The often mis-pronounced word is a cause of frustration for those ‘sticklers’ and purists, but is there any harm in saying it incorrectly?
“There is no ‘x’ in espresso“. Such a sentence can reveal the cultured from the not, the aware from the uninformed and the “foodie” from the less-qualified consumer.
Food Culture and Language
Food culture is rich with these arguments and mild contentions. With a variety of food, beverages and accompanying items including the means of food production (pots, pans, woks and the like) and the means of consumption (knives, forks, chopsticks etc) coming from all over the globe it is perhaps no wonder there are an equal variety of pronunciations of their respective names. Ask a Mexican person how to say ‘Burrito’, or a Chinese person how to say szechuan and you will inevitably hear a response different to how you may already say the word. It is perhaps a fitting beauty of the rich tapestry of foods, flavours, smells and colours we experience.
Debate Regarding Food Origin
There is debate even regarding the origin of a number of dishes including Pasta, which was perhaps invented by the Chinese. This is not too surprising, if true, due to its composition being not too dissimilar from types of Noodle.
Historical debate relies on the argument of knowledge opinion and it is perhaps better left to that, but what about pronunciation. Is it acceptable to the Spanish if the rest of the world gives Chorizo a hard ‘Z’ when spoken? If the food is being ordered the request is usually obvious to the waiter, who may well be used to it. Whilst it may not be the waiter’s place to correct the diner’s way of speaking they may enter the kitchen and use the correct pronunciation, sounding distinctly different to how the diner spoke seconds earlier.
Social etiquette is part of any fine dining experience. Speaking correctly is quite high up in this associative thinking. To be judged for ordering food incorrectly may leave the diner a “few points down” despite the quality of the dish they’ve ordered — their obvious good taste may not carry them through the culinary social gauntlet unscathed.
Adding an ‘x’ into espresso simply links the word to its closest English neighbour. Wikipedia states the word as an “alternative spelling” of espresso, not an incorrect spelling. An Italian language teacher may be right to correct the pupil, however the translation of the word into other languages, including Spanish, and the similarity of ‘expresso’ to other words lends it an easy excuse.
So perhaps it is that the mispronunciation is enough to expose some not as aficionados but as phonemically in-aware philistines. The clash of food cultures has led to such marvels as the deep-fried mars bar, road kill recipes and carrot cake (whoever thought to put carrots in a cake?) so it is not perhaps important if a word is mispronounced.
Variety is the spice of life after all.