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The 20 Most Commonly Mispronounced Food Words

I will never forget attempting to teach my ex-husband, a Brit who found himself confronted with cross-cultural confusion at every turn ("That is not a biscuit; it's a cookie." "You can't call a woman a 'silly c*nt' or she will slap you."), how to pronounce the word taco. As a Texan it's not a word we tend to over-think. But my ex could never quite grasp it and continues to call this omnipresent food a "tack-oh" to this day.

Of course, it was he who finally taught me the proper way to pronounce Worcestershire sauce, despite being confused that we insist on adding the -shire suffix to it; back in England, it's simply called Worcester sauce, pronounced "wooh-ster" sauce.

There are still words that, even as a food critic, occasionally trip me up when I run across them. Running into cachaça for the first time stumped me, and I still don't know whether I should say "en-dive" or "ahn-deev" when referring that tasty chicory.

We polled our readers for their most commonly mispronounced words, and I wasn't surprised to see that French food terms -- this applies to Cajun foodstuffs, too -- top the list for confusion. "Brunoise, vichyssoise, anything French and ending in -se," as EOW blogger Nicholas L. Hall put it, still trip up diners after all these years.

Making chipotle peppers at home.
Making chipotle peppers at home.
Photo by Cait

At the risk of sounding pedantic, as reader Daniel Glover pointed out, "You have to have a happy medium though, or you just spend an entire food conversation trying to say every term with an appropriate pronunciation in various accents and it can get tedious and annoying."

This is exemplified by the otherwise lovely Giada De Laurentiis. My friend Nada put it best: "I get annoyed with Giada from the Food Network and her need to pronounce everything correctly." And unless you -- like my ex -- want to run the risk of getting slapped, be very careful if you decide to correct someone who's saying any of the following words incorrectly.

Chipotle: By far the most common response, which surprised me given the proliferation of the chain restaurants named after the smoked pepper. Proper pronunciation: chi-poht-ley.

Espresso: A long-time pet peeve, this is neither spelled nor pronounced with an "X" anywhere in it. Proper pronunciation: e-spres-oh.

Bánh mì: This popular Vietnamese sandwich is just as popularly butchered, pronunciation-wise as "ban mee" or "bang mee." Proper pronunciation: bahn mee (this is as close as many of us will get to the difficult diphthongs in the Vietnamese language; hear it yourself here).

Pho: This Vietnamese soup is pronounced almost exactly like the French word for fire, feu, for which it's named. It is not "foe." Again, with dipthongs it's difficult to get it exactly right, but you'll get close. Proper pronunciation: fəʊ, or like the word "fur" without the "R" at the end.

Gyro: Depending on how correct you want to get, you can pronounce this the more accepted American way or like a true Greek. Proper pronunciation: yee-raw, if you're Greek; jeer-oh or zheer-oh if you're American.

Foie gras en terrine.
Foie gras en terrine.

Foie gras: Any attempt to impress your date by ordering this fine food will fall flat when you ask for "foy grass." Proper pronunciation: fwah grah.

Gnocchi: As with gyros, you can go one of two ways here. Proper pronunciation: nyawk-kee if you want to be Italian; nok-ee or noh-kee if you're American.

Quinoa: Pronunciation isn't the only thing about quinoa that people often get wrong; it's not a grain, as is so often assumed. It's actually a chenopod, like epazote and spinach. Proper pronunciation: keen-wah.

Caipirinha: The equally difficult-to-pronounce cachaça (kuh-shah-suh) is a main ingredient in this popular Brazilian cocktail. Proper pronunciation: kai-pee-reen-ya.

Açai berry: As with cachaça, the trick with Açai is in the cé cédille (that "C" with a tail on it) that's pronounced as a soft "S" instead of a hard "C" sound. Proper pronunciation: ah-sigh-ee.

 

Those are beignets back there.
Those are beignets back there.
Photo by Marleigh

Beignet: No one wants Ben-Gay with their chicory coffee. Get this pastry right. Proper pronunciation: ben-yey.

Guanciale: One of the most difficult cured meats to wrap our American lips around, this one is most definitely not pronounced "gwan-see-ale." Proper pronunciation: WAHN-chall-eh (hear it yourself).

Coppa: Seeing as how there's about to be a restaurant with this name -- it's replacing the now-closed Catalan -- here's your chance to learn how to pronounce this delicious cured meat. Proper pronunciation: KOH-pa (hear it yourself).

Kibbeh: Although it's tempting to barrel through this one like you're saying "kibble," there's a subtle stop between the two "B"s in this word. Proper pronunciation: KIB-bay or KIB-beh (hear it yourself)

Sriracha: The red rooster sauce seems be in every refrigerator and in every peppery mayonnaise sauce these days, but people still get confused when trying to say it aloud. Proper pronunciation: According to the official website, it's shree-ra-cha.

Bruschetta topped with tomatoes, capers and onions.
Bruschetta topped with tomatoes, capers and onions.
Photo by penguincakes

Bruschetta: Contrary to popular belief, bruschetta is not a mixture of tomatoes, garlic and onion, nor is it pronounced "broo-shet-uh." It's roasted bread rubbed with garlic and olive oil, topped with any number of different items. Proper pronunciation: broo-sket-ah.

Haricot vert: Upscale restaurants love to use this French term for thin, green string beans, even if they're just serving regular old green beans. Proper pronunciation: ah-ree-koh VEHR.

Bouillabaisse: Like vichyssoise (vee-shee-swahz), this is a soup that can be difficult for an American to get right. So many consonants Proper pronunciation: boo-ya-bes.

Jalapeño: How can Texans go so wrong with our own state pepper? It's all right there in the tilde, folks. Proper pronunciation: hah-luh-peyn-yoh.

Quesadilla: And yet, even with all of the mispronunciations of jalapeño, the butchering of quesadilla stands out even more. Kweez-a-dill-uh? Madre de dios. Proper pronunciation: key-suh-dee-uh.

And if these weren't enough, check out our list of 20 more commonly mispronounced food words, including a tutorial on the difference between macarons and macaroons.



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