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Diction for Dummies: 30 Hard to Pronounce Food Words

There’s nothing like calling yourself out for bad behavior. When I am guilty of one malfeasance or another, I’m not above outing myself and admitting I was wrong. No, really . . . just ask my husband.

Charcuterie (pro. shar-KOO-tuh-ree)

Charcuterie (pro. shar-KOO-tuh-ree)

In the past (and I’m certain it will occur again in the not too distant future, but not in a galaxy far, far away …) I’ve been known to butcher a name or two, especially when it comes to food. There’s nothing worse than going into a fancy schmancy restaurant, staring at a menu, realizing you can’t pronounce half of the dishes and then boldly going where everyone has gone before: You take a stab at it anyway. If the humiliation alone doesn’t kill you, perhaps your self-loathing will when the thin-to-the-point-of-emaciated yet perky waitress with the smile glued to her face actually has the gall to correct you. Yes, you–the same you who attended college, matriculated with respectable grades, found your niche in life and won’t take smack talk from anyone–yeah, that you. The nerve of some people.

Gnocchi (pro. nyawk-kee)

Gnocchi (pro. nyawk-kee)

I for one am tired of mumbling, and you should be, too. It’s time to open mouths wide and say it loud, say it proud, “Nicoise,” without fear of recrimination, degradation or finger-pointing. That hurts. While this list isn’t exhaustive (not to be confused with exhausting), it does touch on food words that can twist a tongue in knots. But don’t worry; I’ve got you covered with a reasonable facsimile of pronunciation for 30 such difficult words. (And if all else fails, simply point to the dish on the menu and stare doe-eyed at the waiter/waitress. He or she will likely feel empathy for you and bring you a complimentary cocktail for your worries.)

  • Anise (ann-iss)
  • Acai berry (ah-SIGH-ee)
  • Beignet (ben-yay)
  • Bouillabaisse (BOOL-yuh-beys
  • Bruschetta (broo-SKET-tuh)
    • Imagine being in Italy, ordering “brew-shet-ta” and having the waiter correct you. Yeah, it happened to me. At least the waiter wasn’t thin-to-the-point-of-emaciated and he was about six levels below perky.
  • Charcuterie (shar-KOO-tuh-ree)
  • Chipotle (chi-poht-ley)
  • Crudité (crew-da-tay)
  • Dulce de leche (dool-seh deh LEH-cheh)
  • Endive (ahn-deev OR in-dive)
  • Espresso (e-spres-oh)
  • Foie Gras (fwah grah)
  • Gnocchi (nyawk-kee)
  • Gyro (yeer-oh; however, I’ve been told that Greeks pronounce it “yee-raw”)
    • I can’t begin to tell you how many evil looks I’ve received from well-meaning Greek people on the back end of trying to say this one.
  • Haricot Vert (ah-ree-koh vare)
  • Jicama (hi-kuh-muh)
  • Mole (MOH-lay)
    • No, this is not that squinty eyed creature that burrows underground with huge, powerful paws that look eerily like human hands.
  • Muffuletta (moo-fa-la-tuh)
  • Nicoise (nee-swaahz)
  • Paella (pie-aye-ya)
  • Pho (fuh)
  • Pommes frites (pohm freets)
  • Pouilly-Fuisse (poo-yee-fwee-say)
  • Poutine (poo-tin)
  • Prosciutto (proh-SHOO-toe)
  • Quinoa (KEEN-wah)
  • Sriracha (see-RAH-cha) (DISCLAIMER: Search the web and there will those who say that, according to the official sriracha website, it’s pronounced “shree-rah-cha”; I found no such mention of pronunciation on the website.)
  • Tagine (tah-zheen in American English; ta-jean in British English)
  • Vichyssoise (vish-ee-swahz)
  • Worcestershire sauce (wus-tuh-shur sauce)
    • If you insist on uttering this word in a public place (some may prefer to say “May I please have some of the brown sauce?”), do yourself a favor and pronounce it the way the folks on the other side of the pond do: “woo-ster.”

And Now I Digress …

I realize that this little exercise in pronunciation entails opening my old wounds (which never really healed right in the first place) and exposing one of my flaws (I only have a few …), but I’ll do it anyway, for the sake of the English language.

While these words are not food-related, they have, are, and always will be toughies for me.


One More Thing …

Once again, while not food related, this is probably the most frustrating word to hear mispronounced (luckily I don’t commit this faux pas ever):


The word is not “aks” or “ax” people. You’re not on a mission to chop someone up into little pieces, so please stop saying things like, “I think I’ll aks Sherry out on a date.” You know in your heart of hearts you don’t plan on taking that sharp bladed implement and making mincemeat out of Sherry. Please don’t ax Sherry to death. It makes you sound like a murderer-in-training.

In Closing …

I’m sure there will be those of you out there with contradictions to at least one pronunciation on this list, and I’m okay with that. But before you bombard me with “You’re so wrong; how could you be so insipid,” type comments, how about letting me know (in as clean and profanity-free way as you can muster) how you believe the particular word is (or should be) pronounced. You may, in fact, be correct. I could be totally wrong. Stranger things have happened …

For everyone else, what are the food-related words that completely stupefy you and leave you tongue-tied?

[Charcuterie Photo credit: Renée S. Suen / / CC BY-NC-ND]


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