The 20 Most Commonly Mispronounced Food Words

Categories: How To

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Pronouncing vichyssoise is a lot easier than spelling it.
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.

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Photo by Cait
Making chipotle peppers at home.
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.

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Photo by ulterior epicure
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.


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81 comments
0x00101f
0x00101f

I grew up in Texas and was surrounded by spanish. My spanish-tongued friends laughed at me if I ever referred to the crunchy fake cheese powder covered chip like snack as "CHEE-tohs." The cool way to say it was most assuredly "CHE-tos." No long EEEEEEE, what an awfully uncool sound. They taught me to say "Quiero lamer los CHEtos." Yes. I was so cool. So cool. -_-;

EatDrinkCleveland
EatDrinkCleveland

Sorry, but NO-KEE is always wrong for gnocchi. If you can say lasagna, you can pronounce this word correctly too.

EatDrinkCleveland
EatDrinkCleveland

Sorry but saying noh-kee for gnocchi is always wrong, not matter where you live. It's NYO-kee. If you can say lasagna, you can pronounce this word properly too. It's the same sound.

dukessa.rega
dukessa.rega

Guanciale. Proper pronunciation: GWAHN-chal-eh

With a hard G and no double L.

Alex
Alex

What about Parmesan cheese? I never understood why you use the french word "Parmesan" if its originally from Itlay: Parma: Parmigiano (par-mee-gee-ah-noh). Either pronounce it properly in french or do it fully in english sounds- not par-meh-JAN-

2nd Gen
2nd Gen

Keh-sa-THEE???-ahs. No mames. There is no "TH" in the word! jaja (haha for my non-spanish speaking folks).  ke-sah-dee-ya   - Don't forget that the double L is a soft Y.  Back to Middle School Spanish for some of you! Jaja

2nd Gen
2nd Gen

Sorry, but it's Chile = Chee-leh

Michelle A. Mead
Michelle A. Mead

Don't get me started! How about people who insist on using French words, but pronouncing them incorrectly? Case in point? Vin blanc (it's not blank, the "c" is silent), chocolat (it's show co lah, not chock ah latt), and a croissant is a crescent-shaped pastry, not any puff pastry dessert. That's like saying that every hamburger is a hot dog!

Anonymous
Anonymous

In fact, the original Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce (and indeed most other copies including Heinz which now owns Lea and Perrins) is spelt with the 'shire' but pronounced without it. Confusing, huh?

davisgroves
davisgroves

If you pronounce bruschetta correctly, most people will look at you like you're crazy.

frijolense
frijolense

Vietnamese indeed has many diphthongs, but the words here are not examples of those.  A diphthong is a combination of two or more vowels in a single syllable, such as ia, oa, ươ, etc.  Phở contains a single vowel, ơ.  Bánh mì also has one vowel per syllable.

BlitzBee
BlitzBee

I object to your 'Italian' pronounciation of gnocchi. My family has major Italian background, and we pronounce it 'yon-kee' or 'nyon-kee'. I would know. I knew how to pronounce it before I knew how to spell it, and I learned to spell it at 6.

Steve Jordan
Steve Jordan

I think I say caprese different every time. I used to say ka-pray-zee... then I heard an italian waiter say Ca-pree-zee, but there is a slight "A" sound mixed in with the "pree" .. so now I end up going back and forth, and I don't think I have ever said it properly...

P.F. Bruns
P.F. Bruns

Someone please send this list to Bobby Flay.

Heather
Heather

Yeah, this is where pronouncing "bruschetta" properly got me when my sister and I were at a restaurant...

me: ...and we'd like to share some bru-sketta, please.waiter: You mean bru-shetta.me: Actually, the proper pronunciation is bru-sketta.waiter: [snorts and leaves]sister: Thanks a lot, he's going to spit in it now.

jodycakes
jodycakes

Um, I always say JA-LAP-EENOOOO....and Ques-a- DILLA....must be because I am from Colorado and we all thought Taco Bell was Mexican food.Good list though

Vicki
Vicki

My mother goes to eat at 'chi-POLT-ee'.  And she and my grandmother still say 'tor-TILL-yeh'.  And both have lived in Texas their whole lives. Ugh...

Craig
Craig

Habanero - More often than not, I hear people mispronounce this with a tilde that isn't actually there, saying it "habanyero".

Karen
Karen

I would like to add nicoise. Nee SWAZ, please. Not Nee swah.

LosNix
LosNix

Oh mah sweet baby Jesus, I love this post so much...

Okay, so being Latino, and working in the food industry, I can't help but pronounce any Latin foodstuff with the appropriate accent- hell, it's what I grew up with, and I just can't turn it off. Yes, I like my banh mi with ha-la-PEN-yo, hot keh-sa-THEE-ahs, and SAHL-sah on my tor-TEE-ah [crap, that last one was hard..] chips. Not to play the devil's advocate, but I can't help but wonder how much of the same applies to Giada, and how much is just playing it up for the camera...

but I digress.

Some I've heard more than once:

"Is that SAL-mon?""I'll have a large laddy." (hint, I used to work at a coffee bar..)"Chor-eet-zo" "Chi-podle" (chipotle)"provoloney" (yep, the cheese)"tilla-pia" (the fish)

Susanoher
Susanoher

croissant... sends shivers when i hear it pronounced: croi-sant

 Manu
Manu

Very interesting article!  Not to be pedantic, but the correct pronunciation of guanciale is not WAHN-chall-eh but GWAHN-chall-eh! ;-)  Also, all Italian words ending in "e" are pronounced "eh" not "e"... so mas-car-poh-neh... if it makes sense... ;-)  Ahh I am Italian, that why I know for sure... hehehe

Thyra13
Thyra13

Since when is Gyro pronounced "yee-raw?" It's most definitely "yee-roh" if you're Greek. Spelled γύρος in Greek. The gamma in the yee part is said like a yee with a little throatyness and the roh part has a rolled "r." There is no "aw" sound in Greek. If you're going to make a list about commonly mispronounced words you should probably try to get it right yourself.

Dan
Dan

Ouch for the Italian words with double letters...you got all those wrong.  Even jalapeno and quesadilla are wrong.  KEY SUH DEE UH?  Ay Dios Mio!

John Kiely
John Kiely

Brilliant post.  Relax with a die-kee-REE.

VMTS
VMTS

See, I told Mom & Dad those Latin classes were for something....

Stamatia
Stamatia

I never have a problem with any of the French terms, because I studied French in school. Same with Spanish. I know some Italian, but I forget the rules sometimes, and you get used to hearing "standard" pronunciations on TV and get lazy...insisting on the "correct" pronunciation of a dish/ingredient can make you sound pedantic, or like a show-off. My problems come with Asian languages, especially if I've never heard a word out loud before - hadn't heard bahn mi before I clicked the link, and although I've read how I should say pho, I've still never heard it pronounced properly.

Being Greek, it's the Greek ones that piss me off. I'm ok with "GYE-roh", but "tatziki"? "Slouvlaki"? The one that kills me is "moo-SA-ka". No, it's "mou-sa-KA". I don't always correct people but that's one exception. That and baklavá. This is why accents are awesome, and when people transliterate languages like Greek that *use* them, they should keep them - that way people will know which syllables to stress.

Bob Trezise
Bob Trezise

With all due respect to your ex-husband and Brits everywhere, I learned to pronounce the venerable Lee and Perrin product as "What's dis here?" sauce.

Jason McElweenie
Jason McElweenie

Speaking of words I love when people here say the word foyer as foy-ur. It's foy-yay or poutine as poo-tahn. It's poo-tihn. Or when they say there are WMDs in Iraq and there aren't any. At all.

Jalapeno
Jalapeno

Ugh, ANNE-is, or A-NIECE?  Anise.

trisch
trisch

So much of proper pronunciation comes from the provenance of the food. I mispronounced guanciale forever until I learned that it's Italian and not French or Spanish.  Glad you led off with chipotle -- makes me crazy hearing chip-ol-tee and chip-ol-tay.  Interesting link to the pronunciation for banh mi -- if you listen to the Northern accent, there is a slight "g" at the end of "bahn." A colleague of mine in Vietnam who is a local pronounces it with a full hard g as "bahng mee."

Others mispronunciation I often hear: Mascarpone pronounced as "mars-capone." Ceviche pronounced as "sir-veetch-ee." Peking duck as "peek-ing duck" (and for that matter, the city of Beijing as "bay-zhing"). Paella "pah-eh-ler" (must be a British thing).

Just glad everyone's out there trying new things.

Jason McElweenie
Jason McElweenie

​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.Cool, I'm still going to call roasted bread with garlic and olive oil topped with a tomato based mixture broo shet ah. If it isn't that then I'll call it broo sket ah

T.J. Cookwell
T.J. Cookwell

No "uh" sounds in Spanish.  Ever.  hah-lah-peyn-yoh.(the pepper from Xalapa)

serrano: say-RAH-noh(the pepper from the mountains)

chile: CHEE-lay

Ever notice the way the Brits pronounce sushi as if it rhymes with 'hush"?

dukessa.rega
dukessa.rega

cos theyre ignorant, not your problem. if i hear one more anglophone say broosheta or something disgusting like that ill slap them in the face

dukessa.rega
dukessa.rega

LOL. seriously?

As DaveQ said, it is correct the way its spelt in the article.

And no, Im not some third/fourth/tenth generation american with some remote italian ancestor, I actually AM italian.

DaveQ
DaveQ

Sorry, but your family is mispronouncing the word. My family is third-generation Italian American, and I've had four years of Italian instruction and several trips to Italy.

It's pronounced as described in the article.

The truth is that many Italian Americans mispronounce many Italian words, using an American Italian dialect rather than a native Italian dialect.

Foods seem to be particularly prone to pronunciation changes due to evolving dialects.

dukessa.rega
dukessa.rega

NO. no zee please. you make us cringe every time you pronounce 'e' as EEEE (like bee).

E in italian is pronounced ALWAYS AND ONLY 'eh'

Twyla Davis
Twyla Davis

you're correct for the salade but not a male food would be nicois  and the s not pronounced.

Bruce R
Bruce R

 If you were really Latino then you'd know that "chips" is pronounced "cheeps."

Bruce R
Bruce R

It's pronounced like anus.  But seriously, the way I say it it rhymes with Janice.

EFK
EFK

I'm British and everyone I know says SOO-shee

LosNix
LosNix

Touché... Although to be fair, I'm pretty sure those are also the off-brand Peeps they sell at the .99 cent store.

dukessa.rega
dukessa.rega

hillibilly is your face. dont order food you cant appreciate, as you clearly wont even attempt to pronounce it decently.

Vicki
Vicki

LosNix... why did you say he was "Tuch-ee"??  :D

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