Food, Travel and Tech

13 food words most commonly mispronounced by Americans—and how to say them the right way

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Most of us have no problem pronouncing the vast majority of foods: Turkey, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie. No biggie.

But thanks to our increasingly diverse world — and increasingly diverse cuisines — there's been an increase in food words that a lot of Americans don't know how to say.

Here's a list of some of the most commonly pronounced words, so you can sound like a true gourmet!

1. Au jus 


Au jus is a term used to describe meat dishes served with their own juices. Because it's French, it's (logically) pronounced in the French way: Not "oh-juice," but with a soft zh and no ending s sound.

One other thing: Au jus literally means "with juice," so you shouldn't say something comes with au jus. We've seen this mistake hundreds of times on menus. French dip with au jus? Mais non! 

2. Açaí


It is difficult not to come across açaí berries nowadays, especially in juices and smoothies, so it's a pity that so many of us can't say the word correctly.

We once heard an employee at a large beverage chain confidently say it's pronounced "ak-a-ee," while another called him an idiot. That's a little harsh, so let's politely clear things up: It's not "ACK-ah-ee" or "ah-KAI" or "ah-SIGH." It's "ah-sigh-EE."

3. Bruschetta


Whenever we ordered this Italian antipasto — grilled bread with olive oil, garlic and tomatoes — we always pronounce it as "brooshetta" ... and no one ever corrected us.

For the record, it's "broo-skeh-tah" with a hard ch sound. The problem is, it's so often mispronounced that we've been corrected even when we say it the right way!

4. Croissant

kwah-SAHNT (or kwah-SAHWN, with a soft French n)

Many foodies face a dilemma when ordering a croissant: Should they try to sound French and say "krwah-SAN?" Or should they opt for an American-French combo and say "kwah-sahnt?" Or should they go phonetic and say "CROSS-ant?"

We suggest going with "kwah-SAHN." (At least you're trying, but not to a ridiculous degree!)

5. Crudités


This word entered the English vocabulary in the 1960s, when the concept of raw veggies arranged on a plate around a cup of ranch dressing was the height of sophisticated cocktail party food.

But the word itself actually comes from 14th century French, crudité. And you would be giving this word a raw deal if you Americanized it and said "KROO-dites" or "KRUD-ites." 

6. Gyro


Gyros — lamb or beef sandwiches on pita with tomatoes, onions and tzatziki sauce — get their name from how they're cooked: On a slowly spinning spit.

In Greek, gyro means rotating or circle, as in GYROscope. But the sandwich isn't pronounced the same way. It's not "JYE-ro." Instead, the g is like breathy y. So it becomes "yee."

7. Iced tea

ICED tea

Many Americans say this as "ice" tea, without the d. But it really should be "iced," because that describes what was done to the tea; it was iced or cooled by means of ice. 

8. Moussaka


Moussaka is a dish of ground meat layered with sliced vegetables, usually with eggplant and creamy white sauce. If you're ordering some at a Greek restaurant, pronounce it the (correct) way, with the accent or emphasis on the "KAH," not the popular "moo-SAH-kah."

9. Pho


It's tempting to pronounce this popular Vietnamese dish of noodles served in broth as "FOE." But it's actually "fuh," kind of like saying fur without the r, almost exactly like the French word for fire, "feu."

Indeed, some say this dish was influenced by French and Chinese cooking, while others say it is solely Vietnamese. But we should all agree that it's pronounced "fuh."

10. Quinoa


Quinoa is hot these days, even if this grain alternative isn't necessarily served that way. It's also hot on the list of mispronounced food words, probably because of its spelling.

It came via Spanish from the Quechua people of Peru, who pronounced it "keenwa." The Spanish transliterated it their own way, and by the time it got to the U.S., thousands of us were mispronouncing it as "kwe-no-a."  

11. Sherbet


Sherbet doesn't rhyme with Herbert. But for some reason (and no one really knows why), many people throw an extra r before the t.

(Incidentally, want to know the difference between sherbet and sorbet? Sherbet has added dairy. Sorbet doesn't. And it's "sor-BAY," not "sor-BET" or "sor-BERT.")

12. Spaghetti aglio e olio

spah-GET-tee AH-lyo OH-lyo

This traditional dish from Naples — spaghetti sautéed with garlic (aglio) in olive oil (olio) — is easy to make, but it isn't easy to say because of that "aglio."

A lot of people go phonetic and say "AGG-lee-oy ee OH-lee-oh," but that's not the Italian way. Instead, say "AH-lyo," let the e that follows slide in with the "OH-lyo," and you'll sound like you're from Napoli.

13. Vichyssoise

vee-shee-SWHAZ or vi-shee-SWHAZ 

We include this famous French leek and potato soup because our mother, like so many others, has always insisted on mispronouncing it as "vee-shee-SWA," and not with the (correct) "SWHAZ" at the end.

This is probably because people have heard that the French very often don't pronounce the ends of words. But they do pronounce the final part of "oise" words as "whaz."

Kathy and Ross Petras are the brother-and-sister co-authors of "Awkword Moments: A Lively Guide to the 100 Terms Smart People Should Know," "You're Saying It Wrong" and "That Doesn't Mean What You Think It Means: The 150 Most Commonly Misused Words and Their Tangled Histories." Their work has been featured in The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post and Harvard Business Review. 

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