Pronunciation Guide

Ok, look.

I get it that being a foodie is very hip right now. And I get it that increased access to international cuisines has seen to it that grocery stores and restaurants are all full of exciting and strangely spelled ingredients, most of which don’t come with a pronunciation guide. All of this is ok, and in some cases, really pretty nifty. And there’s enough left over in my brain from my various Linguistics courses in college to find the pronuciations–or mispronunciations–of these assorted exotic words oddly fascinating. It’s funny and groovy, the things we do with language when we’re not thinking about it.

However, there is also enough Language Purist (aka “Word Snob”) in me to cringe a little bit when I hear someone butcher the heck out of a word, particularly when it’s a word whose spelling contains all the cues you really need for successful pronunciation. We’re not going to concern ourselves with very many today, partly because this promises to be a pretty picture-heavy post as it stands, and partly because these are the ones I hear all the blessed time, and they are about to make me tear my hair out; also, I get it that languages like French and Portuguese do tricky things with diacritics that we don’t have in English, so I can’t really fault a person for not immediately recognizing what a given little random squiggly line is meant to do.

With that in mind, here are the Top 4 Offenders, aka the Words That Make Mama BW Twitch Every Time Someone Says ‘Em Wrong on, Say, Top Chef:

1. EspressoYou will notice that there is no X in that word. Please meditate on the following nifty image:

Look carefully. See? No X.

Espresso” is pronounced just like it’s spelled–no tricky tongue twisting required. “Ess-press-oh“. If it helps, you can think of it as part of an ad for a completely fictional product which I just made up:

The Series-S Press-O-Matic makes ironing a breeze!

Just set the handy detached robotic hands on your favorite shirt, plug in your iron, and the Press-O-Matic does it all for you!

2. Mascarpone. I’ll admit, this is one whose mispronunciation just baffles me. As kids, we were taught to sound things out, one syllable at a time, left to right, which in this case would result in “Mass-car-pohn”. Now, granted, this is one o’ them tricksy words that technically has an “eh” sound at the end–“Mass-car-pohn-eh“–but I’m willing to let that go. What I am not willing to budge on, however, is the order of the letters at the beginning: It is quite clearly “Mass Car”. But instead, there is a plague in this fine nation, of people who seem determined to pronounce it as “Mars-Capone”.

Maybe Al Capone didn't die, but instead went to Mars and is making the Martians build statues that look nothing like him.

It’s not “Mars-Capone”, kids. It’s “Mass Car Pone”. To borrow from contemporary videogaming vernacular, “I totally ruined, like, a thousand cars in GTA last night. Talk about a mass car pwn, eh?!”.

If it helps you keep the syllables straight, you should also feel free to think about NASCAR drivers making delicious Italian food.

3. ChipotleThis is another one that has me a little stumped, for the same reasons as “mascarpone”: people keep wanting to pronounce the letters out of order. Reading from left to right, you find “chi”, then “pot”, then “le”…so why on earth do people insist on calling it “Chih-pole-tay”? Since it’s Spanish, the vowels are a little different, and I’ll grant some leeway there…but fer cryin’ out loud, gang, can we at least get the consonants in the right order? Pretty please? As a favor to me.

Once you add in the fancy Spanish vowels, you end up with a pronunciation like “chee-poht-lay“. If it helps, please feel free to consider the following line from a nonexistent builder’s manual, which would be entirely useless advice and probably get you fired even if it did exist:

“If running short on traditional building materials, the substitution of a cheap oat layer in the foundation can help keep costs down!”

Plus it's a good source of fiber, and rumor has it that it can help keep your cholesterol in check!

4. Chorizo. I have to include this one to give Moon Man a little grief. Now that I’ve finally convinced him (mostly) to stop pronouncing “enchiladas” with the word “on” at the beginning (what can I say? He took French in school), the only thing I can really give him a hard time about is “chorizo”, which he, like so very many other people, pronounces like “choh-ree-tso”. According to some folks, this is actually a totally valid option; but my mother’s side of the family is from Mexico, and I can tell you now that if you ask for “choh-ree-tso” at my Tia’s house, you’re going to get a very weird look. The pronunciation we favor around these parts is “choh-ree-sso”–a nice “s” sound there at the end, not at all like the pronunciation of “pizza”.

Pro Tip: Imagine that you’re listening to a teenager complain about her daily household tasks. And then imagine that to amuse her friends, she has adopted an outrageous (but secretly kind of funny) fake Spanish accent:

“Oh Mah Gah, Muffy, thees chore ees soooooooo boring I could just, like die.”

Fortunately, I was an impeccably behaved teenager, and never once made a face like this behind my loving mother's back.

…So there you have it: Mama BW’s Handy-Dandy Pronunciation Guide, complete with ludicrous examples. There is a chance that this will become a periodic feature; but if it doesn’t, maybe we can at least get the world to say these four words correctly–or at least more correctly than they currently do.

Now if you’ll pardon me, I’m going to go set up my Series-S Press-O-Matic to do the shirts while I dash off to the store for some NASCAR cheese, then stop by Cheap Oats R Us for lunch and building supplies. I hate errands day–that chore ees sooooo tedious.

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2 Comments

Filed under Don't Make Me Come Down There, General Musings and Meanderings

2 responses to “Pronunciation Guide

  1. Kim

    Plus there is no x in Italian, so expresso wouldn’t make much sense.

    I get when people don’t know how to pronounce quinoa (keen-wa, for the uninitiated), but chipotle? Really? The mind boggles.

    • Exactly! I’m not expecting flawless pronunciation of all those wackadoodle French terms, what with all their superfluous consonants foulin’ up the native English reader. But really, folks, at least try sounding all the letters in order first. “Mars-Capone” indeed.

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