't standard Italian. N-dooya?

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Anyone heard of/had 'Nduja, that killer-good hot spreadable sausage from Calabria? I think it's a corruption of andouille, but not sure how to pronounce it, since j isn't standard Italian. N-dooya?

That's correct" "ndoo-yah." And it does come from andouille.

"J" may not be standard Italian now, but appears in plenty of dialectical and historical spellings (e.g., Jesi and Jacopo). It's origin was as a variant of "i."

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One that bugs me is sake being pronounced SAH-kee. Grr. Even worse is when it's actually spelled "saki". It feels like the speaker is applying some sort of linguistic stereotype, which is why it is more bothersome than a simple mispronunciation.

Edited by emannths (log)
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Anyone heard of/had 'Nduja, that killer-good hot spreadable sausage from Calabria? I think it's a corruption of andouille, but not sure how to pronounce it, since j isn't standard Italian. N-dooya?

That's correct" "ndoo-yah." And it does come from andouille.

"J" may not be standard Italian now, but appears in plenty of dialectical and historical spellings (e.g., Jesi and Jacopo). It's origin was as a variant of "i."

Yeah I know J was a variant of I but just wasn't sure. Cool! Any place I can get it in the States?

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Having not heard the name spoken for some 20 years, and then only at a restaurant in Key West, feel free to not quote me on this!

koe-een ahmahn where the first is not quite "queen", and the ah is somehow longer in the second syllable of the second word than in the first syllable.

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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This is the perfect place for you smart people to help me with a question that I have been trying to get an authoritative answer on! So okay, paella: I grew up in S. Texas with Mexican Spanish speakers so I always heard it pronounced pieYAYya. When I moved up north, I heard people saying pieYELa, and I just assumed they were mispronouncing it. Then I visited Spain and ordered it as pieYAYya and the waiter VERY firmly corrected me, saying it's payYELa, because the word is Catalan\Valencian, not Castellano. So, okay, that guy seems like he knows what he's talking about, but now when I say it that way people who are smart about Spanish food correct me.

Not like it comes up that often or anything, I'm just confused now. Help!

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I've always heard it as pa-YE(l)-a; this is how a master Catalan paella chef of my acquaintance pronounces it, and he'd be the one to ask, wouldn't he? The L is almost a vestigial sound, pronounced but very softly and almost like an afterthought.

Elizabeth Campbell, baking 10,000 feet up at 1° South latitude.

My eG Food Blog (2011)My eG Foodblog (2012)

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As a non-American, I'm curious how 'croissant', 'habanero', 'chipotle', 'jalapeño', and 'mocha' are all pronounced up there.

Is there any consensus on 'pecan', too?

As far as 'gyro/gyros' goes, is it at all common to see it written as 'yeeros', in the US/UK?

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As an American who speaks other languages, I tend to pronounce them close to the original, though when speaking in English I don't go extreme and roll my Rs or do the correct intonation.

Pecan is PEE-can.

As far as gyros, I call it shawarma/döner :biggrin:

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Pecan can also be p'CAN or pay-CAN....

Mocha is a fun one - I've always pronounced it MO-ka, but down here it's mo-CHA (and there's a town about 20 minutes south of me that has that name), so anything that is actually mocha flavoured has to be spelled phonetically, hence Moca, Moka, and Mokka are all common spellings for it.

Elizabeth Campbell, baking 10,000 feet up at 1° South latitude.

My eG Food Blog (2011)My eG Foodblog (2012)

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Mocha of course comes from the Yemeni city of Mukhaa, pronounced just as it looks (I can't really think of another way to break it down - perhaps m-oo like in "book" and kha with the a in "father" and of course a very hard "kh" in the throat, harsher than German - think Dutch.

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As a non-American, I'm curious how 'croissant', 'habanero', 'chipotle', 'jalapeño', and 'mocha' are all pronounced up there.

Is there any consensus on 'pecan', too?

As far as 'gyro/gyros' goes, is it at all common to see it written as 'yeeros', in the US/UK?

The most common approximations into English are:

croissant = kwa-sawn(t) (also sometimes simply as "crescent")

habanero = one most often hears ha-ba-nyeh-row (despite the fact that there is no diacritical mark over the "n" and it should be ah-ba-neh-row)

chipotle = chih-poe-tlay

jalapeño = ha-la-pain-yo (one does also hear: ha-la-peen-uh)

mocha = mow-ka

pecan = pih-kawn (one does also hear: pee-can)

gyros is never written as yeeros in the US, to my knowledge.

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jalapeño = ha-la-pain-yo (one does also hear: ha-la-peen-uh)

gyros is never written as yeeros in the US, to my knowledge.

As you point out, one may "also hear" hal-a-PEEN-no, but that's so wrong that it's irritating to the ear and grating on the nerves. We have an enormous Spanish-speaking population in the US and the popularity of Mexican food and its ingredients can't possibly be overstated. It's not like jalapeño is some exotic ingredient from some foreign land like Outer Slobovia and it's asking waaaaaay too much for Americans to be able to correctly pronounce the names of even the most obscure Outer Slobovian ingredients. And nobody takes Slobovian in our high schools.

But there's not a single American that hasn't heard 'Jalapeño' pronounced correctly a million times. All they'd have to do is to care enough to listen once or twice and make just the tiniest effort to get it right.

I've never seen "yeeros" on a menu here, either. But you do see "heros" quite a lot. So often, in fact, that I doubt most Americans even make the connection to gyros.

Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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