Five Commonly Mispronounced Mexican Food Terms that Americans Shouldn't Mispronounce
There was a time in our nation's history where Mexican restaurants--whether fast-food taco empires or El Torito Cal-Mex ambassadors--published pronunciation guides to aide customers in properly ordering their meals. Some of those places still exist, but you'd have to be an absolute pendejo in this day and age to not know that the double-l in tortilla is pronounced like a y, that taco is pronounced with a short A instead of a long one (the infamous "tay-co"), and that a tilde over the -n in jalapeño produces a funny sound.
Indeed, Mexican cooking and ingredients in this country is now so commonplace that all Americans should know how to pronounce most Mexican food terms. Sure, some like huitlacoche or tlacoyo might still understandably twist tongues, but there are no excuses for others. Following are five Mexican food terms that no American should mispronounce--yet they do again and again.
Two mispronounced words in one bag...
Usually mispronounced as: Chi-pot-l
Comments: American English mandates that the -e in words ending with -le remain silent, while Spanish requires every pinche letter get pronounced. Immediate problem, right? Weird thing is, America's largest burrito chain uses this name, yet I've never once heard anyone mispronounce the end too much (the American way of saying it comes out as Chi-pot-lay). But if you ask most Americans for the name of the pepper? Out comes a jumble of consonants where they should be none.
Usually mispronounced as: Hah-lah-pee-no
The tilde doesn't exist in English, so Americans can be excused for not knowing when to use it for most words--but not for this one. Jalapeños have existed in ballparks for decades, the pepper is the muse for hot-sauce freaks, and it's probably the one Spanish word Americans will say have a tilde if you ask them on the spot. Yet even on the Food Network, people will still mispronounce jalapeño by dropping the tilde sound for no reason. What's even more bizarre is...
Usually mispronounced as: Hah-bah-nye-ro
...A lot of Americans add the tilde sound to habanero where none exists! Who can explain this misplaced reversing? It makes about as much sense as one word having it while the other doesn't (quick historical etymological lesson: both peppers get their words from demonyms: Jalapeño refers to someone from Xalapa, the Veracruzan city where jalapeños first achieved fame, while Habanero is someone who lives in Havana--or Habana, en español)
Photo by Das Ubergeek
Usually mispronounced as: Muh-lay
Dave ranted earlier about this word and the clueless gabachos putting accents where none belong, but I'm a bit more forgiving. Remember earlier in this list, when we discussed how the English language silences the -e in words using the -le phoneme? Americans do understand that the Mexican dish of slow-cooked, impossibly rich sauce isn't pronounced the same as the scourge of English gardens. But in their good will, many put an accent on the e, so the word is spelled molé. Problem is, the word carries no accent in Spanish (the tonal emphasis is on the second-to-last syllable, as is the rule in words that end with vowels) and if pronounced with the stress on the -e, will result in muffled laughs from Mexis.
Usually mispronounced as: ta-mah-lee
This final entry isn't a case of mispronunciation but rather outright mongrelization, at least to the most vocal of Mexicans (myself, amazingly, not included for this argument). What's the problem? The singular in Spanish for tamales is tamal, and PC pendejos will insist that the singular in English, tamale, is wrong and Americans should say tamal instead of tamale as to not allow Manifest Destiny to claim another Mexican culinary icon ala chili. Those folks should team up with the French officials who monitor the language for any outside influence and go get a life--or, better yet, a tayco.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Orange County dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.