Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Oh ño you didn't

On Isla de las Mujeres, the island to which Mayan women used to make a pilgrimage before Europeans introduced them to the wonders of poverty and products sold in plastic containers, I came to love the habanero pepper. A few miles' walk from our room was a restaurant on the beach (playa de los tiburones) where E and I ate a whole barbecued barracuda twice during our one-week stay on the isle. The toothy fish came with a generous helping of a very wet habanero sauce and while not being fancy was anything but ordinary. I can still taste those little green devils to this day. We brought back a bunch of Yucateco habanero bottled sauce but it just isn't the same.

Click to enlarge (if you dare)

Flash forward to 2005 and I'm back in California. I don't know how many times it has happened to me here, but all too often some idiot who took a couple of years of high school Spanish (or didn't) thinks they have perfect pronunciation of every word in the Spanish language. We're talking about hot chilis and I mention that something I made or something we're eating contains habanero. Inevitably, the ignorant (while thiking itself informative) response: "Habañero?" "That's right", I'll say, "Habanero".

Look here, folks, I took ten years of French in high school and college and I don't for a minute think that I speak French without an accent, or that I could look at any French word in existence and know its pronunciation. So why do people whose education in Spanish consists of Taco Bell menus think they know best?

There seems to be a cult of misunderstanding in Northern Californa regarding the pronunciation of the name of the world's hottest pepper, the habanero. OF NOTE: there is no tilde (~) over the N, as in the word jalapeño. This might could even be called a folk etymology. If they want to take the analogy that far, then we may as well spell the word jabañero, since everything about it seems to need to mimic its plumper, greener, milder cousin in the minds of northern Californians. This bullshittery has gone so far that I found crushed habanero on sale the other day labeled habañero. This must be stopped before the truth is completely obscured by nucular jabañero foilage.

Sweet irony!

Imagine my surprise when, off the coast of Quintana roo I found everyone pronouncing the name of this pepper without the Spanish enye pronunciation. After about one day I figured out that I was pronouncing it wrong. Some of these northern californians probably think they need to go correct the Mexicans in their pronunciation of their own word (which probably has Yucatec Mayan or Olmec roots anyway, being a new world pepper, and so by definition could not contain an enye unless its pronunciation was modified by Spanish speakers). And why not tell them how to pronounce their own word? We already tell them what Mexican food should taste like by selling Taco bell in Mexico.


Blogger drbiggles said...

It ain't easy being someone who cares about such things. I spent many hours fuming over how people pronounce words. One that still makes my skin crawl is Coupon, usually pronounced Kyoopon. Hells bells man, I don't keep my chickens in a damned KYOOP !!! It's KOOPON you idjet. I knew it was a losing battle when the dictionaries were changed and allowed the Kyoop. The list goes on.
I wonder if the pronounciation of Habanero changes regionally in South & Central America?
If nothing else, at least we know it exists and enjoy it.


1:38 PM  
Blogger drbiggles said...


Anyone here interested in having a picnic? At Meathenge Labs? Attempting to nail down a date, keep yer your you know what piqued.


8:38 PM  

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