Mispronounced food words: can you say chorizo?

Even the BBC pronounces 'restaurateur' incorrectly, and contestants on The Taste seem unable to say 'cardamom'. Which food solecisms wind you up – and which words do you struggle to pronounce?

A red-faced BBC was recently forced to amend the trailer for its new series The Restaurant Man, after complaints that the voiceover mispronounced the word "restaurateur" by inserting an errant "n". The complaints were not made by aurally assaulted viewers, but the show's own presenter Russell Norman, who finds this common solecism all too depressing. He told eagle-eared Twitter followers, who had also noted the Beeb's boob, that it had taken "a little effort" on his part to get the trailer changed.

"I don't correct people who mispronounce it," Norman later told me. "But I will explain patiently if they are curious that the word derives from the French verb restaurer, to restore. So a restaurateur is someone who restores, and he or she does that restoring in a restaurant."

At the risk of succumbing to what Stephen Fry decries as the "vice" of word pedantry, I say: three cheers for Norman. Sometimes it seems that the mispronunciation of food words has become a contagion. If you tuned in to The Taste's recent spice episode, you might have noticed contestants (some of whom are professional chefs) busily adding "cardamon" to their spoons, leaving it to guest judge Yotam Ottolenghi (the patron saint of the spice) to locate the missing "m".

I ask Richard Ehrlich, the chairman of the Guild of Food Writers, whether it is wrong to hurl a bread roll at the television screen when food words are mispronounced. "It is very important for food professionals to say things correctly," he assures me. "For broadcasting professionals especially, a mispronounced word can become common parlance, and the integrity of the word can be lost."

He says many people, including those whose work involves food, come verbally unstuck when it comes to foreign food terms, such as daube (dobe not dawb) or saute (sowtay not sawtay). I hang my own head in shame when it comes to chorizo. I feel so awkward uttering the Castilian "th" that I end up mumbling the word incoherently into my menu (it's choreetho or choreeso, not choritzo).

Evidently, I'm in good company. "One of the most eminent chefs of modern times doesn't pronounce daube correctly," Ehrlich says, declining to name the culprit. "But we wouldn't like it if food professionals from France or Italy pronounced sausage as sowsage.

"Whenever someone speaks professionally about food, they have an obligation to know and convey the correct pronunciation. It's not about showing off, but showing respect for the dish or ingredient you're talking about. A nod in the direction of correctness is all I am asking for."

I completely agree. The problem is, correctness is a tricky thing. Which of these discombobulated food words winds you up the most? And how do you say them?

Strong black coffee made by forcing steam through ground coffee beans has no "x". It might not take long to drink it, but it's not expresso.

Why do so many US TV chefs mangle the word for the Italian cheese by pronouncing it rigoata? Why? It is pronounced pretty much as it is spelled: ree-cot-a.

Admittedly this Thai word is tricky, but watch this short clip about the cult spicy sauce and you'll never be confused again. Say it: see-ra-cha.

Another tongue-twister for many people, who mispronounce the smoked and dried jalapeño pepper as chipoltay. Wrong. It's chi-poat-lay.

Mmm. There is division about whether the bright yellow spice is pronounced tur-mer-ik or too-mer-ik. I say it's the former, but whatever it is, it's not choomerick.

The universal cue for Italian waiters to roll their eyes in despair. "Ch" in Italian is pronounced "k", so it's broo-sket-tah – not, not, not brooshedda.

This ubiquitous South American pseudo-grain is insanely popular, despite the fact that many people don't have a clue how to say it. The majority view is keen-wah, although some people I know insist on kee-noah.

I have no idea how to correctly pronounce this Vietnamese noodle soup – some say "foe" and others say "fuh". Apparently it varies from region to region. As a result, I generally just point at the menu.

High on my pet-hate list is the the North American pronunciation of herb without an "h". Eeuugh. Some experts, however, insist that it's not an Americanism, because the h was not pronounced on either side of the Atlantic when the colonies were settled. This fact does not make me cringe any less when someone describes basil as an erb.

An interesting one. Norman befuddles me by saying he knowingly mispronounces culinary, a word he claims should be pronounced kewlin-erry. Online editions of the Cambridge, Collins and Macmillan dictionaries say that in standard British speech it is pronounced kul-inary, while in American usage it can also be kyoo-linary. "If you pronounce it properly, people think you are odd or just plain wrong," Norman says. "This is known in linguistic and etymological circles as a 'lost cause'. Sometimes it's easier to go with the flow." Indeed.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Sue Quinn, for theguardian.com on Thursday 13th February 2014 11.20 Europe/London

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image: © Simon Pearson