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Charlie Hatton
Brookline, MA



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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

The Partly-Pronounced Pepper

I owe my mother an apology.

(No, not for a lousy Mother’s Day gift. I sent flowers. And they were LOVELY, thank you very much.

Yes, I know she’s obligated to say that, even if I sent a vase full of long-stemmed mummified cat turds. But I didn’t. I sent genuinely lovely flowers.

Besides. There’s no 1-800-CAT-TURD service. And CTTD doesn’t deliver on Sundays.)

Also, I’m not apologizing for poking mild fun at her recent computer virus infestation. I’ve been there. And I’m helping her to spec out a new one.

And I never told her to click on that monkey. You can’t win an iPad. Stove hot. This is how we learn, right, ma?

Rather, I owe my mom an apology — sort of — for a thing I’ve sometimes mocked her for. To be fair, my mocking was all done in my head. She never even knew about it; it was all imperceptible sad head shaking and rolling my eyes at her in my mind.

(Not rolling my eyes into my mind, of course. That’s not mockery. That’s a grand mal seizure. Different thing.

Just as a tip — if you find yourself writhing on the floor or swallowing your tongue while mocking someone, then you’re probably doing it wrong.

Or you just mocked someone with a wicked left hook. Either way, needs more work.)

“I learned something about the ‘soft c’ and ‘supple t’ and all sorts of other letters that sound like something you’d find in the Alphabet Sutra.”

So, here’s the thing.

(As an aside before the ‘thing’: I’ve become aware of using that transition a lot around here. It’s not a huge surprise — with the number of tangents and interjections and yes, parenthetical asides, there’s always a need to get back to the topic at hand. So “back at the ranch” and “to make a long story (marginally) short(er)” and the eponymous “where the hell was I?”, of course, tend to crop up a fair amount. I’ve just noticed myself typing “here’s the thing” a lot lately.

According to Google, sixty-three times total within these pages. The one up there makes sixty-four. Huh. I thought it’d be more than that, frankly.)

Anyway, where the hell was I? Ah, right, secretly mocking my mother. So, here’s the thing:

(Sixty-five!)

Mom cooks a fair amount, and she’s pretty good at it. Also, she’s a fan of spicy food — an inheritable trait, thank Mendel; otherwise, I’d be sweating capsaicin and chugging moo juice with Dad when we get together for meals. As she’s gotten more adventurous on the stovetop over time, she’s incorporated recipes and ingredients from other parts of the world. In my experience, she can make tasty dishes out of all of them. But occasionally, she has trouble pronouncing them.

That’s to be expected. Many of these spices and dishes have completely unfamiliar names in entirely foreign tongues spoken by people in faraway lands who have been raised to make sounds and phonetic constructs that our clumsy American mouths can barely conceive of. So if Mom doesn’t ‘*gghhl*‘ or ‘*rrrrhh*‘ or ‘*kkzzznnqqqddd*‘ in just the right way when she describes the menu, I’ve got no superior ground to stand on. I can’t say them the right way, either. Just give me a number seven. And go easy on the number three. I’m having a number two later, and I’d prefer it didn’t feel like a number four. IfyouknowwhatI’msaying.

There’s one ingredient in heavy rotation, though, that doesn’t seem quite so outlandishly exotic. It’s from our own continent, just down the block in Meh-i-co, and there are only three syllables to deal with: chipotle.

(Five, if you say the full ‘chipotle pepper‘, I guess. But ‘pepper’ is a gimme. Nobody gets ‘pepper’ wrong. You don’t hear stuffed suits at fancy restaurants asking for ‘salt and puh-PAIR‘ with their meals.

Except maybe the French ones. Unh hunh hunh.)

Now, I took a little Spanish in school. So I have a little different outlook on the verbal handling of chipotle than, say, my mother. I learned something about the ‘soft c’ and ‘supple t’ and all sorts of other letters that sound like something you’d find in the Alphabet Sutra. So when I pronounce chipotle, I do my best to ‘go native’:

shee-POTH-lay

I’m no expert, of course, and I’m probably not entirely correct.

(For the record, Wikipedia says it’s pronounced ‘chi-POHT-lay‘. So I’m not that far off. You say chi-POHT-ato, I say shee-POTH-ato. I think the difference is more in my guessing ‘official’ phonetic sounds than in the sounds themselves. I wouldn’t know what a ‘schwa’ looked like if it bopped me on the epiglottis.)

Also, I can’t say the word without moving my head in a sly little way and imagining I’m wearing a matador outfit. With a pencil-thin moustachio and especial toro-fighting zapatas.

(Bright red. Big treads. Lots of traction. Gore-proof.)

So far as I know, Mom never took Spanish. So I’d expect her pronunciation to be a little different. A little more Midwestern U-S-A:

CHEE-pote-lay

Nothing wrong with that. There’s an entire restaurant chain that’s spelled ‘Chipotle’, but probably pronounced ‘CHEE-pote-lay‘ ninelty percent of the time.

Or so I thought. This is where the internal eye-rolling comes in. Because Mom doesn’t actually pronounce these peppers as posted above. Instead, she’s always called them:

chi-POL-tee

Which is clearly something very different. To get the sounds above, you’d actually have to grab one of these peppers, yank its ‘T’ and ‘L’ the other way around and spell ‘chipolte’ out of it. And that’s just simply rude to our neighbors to the south, if you ask me. I mean, we took their land a while back, and fought a war and put fences along the borders — now we’re manhandling their pepper letters? It’s too much, in my book.

Still, I never said anything to Mom about it. I figured it was just her, and let it go. Chipotle can’t come up that often in day-to-day life; how many conversations about a Mexican pepper can one woman have with people out in public? She might get a funny look or two, but probably it’s a non-issue. Eventually, I forgot all about it.

Until tonight, when the missus and I were half-watching an episode of Diners, Drive-ins and Spiky-Haired Douchebag on Food Network, and there it was. Some little restaurant, with a plucky wired chef, concocting and serving and describing his all-the-rage chipotle creation.

That is, his chi-POL-tee‘ creation. That’s how he said it. And how the customers said it, and how everyone there said it through the entire segment. My eyes rolled so far so fast, I nearly had that seizure I warned you about.

But I learned something. I thought it was just Mom with her funky chipotle pronunciation. But no. A food professional, and everyone he served, were doing the very same thing. I did a little further digging, and found that it’s actually a fairly common question. I had no idea.

Of course, none of those people are right. But at least my mother has company. And now I’m just going to assume that she picked it up from someone else, like some pronunciation flu passed on from a sickly carrier of the disease on to her. She’s the real victim here.

So — sorry, ma. I promise never to roll my eyes (unbeknownst to you or otherwise) over the way you say ‘chipotle‘. Though I might try to gently correct it some day — maybe the word will get back to whoever it was that started the mangling in the first place. Like phonetically staking the head vampire, or something. That’s a nice thought.

Oh, and the mildewed thing? Yeah, that’s still on the table. You’re not off the hook for everything here. Say ‘hola‘ to Dad for me.

Permalink  |  1 Comment



One Response to “The Partly-Pronounced Pepper”

  1. ema says:

    I liked it a lot. Also, how do you actually pronounce it? Since you’re so good at this I was wondering about Hoechst….

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