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Sep 27, 2005 12:39 AM

Food Pronunciation Etiquette

  • b

Have a pronunciation question that's been bothering me for awhile. When discussing a food with a non-English name, but of a language you are familiar, what is the correct balance of accuracy and not sounding pretentious (think of the 'Saturday Night Live' where the news reporters pronounce every Spanish word with an exaggerated accent). In other words, should coq au vin end with a nasal 'n', rhyme with 'van,' or something else?

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  1. Generally, if I know how to pronounce the dish/item in its native tongue, I do so. But I still say Paris - not "Paree", Vienna not "Wien"! Don't know why the latter seems over the top, but it does. That said, I don't know why "vin" would get changed to "van" in an English pronunciation - maybe a better option would be to say "Chicken in Wine Sauce".

    6 Replies
    1. re: MMRuth

      Brazen it out. As long as you let it roll trippingly off the tongue, who cares? ...and let us not get started on correct pronounciation of Chinese food names....

      1. re: Beevod

        French is especially tough for English speakers; the pronunciation of a word is often hard to guess. I think the best thing with any language, if it's a word you're going to be using, is to try to approximate how it sounds to you when a native speaker says it. If it's on a menu, I'll actually ask the waiter how to pronounce it. You may not quite nail it but it's not going to look worse (in my opinion) than making no effort to pronounce it right.

        I think the worst thing you can do with French is assume it will sound French if you just leave a couple letters off at the end of the word.

        1. re: bibi rose

          Like Sandra Lee does ....!

          1. re: bibi rose

            My mother went to her grave thinking that she was pronouncing Chaise Longue correctly because instead of Chase Lounge she was saying Shay Long...sorta half right. She also insisted on saying "Chef Boy-Ar-DAY" for the brand of spaghetti products, and one of her best dishes was green beans Aw Grotten...which she thought meant "with cheese".

            1. re: bibi rose

              If I'm speaking to someone who I know doesn't speak the foreign language in question, then I pronounce the word in such a way that the person can best understand me.

              I live in Spain and whenever I use an English word or name, I say it as a Spaniard would. Case in point: "donut"--ostensibly an English word--but the Spanish pronounce it doh-noose. They won't understand doh-nut. If Homer Simpson can say doh-noose here, then so can I.

              The tricky part is when you have learned another language and lived abroad and then have to go back to your home country and can't remember what the bastardized pronounciation is anymore. I was talking to an American friend recently and I caught myself saying a Japanese word with a Spanish accent. Silly.

          2. re: MMRuth

            There are certain traditional ways in Britain about how to pronounce French terms that sometimes have been adopted by Americans. This further muddies the waters.

          3. I usually pronounce it "correctly" (i.e., in the original language), though I always feel self-conscious ordering when the item is ridiculously long and descriptive (e.g., "pappardelle ai funghi, frutti di mare e salsa di vodka"), or when a perfectly good English translation exists (e.g., "chopped salad" rather than "insalata tagliuzzata").

            One of the funniest things I ever saw in a restaurant was when a Chinese colleague of mine and I were in Fior d'Italia in SF and he ordered a "pera caramellata" in heavily Chinese-accented Italian just to prove to the uppity waiter that he could.

            1. I think your question turns on the "not sounding pretentious" part. I can't begin to speak French, so I can't comment on your specific example, but for me, I try to pronounce things as correctly as I can without feeling like I'm 'showing off'.

              1. "Pho" is particularly bedeviling in this regard. Apparently it's properly pronounced "phah" or something similar (?) but I feel ridiculous even thinking about saying that, so I go with the westernized pronunciation. Then I wonder if the Vietnamese restaurant owners and workers secretly think we're all idiots for getting it so wrong...

                3 Replies
                1. re: DC in DC

                  Here in Seattle there is a Vietnamese place that, I suppose, does provide some pronunciation clues by its name--What the Pho?

                  1. re: DC in DC

                    I've studied or been immersed in about a dozen languages, ands Vietnamese is hands-down the most difficult for me to pronounce correctly. "Pho" I can do; the rest, I usually point and ask the server for help, they teach, I screw it up, we both laugh and life goes on. In about 25 years I've basically learned to say "bun thit nuong" without getting cold water thrown on me.

                    1. re: DC in DC

                      It's actually a cross between "fuh" and "fer", but said though you're asking a question.

                      Now, "phan nem nuong, it bun thit heo nuong cha gio, va it ca phe phin sua da" is a little harder... :-P

                    2. Even after 3 years of high school French, pronouncing "prix fixe" still throws me.

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: Scagnetti

                        Being native French, I can contribute to this:

                        Prix fixe is pronounced: Pree Feex (with the r more guttural than rolled at the front of the mouth like in English)

                        1. re: Louise

                          disclaimer: i speak french.

                          that said, phonetics in french aren't hard for an american - or shouldn't be - it is just our attitude that gets in the way.

                          how hard is it to say prix fixe for an american? what part gives you issues? the "prix" part? Don't we have enough Indy and Nascar competitions to know how to say Grand Prix???? And if you say fixe like fix - no problem - no one will sue you.

                          1. re: rumdrinks

                            I've taken a few beginner French classes, so I know some of the basic pronunciations. But the problem is that I may be thinking in my head croque "messyeur," but when I'm reading it off a menu as I'm speaking, it comes out croque "monsieur." I just shouldn't get the eyes involved.

                            1. re: rumdrinks

                              I disagree entirely. French pronunciation IS very difficult, and if someone is actually TRYING to pronounce something correctly, then it seems obvious that attitude is not an issue.

                              And as for prix fixe, it's the fixe that's a problem for me. X or no x? The e makes the consonnant sounded? or not?

                              1. re: danna

                                Just pretend there's no "e" at the end of fixe and pronounce as in English - fix. If you want to sound a bit more French, make the "i" sound longer, as in "free". :-)

                                1. re: danna

                                  GENERALLY SPEAKING (hold on, got to put on my asbestos suit)... the following consonants are silent at the end of a French word:

                                  h r (after e) s t x z

                                  The following consonants are half-dropped:

                                  b d g p

                                  The following consonants are nasalised:

                                  m n

                                  A vowel following the consonant requires the consonant to be pronounced, GENERALLY speaking. Prix = pree. Fixe = feeks.

                                  If the next word begins with a vowel, generally you pronounce the consonant (it's called "liaison").

                                  poulet à la moutarde = poo LAY tah lah moo tard

                                  Now that you know this, remember that like any language, the "proper" pronunciation often has nothing to do with how it's actually pronounced -- think about "going to" vs. "gonna".