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October 29, 2008

I pronounce bruschetta the right way and don't correct me


I actually started an entry on this subject three weeks ago and even got art for it, and then got distracted.

I didn't think about it again until Henry Miller posted this under Bucky's last opus:

I was in an Italian restaurant where I ordered "brusketta" and was corrected, being told that it was pronounced "brushetta." Maybe "rage" is appropriate in that case.

I'm not going to discuss here how much I, too, enjoy having my pronunciation corrected by someone who's taking my order. Instead I want to talk about how and when foreign food terms become anglicized. McIntyre will probably be on my case for intruding on his territory here. ...

Bruschetta is a good example. When should we start bowing to the inevitable and pronouncing it "brushetta" just because our primary objective is to communicate our order to the server with the minimum amount of fuss?

It's odd that no one seems to have trouble pronouncing "radicchio" correctly as "radeekeo."

We don't pronounce "crepe," "croissant" or "prix fixe" the way the French do. (Well, I try to, but I know I sound affected.)

How about "tempura"? For sure you don't say it the way your Japanese waitress does. But when you try to say it the non-American way, she doesn't know what you're talking about.

There's a copy editor who speaks Italian on the features copy desk who changes "cannoli" to "cannolo" whenever someone writes about one. I'm afraid readers won't know what I'm talking about if I use "cannolo," so I always write about the Italian pastry in the plural so it won't be an issue.

For some reason, "bronzino" is clear, even though many menus use "bronzini" for one whole fish, and that's what people are most used to.

I had a linguistics professor who just laughed at discussions like this.

"Grammar books are history books, not law books," he would say. I presume he would say the same thing about pronunciation guides.

(Algerina Perna/Sun photographer)

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 5:20 AM | | Comments (52)


Way, way, back in the early 60s I had a college World Literature professor who pronounced the name of Cervantes' windmill-tilting knight as "Don Quick-sot." His rationale was that we've Americanized everything else so why not that. Was it the French who said "The more things change, the more they remain the same"?

I always thought it was rude to correct strangers anyway. There are somethings that I just can't say right now matter what. Gnocchi is one of 'em. I don't need the wait staff to tell me that I said it wrong. Just get it for me and let me pay for it. You know what I'm talking about!

EL, you have a great opportunity to educate us all. How about a small feature once a week with the right and wrong pronunciations? For starters, tell me more about tempura. I didn't even know there was more than one way to pronounce that! (Maybe because we are always ordering sushi).

hallelujah!! right on again EL.

My favorite is when I pronounce "gyro" the (correct) greek way and the person behind the counter looks at me like I've got 8 heads and has no clue what I'm ordering lol.

I'm torn on this. I like to pronounce loaner words correctly, that is, as they are pronounced in their native language. However, an awful lot of the time, the person doing the correcting doesn't have a clue.

So, if a native speaker of the language in question corrects me, I try to remember it and to use that pronunciation. If a college kid waiting tables part time for a few years does, I generally don't (although on my more anal days, I'll look it up later).

There are also different ways to clue someone in on pronunciation. Reading the order back, using the proper pronunciation, without emphasizing the word that was mispronounced is fine (and I appreciate it). "Dude, it is BOO-joe-lays." is not.

Hear, hear! When I am paying, do not correct my pronunciation. If it is so off that you could not possibly know what I am attempting to order, then say that you are not sure what I mean. Your tip is on the

I stopped using the correct pronunciations of "crepe," "croissant" or "prix fixe" because to my ear they sounded contrived. Even though I knew I was correct. What we won't do just to get along.

Caprese salad is another good one.

I always wondered whether "pho" was originally transliterated by people who speak French, and if it would be correctly pronounced "fuh" if read in that language.

What about the Mediterranean pita sandwich, spelled Gyro: pronounced "geye-ro", or "hero"?

I did find the bit of code that made the rail on the right disappear...

I love it when you talk like that.

McIntyre will probably be on my case for intruding on his territory here. ...

Funny, McIntyre posted on this about 12 hours before you did! I think he's mining the sandbox for material!

It's just that everything's messed up today with the blogware. (So what's new?) Unpublished comments are popping up out of nowhere hours after they were posted. I did find the bit of code that made the rail on the right disappear, so I'm very proud of myself. EL

Owl types all of that in this little bitty square??

Thanks for fixing the sidebar, EL. I was starting to wonder if greasemonkey had run amok.

How could there possibly be more than one way to pronounce "tempura"? I guess you could overdo the stress and vowel length and freak out a native speaker with tem-POO-ra. And hammer the R. The Japanese R is halfway between an L and an R. The Japanese "u" is fairly soft and the accenting is barely discernable to Western ears.

If you know nothing about Japanese and pronouce everything written in the romanized Romaji character set (as opposed to kanji, katakana or hiragana) as in Italian or Spanish but with a flat accent you've nailed it. The Romaji character set pretty faithfully creates a generic European pronunciation guide.

As for Thai or Chinese, don't even bother to pronounce things "right". You can't get there from here. Take for example the Chinese word written in pinyin (romanized) as "dai" (big). The best you can do is know that it is pronounced "dye", but that is nothing because there are four different vocal inflections, thus "dai" could represent four different words of completely different meaning. Each syllable in Mandarin and Cantonese can be pronounced in these four ways for different meanings: level, up, down and a tricky down-then-up.

Pho? How did the "ph" ever get into any language when we already had "f"?

Don't get me started on "c" either. We already have "k" and "s". And "qu" is just stupid. We need two j's though and a whole bunch more vowels.

I just try to pronounce everything right, because I'm lazy. There are many ways to mispronounce and only one right way, so that's where lazy comes in.

I tend to adjust my pronunciation based upon the prices on the menu. The more expensive, the more accurate I try to be.

The beers called "Märzen" drive me crazy. Nobody even tries. It's not mar-ZEN. It's MARE-TS-en.

One of the funniest things I have ever heard was Gordon Ramsay speaking French to some French chefs in a restaurant in Scotland. Hilarious. Like a garbage disposal grinding a bucket of stew. When he spews his usual vulgarian word vomit in English it makes me crazy. Like when he says "FILL-it" steak for filet mignon.

I don't speak Italian but it's not very hard to pronounce in an acceptable manner. I use a lyrical Spansh and various words from classical music to help me. Limoncello? Come on, it has "cello" right there. Don't say lemon-sello. Gnocchi? That a tough one but you have the "gn" from lasaGNa and the "chi" from CHIanti. Then soften that "o" to a nice middle long Euro O. That last part is pretty advanced.

I had a conversation with Brian Chiapparelli about the pronunciation of his family's restaurant. If properly pronounced it would be something like KEE-op-ah-RAY-lee. We both agreed that it would never be anything but "Chip's".

I think there is a certain way to anglicize foreign words when necessary that is respectful and very American. And by that I mean that the English way of anglicizing is to destroy the word in some way on pupose because they are naturally .. uh, world-hatey. Sorry, I couldn't think up a word and was going to make one up like xenomislingual.

For example, during the war between Argentina and England over some sheep, each side had their own name for the islands - the Faulklands and las Malvinas. I saw a BBC broadcast at that time where they said "or as they call it the Malvinas", pronounced maall-VINE-ness. Now that's just a lie. But exactly their habit.

Don't even get me started on the Great Vowel Shift. Now that makes me crazy. That has to be the greatest act of linguistic self-loathing ever. It is my theory that if it were not for the Americans and Canadians preserving the English spoken word that English would further degenerate until it bifurcates into twee stage-dandy English and something that sounds like you are strangling a drunk epileptic.

I was talking to an English women who was working in Baltimore and she told me and some others the name of a Spanish wine that is popular in England. First, it sounded like she was half throwing up and half having a seizure. We all looked at each other as if an alien being had just sprung out of her abdomen. As best as I can simulate she said roy-OWH-jerr. It was as if ackowledging any culture other than their own even if they piss all over it requires a grand mal. It's Rioja of course, the Budweiser of Spanish wines.

All languages have to adapt foreign words to their native pronunciation. It's normal. So I guess I'm saying that I'm proud of how Americans are respectful of other cultures and languages and gently anglicize, unlike certain other colonizing culture rapists.

We're way too sensitive to that in this country. People from foreign lands butcher everyday terms here and get a free pass, but we have to localize the pronunciation of everything or face ridicule from our peers. We are a silly people. I purposely mispronounce gyro to my Greek buddy every chance I get to watch him squirm.

Oh no, Bob, do you say "quesadillias" too? I speak Spanish and have to fight the urge to say "Kes-a-dee-yas" because no one will understand what I'm ordering. You've inspired me though - maybe next time I'll say it right.

Elena - I'm not above doing that to have fun, for sure. I try not to take it too far like a waiter did at the old Park City Cafe who insisted on saying wedgie instead of veggie, over and over and over. How would you like your wedgie? What would you like on your wedgie? This wedgie is the best in town! etc. :D

"you say tomato
I say tomato
You say tomato
I say tomato"

Ever heard the story about the southerner who was in his freshman year at Harvard.
He happened to ask an upperclassman "Do you know where the librarys at?"
Reply "you're at Harvard now and we don't end our sentences with a preposition"
and the freshmans reply" ........

and the Seinfeld episode with the "paper mache"

Each syllable in Mandarin and Cantonese can be pronounced in these four ways for different meanings: level, up, down and a tricky down-then-up.

Canonese has 8 tones, not 4.

Any wait staff who can't understand quesadillas pronounced correctly is willfully stupid.

KristinB - I like "fixed price" myself!

How would you pronounce the "Grand Prix of Monaco?"

Ok, I give up. What's the Americanized way to pronounce "prix fixe"? I can't think of any alternative to the French (though I won't fight to the death defending my French accent).

I was taught in grad school that at least by the 18th century the British were pronouncing Quixote "Quick'-sit," and there is in fact a novel from that era, _The Female Quixote_ that is properly (mis)pronounced that way.

And finally, I have a friend whose Greek co-worker once told him with a straight face that "gyro" is pronounced phonetically, so he and his wife made a very special (and stubborn) point of pronouncing it wrong for a couple of years before the co-worker found out they'd believed him and set the record straight.

I think that about covers it . . .

I've heard waiters call it "pree-fee" the way they refer to "veesheeswa." EL

Elena, do people really mispronounce quesadilla? I've only ever heard people pronounce it correctly. Hell, how could you do otherwise when we have all probably heard it correctly on Taco Bell and other restaurant TV commercials a million times.

Yes, we are a silly people for many other reasons.

Yes, I put all that in this little box.

What about endive? My Francophone friend always said "on-deev". Frankly, I never want to see the stuff on my plate, because it's so bitter, so you'll never catch me uttering the word except as a requested omission. And then, mebbe I'll just point.

the lady at Pepe's on Falls Road doesn't take too kindly when I correctly pronounce gyro. The odd thing is that she is Greek, or at least I think she is Greek.

Maybe this is same thing as when people try to speak French in a French restaurant...or worse yet when they speak English but with a french accent

So, M Hibou, do you pronounce the terminal e's or not when you recite Chaucer?

KristinB, I avoid the whole "prix-fixe" problem by using the phrase 'fixed-price."

BruSHetta is now a perfectly acceptable alternative pronunciation of that word. Anyone prefering its use is not only not wrong but is also not less right than anyone using BruSKetta.

prix fixe
Pronunciation: \ˈprē-ˈfēks, -ˈfiks\
Etymology: French, fixed price

"pree-free"? That's weird. Where did they get the R in fixe?

If you are going to pronounce it wrong, go all out with "pricks fix".

Stupid English ... you have to mispronouce Byron's poem Don Juan as "don JEW-on" or the meter and rhymez is all whack.

Canonese has 8 tones, not 4

My Chinese Unix programmer taught me 4, I guess she spoke Mandarin. I've heard that both used to be eight. Maybe Mao simplified it like he did with the characters. If anyone could force people to speak differently he could. I'm out of my depth here. Or maybe she thought I was too stupid to understand more than 4. How do you squeeze 8 out of one syllable?

Star Trek trivia: episode: Melvin Belli as the Friendly Angel. When they show the tombstones of the children's parents, the Chinese kid's last name is Tsingtao. Funny.

And Jacques becomes, in British English, JAY-qweez. Add that to Don Qwik-sott and Don Jew-ahn. And, for that matter, fillit for filet. It's their language, and they can do as they like with it. But, since 1776, we're no longer obligated to follow their precedents.

OK, this morning, I caught Owl responding to remarks that posted after his responses. One was by anonymous and the other by, I think, a name I didn't recognize. I started to worry that Owl was talking to himself, which I don't mind, personally, but is the sort of thing one prefers not to acknowledge.

So, I took a shot at the length of an Owl post and he responded but the juxtaposition is that my shot is posted before his original. Not problematical but Kweeksotic.

Yeah that was weird but I'm not talking to myself, at least not in writing. Just some strange bloggy thing.

Jay Qweez? His new disk drops next week. I hear it's some dope krunk.

JM, JAY-qweez? Really? Where did you hear that?

While we are on the subject of stupid english- some of you may already know this - how do you pronounce GHOTIO?

GH as '"F" (think enouGH)
O as " i " (think of women as
" wimmen " )
TIO as "SH" (think naTIOn)

RoCK - I think the lady in Pepe's is middle eastern. Watch out for their chicken ceaser salad. It's been known to cause a whole office extreem gastric distress. I'm only sayin....

I thought it odd too, but after EL told us that unposted comments showed up long after they were posted, I just figured the blogware was hiccupping.

Canonese --is that what MD Canon speaks?

The character in _As You Like It_ is pronounced JAY-qweez, but it's also spelled "Jaques," without the "c," so I always thought it was particular to him, not a general garbling of the name.

I don't remember hearing it so pronounced in other cases, but I can't swear to it that I've paid attention to the British pronunciation of "Jacques" at all.

How dare the lowly wait staff give the almighty "Foodie" information on how to pronounce a menu item?!!! A few of you posters should try having a little tolerance for those "beneath" you.
Do not assume either that I make my living as a sever. I actually dine out 5-6 nights a week, and have learned many interesting culinary facts from the Restaurant staff.

Same "JAY-kweez" for the character in "Tristram Shandy."

Perhaps the server could exercise a little more tact, as OMG mentioned, the server could repeat the item correctly pronounced rather than correcting the diner.

Myself, I don't feel I'm above the server attending my table, and the server shouldn't feel the same. I too have often learned about foods I'm unfamiliar with from servers.

grrrr...too many comments thing again.
I'll be more patient EL. But four times?
where is my Xanax?

Anybody remember Les Nessman on "WKRP in Cincinnati"? Said things like "Chai-chai Rod-reh-gweez," (Chi-chi Rodriguez) and "chee-hoowa-hoowa" (chihuahua). Laughed so hard I fell off the sofa.

Dottie, I grew up in California. We could always spot the newbies if they talked about "La JOLLA," rather than "La Hoya," etc.

Fl Rob - I gave up last night, all I got was "too many post" things.

Dottie - what a funny show that was! My family still call chihuahuas "chee-hoowa-hoowas"!

Funny, I'm not getting the 'too many posts' notice. Oh, wait, I haven't been posting.

Oh dear. I'm afraid John McIntyre has caught me. My degree is in 18th-century British lit, so I should have thought first of the JAY-qweez character in Tristram Shandy. Only I never managed to force myself past about page 50 of that book. Don't tell my alma mater!

My HS English teacher gave me Tristram Shandy. After I finished it, she asked me in front of the class how I'd liked it.

I blushed and sputtered.

She turned to the class and said, "It embarrassed Lissa. You see how good it is. Go read it."

Odd, because usually dick jokes don't amuse me that much.

"Ch" is "K" in Italian, so (of course) the proper pronunciation is "bru-SKEH-tah".


"Ah believe Ah'll have me a GAH-ro, boa."


Think "year-o"... maybe with a slight lilt to the R.

Not a J... nor a hard G; it's a "Y". Ugh.

Maybe to make things easier, we should slaughter the spelling of some of the words we routinely butcher... at least then we might be able to pronounce them.

Ideas for Webster, American Heritage, etc.:

Year-O (nice marketing nod too...)
Pre-fee (before the fee! hehe)
Bwayna (buena... if I hear "byoona" once more I'll lose it...)

nice, huh?

But when it comes to these -- which is the greater evil: to misspell a word or to mispronounce it?

In a perfect world we could keep foreign spellings intact.. if so many wouldn't butcher the correct pronunciation of those words. It might piss off Mexicans to see "bwayna" on signs all over the US... but they might appreciate our improved pronunciation.

Never mind... let's just spread the Pronunciation Gospel and hope that the offenders (guy-ro & brushetta...) eventually catch on.

How bracing it is to revisit an old post that isn't being resurrected by shillers, spammers, or stalkers.

Tom, I agree with everything you said; your pronunciation guide is useful and understandable by anyone who speaks standard English.

I don't think we have to resort to changing the Spanish spelling on signs though. The demographics in this country are changing enough so that won't be necessary.

People mispronounce "buena"? You're an idjit.

Prix fixe: pree feeks. There's an "e" after the "x"--you have to pronounce the x. It's like people insisting on "vichyswah" or "bouillabah." It doesn't help a bit if you're giving the wrong phonetic spelling.

As far as I'm aware, and I did a French degree and lived there for a year, the pronunciation is 'pree feeks' (at least, that's the closest I can get to it phonetically when writing it down for Anglophones).

As far as I'm aware, and I did a French degree and lived there for a year, the pronunciation is 'pree feeks' (at least, that's the closest I can get to it phonetically when writing it down for Anglophones).

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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