Five Commonly Mispronounced Mexican Food Terms that Americans Shouldn't Mispronounce

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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.

1. Chipotle
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Two mispronounced words in one bag...

Pronounced: Chee-poht-leh

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.

2. Jalapeño
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Pronounced: Hah-lah-pay-nyo

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...

3. Habanero

Pronounced: Hah-bah-ne-ro

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)

4. Mole
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Photo by Das Ubergeek

Pronounced: Moh-leh

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.

5. Tamale
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Pronounced: ta-mah-lee
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.

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79 comments
TheRefriedMexican
TheRefriedMexican

This list is missing number one! I worked at Fiesta Foods inside Knott's Berry Farm during my teen years and at Del Taco for one summer. By far the most mispronounced food (and its not even close) was "QUESADILLA". Of course people got the "QUESA" right but not the "DILLA". Nobody ever mispronounced jalapeño. As far as mole, that's not even one of the more popular Mexican dishes (even among Mexicans). So those two should not even be on the list.

Sean
Sean

Maybe you mispronounce these words if you live somewhere other than SoCal. In SoCal, you here these words all the time. Mexican food is part of Southern California living. When our New Jersey friends visit, all they want to eat is Mexican food. They say they can't get Mexican food (other than Taco Bell... gag!) where they live.

debaser
debaser

My first job was at the Jack-in-the-Box in Anaheim on State College.  Working the drive thru:  Mexicans would order "Yumbo Yacks" and Anglos would order "Super Take-O's."  Seemed to me that some education on both sides was needed.

Shenanigans
Shenanigans

My favorite is "Chimmy-Chang-Ga"...hahahaha

Whhackett3
Whhackett3

Of course, we've accepted the way terms such as "Los AnJeles" are pronounced for years.

Whhackett3
Whhackett3

I have to say that unless you grew up listening to these words being pronounced because they referred to what your Nana or Tia had put on the table you are at a disadvantage.  I never heard the "T" in Taco or "Tamales" (who eats just one?) pronounced the way it would be pronounced in English.  While my Mom did not teach my siblings and I to speak Spanish she never mispronounced a single word.  Indeed, while I will NEVER eat sesos I do, at times, enjoy nopales with my scrambled eggs and make some mean chorizo (in true Leprecano fashion).

martin
martin

Gustavo have you seen the new Pepsi campain in Mexico? Pepsi is now "PECSI' right on the container, pretty funny. Cauhtemoc Blanco did the commercial. So even in Mexico Pepsi is not pronounced nor spleed properly.

Thefool
Thefool

I'll start working on my pronunciation when you start using proper nouns, especially the names of cities, in their literally correct format.

MayhemInTheHood
MayhemInTheHood

I'm glad that I knew the correct pronunciations for all of these already. Although that's probably due to being corrected years ago by Mexican friends/co-workers.

As a reward for me not bastardizing any of these words, I ask that these same Mexican friends/co-workers pronounce my name right. It's Josh. Not Yoesh. We've known each other for years...can I just get that "J" in my name? Pretty please? Ahh, who am I kidding...

Ecbrightwell
Ecbrightwell

How many "Mexican" words are cases of Mexicans and Spaniards mispronouncing Nahuatl words? Maybe people that mispronounce "chipotle" are actually moving toward "chilpoktli"... OK, maybe not ;)

Stew
Stew

Making fun of the way "foreigners" pronounce words from another's language is so funny! Wow, this article is spot on.  Every time I hear them Japaneseses try to speak English, I just can't help picturing them with their buck teeth in the rice paddies, working so hard so that we can have our "flied lice." Hahahaha.  Or are they Chineseses? Oh, who cares -- they all rook arike, right, Gustavo! LOL or is it ROR?!  

Carlos the Jackal
Carlos the Jackal

Ummm..., did we forget something in the word "Habanero"???The "H" is ALWAYS silent, you jack wagon!!!!

In Spanish, the letter "J" is pronounced like an "H".

Yorico1man
Yorico1man

the H is silent in habanero, and a single Tamal is not tamale.

Michael Carbajal
Michael Carbajal

A typical way for racists to make fun of people whose heritage differs from theirs -- and that's a hallmark of the racist lifestyle -- is to ridicule the way they talk, since speech so clearly separates cultures. For example, racists often refer to Mexicans and Mexican-Americans as "spics," which disparages their pronunciation of the English word "speak." If you're of Mexican ancestry, and a racist called you or your friend or your grandmother a "spic," wouldn't you be ready to fight? You would if you have any dignity, and many Anglos would be right there with you, standing against the racists.

Yet, in the barely flickering soul of one Gustavo Arellano it's OK to belittle Anglos for mispronouncing Spanish words, even though most English speakers around these parts make a gallant attempt with Spanish, despite lacking serious training in the language and any experience living in a Spanish-speaking country. Wouldn't you love to hear what a Spanish professor from Mexico thinks of Arellano's fourth-generation OC suburban Spanglish? I'll bet that Mexican professor would also be much less forgiving than the average Anglo of how Mexican-Americans -- schooled in English and living in the U. S. -- constantly mangle English.

Yes, I understand that Arellano is a limited person, and limited people can easily get stuck in a rut. But the rut doesn't have to be racism! We can only hope he'll grow up eventually and learn the importance of treating people with dignity. Unfortunately, we're all having to live with his tarnished values until nature changes his course or some responsible boss takes action.

Or, rather, the rest of you are. Somebody give me a holler if the situation ever improves.

Alexthepelotero
Alexthepelotero

Gustavo are you still harrasing hueros over their mispronunciations? How bout us Mexicans butchering of the English language, stupid (es-too-pid)? Jell-O (Yellow), Hamburger (am-boor-gehr), Pizza (pee-sah). Man you harass too much, "Harass"!

Ctnlejo
Ctnlejo

How about a history lesson? The tamale is served on Christmas to insure everyone has something to unwrap

Torg T. Robot
Torg T. Robot

Tortilla

Pronounced: tor-tee-yaUsually mispronounced as: tor-till-ah (accent on the first syllable)

This is how I learned to pronounce 'tortilla' when I lived in Houston, Texas.  In Houston, people go out of their way to misprounounce words of Spanish origin. For example, the street named San Jacinto is pronounced "San Jack"!

Charlene Carlson Estrada
Charlene Carlson Estrada

Recently heard some people trying to order dinner at El Torito Grill in Torrance.  The man asked if there was "see-LAN-tro" in the "gwacamolee" and asked that the "pica-leelo de gallalo be put on a separate plate.  I mean really, how can you add that many sylllables to pico de gallo??  They honestly acted like they were in some exotic foreign land and needed help deciphering the menu.  More "tor-tiluhs" please!

Bill Essex
Bill Essex

A native, I have lived in Ca-lee-for-nya for 51 years. I have never heard one person, even my lily white relatives from Minnesota mis-pronounce taco, chipotle, or any of the other words as you describe. Me thinks you ran out of things to write. That said and with God as my witness the first "pendejo" who corrects me on my usage of tamale WILL get their neck cut...

martin
martin

Gustavo numero dos son serranos no jalapenos.

Stew
Stew

Now THAT'S responsible journalism.

Pepe
Pepe

That'll do pig, that'll do.

Dave Lieberman
Dave Lieberman

You seem to be offended well out of proportion with the scope of the article. It's confusing, because he's not being racist here. I have personally heard my own pasty white European people say all of these things ("hal-a-PEE-noh" drives the me most nuts). OK, to be fair, I've never heard "tay-koh" but I have heard "tack-oh", and here in California too.

One of the ways you get better food in restaurants owned by people not of your ethnicity is by pronouncing things reasonably close to correctly in the original language.

I would also like to point out that the Korean in the jalapeño picture is transliterately correctly—ha la pay nyo.

chee-poht-leh
chee-poht-leh

MIchael, this "shtick" is all Gustavo has in the world... that and replying to comments minutes after they're posted.  We should applaud his valiant journalist efforts to keep dumb expressions like "wab" alive and clearly understood so that racists outside of Santa Ana can keep their vocabularies picante! instead of always having to resort to "wetback." There's really nothing more to inter- and trans-cultural relations than to continue to polarize righteous "people of color" against those pink skinned, red necked, monolingual gabachos, so why pretend? Even if those bland, idiotic gabachos fluently speak other languages -- fluent Spanish among them -- and travel the world, let's pretend that they don't because we prefer denial.  We're really lucky to have this cultural ambassador among us to spread his knowledge.

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

Okay Michael aka Max Morales aka a hella lot of other pseudonyms: stick to one for your obtuse comments, or you get the boot. And that you think I'm "racist" says more about you than me, son!

martin
martin

The telephone hizo green, green, green. So I pinked it up and and dije "yellow".

Bill T.
Bill T.

Or the town "La Meesa".

Dave Lieberman
Dave Lieberman

Then you haven't got any relatives who make a Minnesota taco (pronounced "tack-o")... the, uh, pride of Southwest Minnesota taps.

Stew
Stew

neither faux nor sarcastic but impressive that a Mexican can adopt and use a French word, right? 

Christian Z.
Christian Z.

I actually knew a Mexican girl who would say tack-oh. Couldn't figure out how she could do that. Very nice person though.

Pepe
Pepe

Dear God, please stop torturing the English language! Read what you just wrote out loud and you'll see what I mean.Proust could get away with paragraphs that dense, whereas you're just dense.

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

Hey, "Stew": what I told Michael aka Max: No sock puppetry here, or you get deported to your batch of whiners.

martin
martin

Thatis it I'm having SAGARPA wright you a letter of dismisal.

Riqui64
Riqui64

You cooked the wrong ones.

Pepe
Pepe

Yes we heard you. Yes you're very interesting. Yes you're absolutely right to get your panties in a bunch because you don't get Gustavo's humor ... sigh.

Dave Lieberman
Dave Lieberman

Tu auras bientôt fini avec tes carabistouilles ? Nous nous en foutons, nous.

Dave Lieberman
Dave Lieberman

As the song says, "Out in the West Texas town of El Pass-O..."

Stew
Stew

Pee Pee's escared of esyllables. 

Riqui64
Riqui64

The jalapenhos are under the sign. You can barely see them. Good article though. Entertaining

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