Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >
Dec 18, 2008 07:15 AM

Car-mel vs. cara-mel/Pee-can vs. Puh-cahn

It's killing me. I've seen cooking shows as well as hearing in real life people who say "Car-mel" rather than cara-mel...Pee-can vs. Puh-cahn...oh and All-mond rather than Ahhh-min.

For me--its "cara-mal, pee-can and ahh-min.

What about you? What IS the correct pronounciation anyway?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. CAra-mel, pee-can, and AL-mond

    1. This thread will inevitably go around and around on this issue, but for me the bottom line is that when differences in pronunciation are strongly tied to regional dialects, no single pronunciation is correct, especially since the dictionary recognizes all the various pronunciations for the words you mentioned. I'm not suggesting that we can all just say any word in anyway we wish and consider it correct, but for many words there are legitimate reasons for differences in pronunciation, and to label one or the other as the correct way doesn't do much good.

      However, the cheeky side of me says that I grew up in northeastern North Carolina, with a slightly watered down version of the traditional Outer Banks accent that is supposedly the closest thing to Elizabethan English still in use. So clearly, the way I say it is right :)

      And for the record, when coming out of my mouth it's cara-mel, pee-can, and all-mond.

      12 Replies
      1. re: mpjmph

        <<So clearly, the way I say it is right :)>>

        LOL, mpj. I like your attitude and your enunciations down there.

        However, I'm from western Connecticut, where we don't have accents. A "tech" of lockjaw, maybe, but no accents, LOL. ;-)

        I say "CARR-a-mel", "puh-CAHN" and, like thew above, "AL-mond".

        1. re: Steady Habits

          i'm originally from North Jersey (though i've also lived for nearly a decade each in Atlanta & SoCal) and my pronunciations are the same as those of Steady_Habits...which makes perfect sense since Northern NJ & Western CT are the same region.

        2. re: mpjmph

          LOL! I guess what bugs me about the word "caramel" is that it is NOT spelled "carmel" (as in the city in California). So when pronunciations are said as "carmel" or when it's written out that way, it irks me no end.

          PEE-cahn, or pee-CAHN, or PEE-can - doesn't much matter to me on that one. And I've just tried saying "almond" and I realize I pronounce it "ahh-mond".

          1. re: LindaWhit

            In case you haven't noticed, English spelling often does not correspond to the pronunciation. Or to put it another way, English spelling 'rules' are a complicated mix. For some people the written form of a word is the definitive one. But for thousands of years, people have spoken their languages correctly without reference to any written form. In addition the spoken form tends to evolve over time, while the written form lags behind, retaining 'fossils' so to speak, of earlier spoken forms.

            1. re: paulj

              Yes, I'm completely aware that English words as written do not often jive with the pronunciation.

              However, I'm at a complete loss to recall another word in the English language where the letter "a" is on its own or part of a very short syllable in a particular word (i.e., CAH-rah-mel) that simply gets dropped from the word altogether as it does in this pronunciation: "Car-MEL".

              If there are others, I would love to know them.

              1. re: LindaWhit

                At most that 'a' is pronounced as schwa - an unemphasized, nondescript vowel sound. It's not surprising that it might elided. Without digging further into English morphology, its placement between the 'r' and the 'm' may have something to do with the tendency of English speakers to drop it. I suspect linguists have studied this, and published papers on the phenomenon.

                1. re: LindaWhit

                  The elision of the schwa - what a great book title! - is not so uncommon as you might think, Linda. Most of the ones that come immediately to mind are non-culinary (like the first a in balloon, the second one in paraffin, or the i in terrible, in some regional dialects), but to keep it strictly chowish, consider the second e in vegetable. Some people pronounce it; many do not.

                  1. re: BobB

                    OK, I agree with the second "e" in vegetable...that's a very good example, as I myself pronounce it "vegtable".

                    But I've never heard paraffin being pronounced "parffin". But perhaps I've just never been in a part of the country where people pronounce it that way. :-)

                  2. re: LindaWhit

                    Re caramel becoming carmel---the opposite is also true when athletic becomes ath-a-letic. Mouths do what they like with words, regionally as well as culturally. "Something" has no p in it but is commonly pronounced sompthing.

              2. re: mpjmph

                We folks in Maryland don't have any accent(LONG)

                Make sure you read the Oral Exercises part 2 - they're great!


                For those of you who are from Maryland (Merlin) enjoy and try not to laugh too hard.

                For those of you from out of town (not from or in the State of Maryland), if you plan a visit, you may want to practice.
                Translations available, free of charge! (:^)}<

                Only a Merlin resident could appreciate... The Merlin Dialect

                The Merlin Dialect is spoken by a mixed population which inhabits a
                triangular area on the western littoral of the Chesapeake Bay, bounded
                roughly by a line commencing at Towson's Toyota, then westward to
                Frederick Mall, thence following the western border of the cable TV franchise and the string of McDonalds' along Route 50 to the Bay.
                All of these lands and the natives thereof are known as the Land of
                Merlin. They divide it further into semi-tribal areas called Cownnies "COUNTIES"
                (e.g., Ballmer Cownny, [ Baltimore ] PeeGee Cownny, [ P. G. or Prince
                George] Hard Cownny, [ Howard ] etc.).

                The dialect area is centered on a market center called Glimburny, where the people come on weekends to trade their goods. Because of the numerous words and phrases common to both Merlin Dialect, and modern English, linguists have long postulated that there is some kinship between the two.
                Speakers of Merlin Dialect are all able to understand standard English
                from babyhood, chiefly because of their voracious appetite for television.However, they invariably refuse to speak standard English, even with outsiders who obviously are not understanding a word they say.

                Lesson 1 Vocabulary

                Baldmer - Our city
                Merlin - Our State
                Allanic - an ocean
                Arnjuice - from the sunshine tree
                Arn - What you do to wrinkled clothes
                Arouwn in all directions - norf, [North] souf, [South] ees, and wess
                Aspern - what you take for headaches
                Bald - some people like their eggs this way
                Bawler - what the plumber calls your furnace
                Beeno - a famous railroad
                Brawl - Broil
                Bulled Egg - An egg cooked in water
                Calf Lick - bleevers are Protestant, Jewish, and ...
                Chest Peak - A large nearby body of water
                Colleyflare - A white vegetable
                Cownny - a state gubmit division, such as Anne Arundel or Prince George's
                Downey Owe Shin - Summertime destination "Down to the ocean" (such as
                Droodle Pork - Druid Hill Park
                Drooslem - city in the Holy Land
                Duddeney - yes, he does, duddeney?
                Err - a time measurement of 60 minutes
                Far place - requires wood
                Fard - area between the eyes and the hairline
                Faren Gins - Red trucks that put out fires
                Farmin - the people who fight fars
                Flares - Such as tulips
                Ford - opposite of backward
                Idnit - it is
                Ignernt - ignorant
                Hi Hon - How we always say "hello"
                Holluntown - Highland Town
                Klumya - Rouse's new city (Columbia)
                Meer - what you look at in the morning
                Munlaw - married to your fodlaw
                Nap Lis - State of Merlin capital
                Norf Abnew - North Avenue
                Numb - a conjunctive 1st person pronoun: "Aw've bin workin six errors numb
                Ole Bay - What our crabs taste like
                Oreos - Not a cookie, but our baseball team
                Paramore - Power mower
                Payment - That strip of cement that you walk on
                Plooshin - let's get it out of the Cheaspeake
                PohLeese - Those guys in uniform that git ya when you're speeding
                Sarn - what a pleece car or Farn Gin makes noise with
                Sem elem - Seven Eleven
                Share - Hot water that cleans you in the morning
                Slong - "good-bye"
                Sore - drainage under the street
                Spearmint - experiment
                Tarred - What happens when you work too hard
                Warsh - What we do with dirty clothes
                Warshnin - our nation's capital
                Warter - What we drink (can also be Wooter)
                Winders - Those glass things that we look out of
                Wooder - what you wrench your hands with
                Yerp - Europe
                Youz - you all
                Zinc - where you wrench your hands or wash your dishes

                Lesson 2. Oral Exercises .... Listen and Repeat:
                Merlin: Ah herd sarns at sod the hass a bat hunnert toms lass not. Itsem Ann Earl Canny farn gins.
                Standard: I heard sirens outside the house about a hundred times last
                It's those Anne Arundel County fire engines.

                Merlin: She raider boskle from Droodle Pork to dantan Ballmer wither oz clazed.
                Standard: She rode her bicycle from Druid Hill Park to downtown Baltimore with her eyes closed.
                Merlin: The Hard Canny Toms sayz the canny cancel pace pained bon
                Standard: The Howard County Times says the County Council postponed buying ambulances.

                Merlin: Pitcher bane soot owen. Weer goon danny ayshun.
                Standard: Put your bathing suit on. We're going down to the ocean.

                Merlin: Ah sawn ambalance good dan Rosters Tan Raid a bat a huunert molls
                an air, nit was porn dan rain.
                Standard: I saw an ambulance going down Reisterstown Road about a hundred miles an hour, and it was pouring down rain.

                Merlin: It spaced a snaid mora. Better pitcher snay tars owen.
                Standard: It's supposed to snow tomorrow. Better put your snow tires on.

                1. re: Hue

                  The "warsh" thing--it is also common in parts of Jersey--like Central and South. When I moved from NYC to New Jersey I thought Jersey people had weird accents;) I should talk--being from NY!!!!!!!!!!

                  1. re: jarona

                    Warsh is also heard in parts of rural Missouri, including in Warshington Counee. And the plural of mile is pronounced "mahl". But I non-food digress.

              3. mpjmph is completely right about this thread going around and around, and that it's probably entirely tied to regional dialects, but I have a funny line to share.

                My grandmother, who was born and bred in Laurel, MS and spent the 2nd half of her life running a praline shop on Royal St. in New Orleans, was appalled at her northern grandchildren's pronounciation of "pecan". She would proclaim "A Pee Can is what I keep under my bed on cold winter night. A Pah-cahn is what I put in my candy".

                This pronounciation thing also relates to "ap-ri-cot" and "ape-ri-cot". I'm firmly in the former camp on that one!

                16 Replies
                1. re: RosemaryHoney

                  I have a similar explanation for pronouncing it pee-can based on the pronunciation of male anatomy, just didn't think it would be appropriate for this board. The most diplomatic explanation I've heard is that a pee-can is something you pick up off the ground and a pah-cahn is something you buy in a store.

                  1. re: mpjmph

                    Anyone who thinks he/she doesn't have an accent is being pretty naive. Assuming that no singular place/region of the world is the be-all-end-all in "correct pronunciation" of any given words, then anyone and everyone may say certain words differently from you or me. I don't really understand the point of this question. To the OP, are you that irked that someone might pronounce a word differently from you or are you simply being pompous? Are you that convinced that your way is the only way? I have an aunt who grew up in the same city as I did, but came from an Irish background. Her parents' accents were essentially the same as hers and mine. Yet, she pronounces the word "garage" as GAIR-ahge, while I pronounce it gah-RAHJ. Why the difference? Who knows. Why do some say GAY-la instead of GAH-la? It's simply an issue of influences during formative years, IMHO. I don't berate someone for saying PECK-an, pih-CAHN, PEE-can or pee-CAHN, no matter how I personally pronounce it. "Po-TAY-to, po-TAH-to, to-MAY-to, to-MAH-to. Let's call the whole thing off".

                    1. re: 1sweetpea

                      the one that always got me was the ex saying in SHU rance

                      1. re: thew

                        Well, how do YOU say it? Are you a Brit/Canuck/Aussie?

                        1. re: pikawicca

                          It's really common in the South to hear "IN-shure-ence", and most of the US says "in-SHURE-ence", not "in-SHOE-rence".

                      2. re: 1sweetpea

                        Actually, I do not consider myself, nor do I consider the tone of my post to be pompous. When I state " kills me"--I am merely saying those words in a tone of curiosity and fascination. Is my way the only way? No--perhaps not for others but for me it is--the way I pronounce the words is easier for me--whether correct or incorrect. Growing up with Grandparents from Ireland, there are not only certain words I've pronounced differently than from my peers, but there are words I've used replacing others--for example: rather than use "expensive", we've grown up saying "dear". My dad never used the word "zero"--he always used "naught" and instead of the letter "z"--we grew up hearing "zed". To state that this post is pompous--well--it's just pompous. This post was meant as "food for thought" --nothin' more--nothin less!

                        1. re: jarona

                          I didn't mean to seem hostile or to cause any offense to you jarona. I just got the impression (tongue-in-cheek, perhaps) that you thought others were incorrect in their pronunciations of certain words. Using completely different words to describe the very same thing is definitely regional/cultural. I find that aspect of the English language fascinating. I love hearing an Aussie refer to a bathing suit/swimsuit as a "tog" or "swim tog". That's a colloquialism. It makes me curious as to what I might say that would cause someone from another country to wonder what I mean. I'd love to know. I try to enjoy the linguistic quirks that abound. To attempt to explain them, though, might be worth a PhD dissertation in regional linguistic variations.

                          1. re: 1sweetpea

                            No offense taken--sometimes the written word can take on an entirely different tone than the spoken. The "tog" "swimtog" thing reminds me of the "jumper" for "sweater" that my grandmother always used and the "nappies" for "diapers".
                            Speaking of pronounciations--the first time my fiance used the word "corinishon"(sp)--I thought he was talking about "cornish hens"--my NY accent and his French accent clash. A lot!

                            1. re: jarona

                              That's awesome. Here's an outright mistake that I found endearing in my own SO: he said that such and such "passed mustard", instead of "passed muster". I had to hold back my laughter. Of couse, I once said: "mis-chee-vee-ous", instead of "mischievous", as a result of a mispronunciation by my dad. My SO looked at me, stunned, and asked if I was serious. Now that's tact! Needless to say, I haven't done it since. :-)

                              1. re: 1sweetpea

                                OK. I am ROTFLMAO right now. I ALWAYS say "mis-chee-vee-ous"--always! Not only that, but speaking of mustard (ha ha)--at home my SO says "moo-tar" rather than the "mus-tid" that I pronounce:)

                                1. re: jarona

                                  Moo-tar - that's more or less the French pronunciation of their word for mustard, moutarde. Is he a Francophone?

                          2. re: 1sweetpea

                            You say car-MEEN-uh, I say car-MINE-uh. Let's Carl the whole thing Orff.

                            A lot of the almond farmers around Sacramento (home of the Blue Diamond company) pronounce it as a-mon First syllable rhymes with "can." No audible "l" anywhere in the word.

                            According to a friend who has an almond orchard, the farmers understand that it's an unconventional pronunciation, but they know that the nuts are gathered using mechanical harvesters that grip the trees around their trunks and shake the "L" out of them.

                            1. re: 1sweetpea

                              I've heard "to-MAH-to," but never "po-TAH-to." Don't think anyone actually says this.

                          3. re: RosemaryHoney

                            My Alabama-native mother said exactly the same thing about the "pee-can" under the bed. She made pah-CAHN pies, thank you very much!

                            1. re: MsMaryMc

                              It's odd - I have no Southern in me - SW PA family, grew up in Europe/Canada and I also say 'pah-CAHN'.

                          4. I say puh-cahn, and cara-mel, except for "caramel corn" which is always car-mul for some reason. Weird.

                            1. Each of this is a regional variant in the USA. All correct in their respective regions. Having been raised in the NY area to parents from CT, gone to college in the upper South, and living for a generation in eastern New England, my own accent is quite the mongrel.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Karl S

                                CARE-a-mul, puh-CAN, and AH-mond, here in BAH-stun.

                                1. re: Karl S

                                  I've lived all over, too, from Texas to Ohio to Boston to NJ to England to... I had a linguist (professor) who loved pinpointing people based on accent peg me as being from southern California back when I had never lived there (have since). I peg it to having watched too much Brady Bunch in my younger days and wanting to be Marcia Brady. Marcia, Marcia, Marcia. It's probably why I say "Pork Chops and applesauce for dinner" in an odd way.

                                  But, having lived all over, I'd heard all the variations of all those words.