Picture the scene: you’re browsing the menu at a fancy restaurant before you settle on a dish that sounds delicious but reads like an unfamiliar jumble of letters. A cold sweat begins to descend. The waiter draws closer. It’s now or never – but just how exactly are you going to say vichyssoise* out loud?
Lots of food and drink can be truly tongue-tying to pronounce, especially if you’ve never heard it said aloud before. The name of a dish or beverage lifted straight from another language may have confusing letter combinations and foreign characters that native English speakers aren’t able to pronounce intuitively. Some letter and sound combinations that are common in one language might not be present at all in another, like the Spanish rolled ‘r.’
The names of imported foods that have long been a part of U.S. culture, like spaghetti, may roll off the tongue with ease – but words like pão de queijo (pown·deh·kay·zho) or cviček (tsvee·chek) will likely pose a challenge to the average American.
But have you ever wondered which foods and drinks from around the world are the most mispronounced of all? Using an online pronunciation library as a guide, our analysts at WordTips went in search of answers.
*(Psst – it’s vee·shee·swahz.)
We found a list of foods and drinks local to (but not necessarily originating from) 130 countries on TasteAtlas, then searched them on Forvo, a library of user-submitted pronunciation recordings. We considered food and drink with a higher number of listens to be the most mispronounced.
Our research reveals the local foods that people mispronounce the most. Chorizo, a type of Spanish smoked sausage, is the most mispronounced of all based on the amount of times its pronunciation has been listened to online (22 million).
Back in 2017, the humble sausage famously divided UK viewers of the TV show MasterChef, who took to Twitter to share their own beliefs as to how its name should be pronounced. The fact that the word has several accepted pronunciations internationally – from cho·ri·tho in Spain to chur·ree·zow in the U.S. – only adds to the evidently widespread confusion.
Hummus (huh·muhs), a chickpea-based dip originating from the Middle East, is the most mispronounced food local to five countries, including Iraq and Israel. No doubt contributing to the word’s ambiguity is the fact that it can also be spelled houmous and is widely pronounced hoo·muhs in the UK and elsewhere.
One common factor among some of the most mispronounced food and drinks in our analysis is that they have more than one accepted pronunciation. The most mispronounced drink in the world with 1.4 million listens online is rioja, a wine that hails from the Spanish region of the same name. While Spanish speakers will likely pour a glass of rrio·ha, American and British speakers will respectively say ree·ow·huh and ree·ock·uh.
The letter ‘j’ – which gives rioja its ‘h’ sound in Spanish – is pronounced entirely differently elsewhere in the world. In five countries, rakija is the most mispronounced local drink and is widely pronounced as rak·ee·ya in its native Balkans, where ‘j’ often sounds like an English ‘y’ sound.
The most mispronounced American drink is bourbon, a word with French origins. Though pronounced buh·buhn in the U.S., a British speaker will likely pronounce it as baw·buhn and associate the word more with a type of cookie than a beverage.
Cuisine in the U.S. is a rich smorgasbord (smor·guhs·bord) of dishes; from the nationally recognized, like the hot dog or apple pie, to culinary creations synonymous with one town or even restaurant (garbage plate, anyone?), there’s a lot out there to get your tongue around – and we don’t just mean the taste.
The most mispronounced American food, according to our analysis, is the burger (burr·gr), which has been listened to 886,000 times on the online pronunciation library Forvo. The German-origin word has been borrowed by lots of languages, and each carries different pronunciations, from boer·geur in French to boor·gair in Italian – likely the cause of the word’s ambiguity.
Also on the list is pecan pie (93,000 listens), which even Americans can’t agree on how to pronounce; with the nation split between pea·can and puh·con, the American Pecan Council held a poll in 2020 to find out once and for all which pronunciation was more popular. While puh·con took the crown with a two-thirds (65.94%) majority, one in three Americans (most likely in the south) prefer pea·can.
If you’re still scratching your head at some of the most mispronounced foods and drinks we’ve uncovered, you’re in good company; nobody gets through life without coming across a word they have no idea how to pronounce. As we’ve discovered, even words that have an established, widely accepted pronunciation in one place can be correctly pronounced differently somewhere else. Explore the table below to discover the most mispronounced food and drinks from where you live and around the world.
Whether you’re at home at a local restaurant or dining out on vacation, there’s no need to fear stumbling on a word you’re not quite sure about. Thankfully, these days, it’s never been easier to find out how to pronounce a troublesome word, as the internet is packed with resources – from dictionaries to videos to dedicated online pronunciation libraries like Forvo – to help you on your way.
So if you ever find yourself in a restaurant and you can’t quite wrap your head around the name of a tasty-looking dish or drink – stay calm, hold your head high, and do your best; it’s very likely that nobody is judging you at all. Bon appétit!
We began our analysis by finding a sample of foods and drinks local to (but not necessarily originating from) 130 countries on TasteAtlas. We then searched each food and drink on Forvo, a library of user-submitted pronunciation recordings. The higher the number of listens on Forvo, the more often mispronounced we considered a particular food or drink.
Our world analysis excludes foods and drinks with fewer than 100 listens on Forvo. The data was collected in August 2022.