Food & Drink

11 Food Names You're Probably Saying Wrong

Gyro, mascarpone, Moet et Chandon, and more.

Here's a little food for thought: You, yes, you, the foodie par excellence who embraced gnocchi long before the masses, might not be quite as in-the-know as you think. Your taste buds are on point, your cooking is sublime, but there's the little matter of how you talk about that fabulous gnocchi you made. In other words, you're saying it wrong.

It's a common problem for even the savviest of food lovers. Food-related words are among those most frequently mispronounced by otherwise smart individuals. How can you be sure you don't wind up with, well, a bad taste in your mouth?

Here, excerpted from our new book You're Saying It Wrong, are eleven of the most commonly mispronounced words that even food lovers forget sometimes.

BOOl-yen or BOOl-yon (with a very light l sound)
clear meat or vegetable broth, used as a base for soups and stews


Unless you're trying to make a 14K golden stew or sterling silver soup, bouillon should be pronounced as "BOO(l)-yen" or "BOO(L)-yon," with a very light l sound (bullion"BULL-yan"refers to gold or silver bars. However (and this is where word origins are fun) both buillon and bullion in English come from the same French word, bouillir, to boil or, more specifically, "buillon" (boiling). In the case of the metal bullion, the boiling referred to is the molten metal used to make gold or silver bars. In the case of the soup bouillon, of course, it referred to boiling broth.

(Just to be tricky, though, the French no longer typically say bouillon for their gold or silver bullion. They use the word lingotswhich, when you think about it, should be familiar to English speakers who use the word ingots.)

Italian specialty antipasto---grilled bread with olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, salt and pepper, sometimes also with cheese and other toppings. 


Here's a food we've loved for years that we've always pronounced "broo-SHET-ta"and no one ever corrected us. Probably the waiters were too polite (or they didn't know either). In a survey of the most commonly mispronounced food words done by the Chicago Tribune, bruschetta easily made it to the top ten.


For the record, it's pronounced "broo-SKEH-tah"with a hard ch sound, as in modern Italian. The word comes from the old Tuscan dialect and is derived from the word bruscare meaning "to roadt over coals." Ant that word probably comes from the late Latin word brusicare, to burn, which suggests that this delicious dish was probably eaten as far back as in the days of Julius Caesar. Then it was a humble farmers' dish: a hunk of moistened stale bread toasted over a fire then rubbed with olive oil and garlic (but no tomatoesthey didn't make it to Europe until the 1500s.)

Quick tip for food snobs: If you want to sound truly knowledgeable and annoying, when ordering more than one bruschetta, use the correct plural: not bruschettas, but bruschette.

COO-min, KYOO-min or CUH-min
spice made of the seeds of a plant of the parsley family, used most often in Indian and Mexican food; also the plant itself that bears the seeds


Cumin is a spice with an identity problem. It is most frequently pronounced "COO-min," but dictionaries also include "KYOO-min," and  "CUM-min" — as in, "Come in and tell me how to pronounce this annoying word." Until very recently, this latter pronunciation was the only one listed in most dictionaries. But just as more people began using the spice itself, so too more people began saying it with either the long u ("COO") or with what's called a y-glide ("KYOO") so lexicographers added these pronunciations; some even making them preferred way to say cumin … which is where we are now.


Cumin comes from the Old English cymen, by way of the Latin cuminum, which was from the Greek kuminon — which probably evolved from Hebrew's kammon and Arabic's kammun. It has been spelled numerous ways including commin, commin(e), comeyn, cummyn, and comyn—none of which seem like they'd have the "KYOO "sound at all … which makes us wonder about the "COO" as well. So which is right? Since variety is the spice of life, let's just let them co-exist, although personally we're in the "COO-min" camp.

Italian thick, soft dough dumplings, first course alternative to soup


Eat24, an online food delivery service, puts gnocchi  in their top ten list of mispronounced food words.  The problem is that Italian gnwhich has an ny sound. It shouldn't be that hard for us English speakers to say correctly, however.  After all, the Italian gn is already familiar —most us say lasagna correctly.

The problem with gnocchi, though, is that gnis at the beginning, and in English, an initial gis usually silent (as in gnome); the is sounded like normal English.  (Except for gnu, which can be pronounced "nyu," but usually isn't.)  

Gnocchi, as you may have guessed is plural. In the extremely unlikely event you want only one of these small foods, ask for a gnoccho; that's the singular. But that would be like asking for a strand of spaghetti. You'll probably get stares even if you do pronounce the singular correctly.

sandwich made from meat roasted on a rotating spit, served in a pita, usually with tomatoes, onions, and tzaziki (garlic yogurt) sauce


Gyro, the Greek meat sandwich, comes from the Greek gyros—circle, or turning—in this case referring to succulent meat cooking on a slowly rotating spit. Most Americans pronounce gyro with an English soft g sound (as with gyroscope, which has the same word origin). But to the Greek guy slicing the roasted meat you just ordered off the spit, that sounds very, very wrong.  The problem is that modern Greek doesn't have a j or sound. The is pronounced like a breathy y instead —"yee" (the with an ee sound).


If you want to sound super correct, you should also add an s—as in gyros—which is the correct Greek singular.  Just don't say doner, unless you're in a Turkish restaurant. Doner is the Turkish word for gyros, and according to Oxford food experts the Turks actually established the modern cooking technique. The Greeks just later changed the word. The Greek word stuck into American English since American Greeks are primarily responsible for mass producing gyros. Today there are over 50,000 gyro spits turning all over America ... all pronounced YEER-oh.  

alcoholic liquor sweetened and flavored, usually strong, typically served after dinner


This type of sweetened and flavored after-dinner drink poses problems for the would-be sophisticate. Rather than the oh-so-declasse "li-KERR," they'll ask their server for a "li-KYOOR." Needless to say, all they've proven is that they're misinformed.

It's that "ueu" combo that gets 'em every time. It's a vowel string that doesn't often occur in English, but does in French … which is where liqueur came from in the eighteenth century from the French liqueur, liquor or liquid. With the "ueu" it looks like it should be at the least an "oo" sound, if not a "yoo," as in "queue." But there's no "yoo" in French, where it's LEE-kerr (with that soft back of the throat r that is so difficult for Americans.)  

The preferred pronunciation in the U.S. is the straightforward li-KERR, similar to the French but with the stress on the second syllable. If you really can't stand the sound, you can get away with the British "li-KYIR"—which, while not the preferred, also appears as a pronunciation in American dictionaries. But "li-KYOOR" is only an affectation, something that will drive most educated people to, well, drink. So don't ask for a "li-KYOOR"  (and never ask for a Per-NOD either...).


mas-car-POH-neh or mas-car-POH-nay
mild Italian soft cheese made from cow's milk

Let's start with the three basics about the creamy soft cheese mascarpone: 1) There is no r in the first syllable. 2) It has four syllables. 3) Did we mention there is no r in the first syllable?

But all too often people who should know better, including chefs, food critics, and Italian-Americans, say "MARScapone" (much like Al Capone but with a "mars" instead).  


The word and the cheese both come from the Lombardy region of Italy. No one is absolutely sure of its origins, but one possibility is that it derived from mascarpa or mascarpia, a type of local ricotta cheese. This makes sense because both cheeses are made in similar ways. There's another more far-fetched but interesting origin story put forth by two Italian etymologists in the 1970s. They theorize that it evolved from the classical Latin mascarpi?, a word used by ribald Roman author Petronius that some scholars think alluded to masturbation—and point out that in southern Italy the phrase far ricotta, "to make ricotta," is a slang way of saying "to masturbate." This theory is by no means widely accepted (and, admittedly, a bit too evocative to think about when eating the tasty cheese …)

Moët et Chandon
famous French champagne


If you want to sound like a true sophisticate, pronounce the final t in Moët. Many people don't, thinking they're sounding more French that way. But Moët should sound more Dutchthan French.

The founder of this famous French champagne company, official supplier to Queen Elizabeth among others around the world, had a Dutch name, not a French one, so he pronounced his name the Dutch way with a sounded t at the end. It's "Mwett," (either alone or in combination with etChandon), not "Moay."  That's how the French say it, that's how it's pronounced in top New York restaurants, and that's (probably) how Queen Elizabeth pronounces it as well.  And, of course, don't pronounce the t in et.

Pronouncing Moet correctly can actually lead to problems, according to Helen Vause, public relations spokesperson for Moët & Chandon in New Zealand. "When I say it the right way people often look slightly embarrassed and think, 'She doesn't know how to pronounce it, poor dear.'" Maybe she instead should order Veuve Clicquot, the great rivals to Moët, instead, being careful to not pronounce the tin Clicquot.


dish of ground meat (such as lamb or beef) and layered sliced vegetables, often eggplant, with bechamel sauce

Even the Oxford English Dictionary gets this wrong—it's not the commonly said "moo-SAH-kah," nor is it "MOO-sah-kah." The preferred foodie and Greek restaurant pronunciation of this famous dish has the accent on the last syllable, just like the Greek word for this dish, moussakas. (But in English, we just leave off the last s.)


So when in Greek restaurants do as the Greeks do, order "moo-sah-KAH." But maybe you shouldn't tell your Greek waiter what the Oxford English Dictionary says about this dish so beloved in Greece—that the word actually came to Greek via their once arch-enemies, the Turks, from the Arabic word musaqq?, "that which is fed liquid", referring perhaps to the bechamel sauce.  Just stick with the correct accent and you'll be fine.

Vietnamese noodles, served in a beef (and sometimes chicken) broth


Here's a well known foodie joke to remind you how to pronounce these wonderful Vietnamese noodles: Q: What do you call a line in Vietnamese noodle shop? A: Phô Queue.

Groan. But yes, it's pronounced "fuh"—a slightly rolling uh sound, as in fur without the r or almost exactly like the French word for fire, feu. And sure enough, many linguists trace the beginnings of pho back to Hanoi of the 1860s under French colonial rule, and perhaps to pot-au-feu (pot on the fire)—the name for a classic Burgundian beef stew made with vegetables.

Before then, the Vietnamese rarely ate beef, but with the French, it became a major food item (although phô can also be made with chicken, called phô ga). The Vietnamese added noodles to the "pot" and then chopped off the "pot-au" from the classic French dish's name, and thus a new all-Vietnamese classic was created. But others (particularly in China) trace phô's origins to the beef-eating Chinese, with a Chinese word for noodles, fentransmogrifying to fuh in Vietnamese.  Whatever the origins, at least everyone agrees on one thing: it's not pronounced "fo."


vee-shee-SWHAZ or vi-shee-SWHAZ
a French leek and potato soup, usually served cold

We include this soup because our mother like millions of others always insisted on mispronouncing it as "vee-shee-SWA" and not as it should sound—"vee"- or "vi-sh-SWHAZ." This is a famous example of what happens when people take loan words from other languages and blithely apply what they think are the rules of that language to those words. They're usually incorrect, since they usually don't speak the other languages.    


Vichyssoise is probably mispronounced as "vee-shee-SWA" by our soup-making Mom and others because they've heard that the French very often don't pronounce the last sounds of written words. But the French do pronounce the final part of "oise" words. That "oise" has a characteristically French "waz" sound that only the French can really say). Interestingly, there is another word in English that comes from French Revolutionary and later Marxist times that also has that "waz" sound—bourgeoisie— meaning middle classes … those people who, we assume, were avid consumers of vichyssoise soup.

This story originally appeared on
* Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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