What does the phở say

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I always pronounce the Vietnamese soup pho as “foe.” My friend says I’m being culturally insensitive and should make an effort to lớn get it right (she says it’s “fuh”). But people always understand me, so what does it matter anyway? —Fuhgeddaboudit


Dear Fuhgeddaboudit,

Diane Cu, cocreator of the blog trắng on Rice Couple, says that Vietnamese words are tricky because Vietnamese is a tonal language, with “four or five” main tones và many more regional ones. Although the more common pronunciation of pho is “fuh,” some regions pronounce it more as “foe,” & others in two syllables, Cu says, with a rising tone on the first syllable và a falling tone on the second. Because of the tonal variation, Westerners also struggle with the phrase banh mi. Some erroneously pronounce it as “bang me,” Cu says. Unfortunately, since I couldn’t nail the pronunciation even after hearing it five times, I can’t explain it to lớn you.

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There are also regional variations in the pronunciation of Italian food words, says Judy Witts Francini, owner of Divina Cucina, a cooking school in Florence. One difference is that the last syllables of some words, such as mozzarellabraciole, are not pronounced in the south.

Xem thêm: Những Lời Chúc Sinh Nhật Vui Nhộn, Lời Chúc Sinh Nhật Hài Hước


But you need not fret too much about regional nuances. The important thing is that you try. At a regional restaurant where the servers are from that country, it’s good manners khổng lồ strive for authentic pronunciation of a food word, as a sign of respect for the culture. If you’re worried about mangling the language và offending the server, that’s sometimes what the numbers on the menu are there for. And you can always ask your vps how to lớn pronounce it—so when you return, you’ll be a pro!

That said, there is such a thing as going overboard. If you pronounce “spaghetti” with a flourish or “Croissan’Wich” with your best Parisian flair, then you’re likely to sound a tad (ahem) affected.


Typically, the foreign words you’re allowed lớn take Anglicized liberties with are the ones that wind up in English dictionaries. But what if you don’t have a dictionary on you when placing an order? Sometimes you can just use common sense. As Jesse Sheidlower, the Oxford English Dictionary’s North American editor at large, says, if it’s “on the menu at the Olive Garden,” then chances are it’s as good as trắng bread.


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