chil(l)i

Hello from the Fifth Conference of the International Society for the Linguistics of English, or #ISLE5, as all the cool kids are tweeting it.  We have an afternoon for touristic activities, but since we're in London, I'm feeling a combination of (orig AmE) 'been there, done that' and 'I could do that any time'. What's not available any time is a bit of quiet to blog. So, yay for everyone else going to Samuel Johnson's House (been there, got the postcards) and for my lovely hotel lounge and wifi. Today's post was started possibly years ago (I've lost track), when Lauren Ackerman asked me about British chilli versus American chili.

I went to my usual first stop: the Oxford English Dictionary. And I am sad to say that the entry for this item has not been fully updated since the first edition in 1889—which is to say, look at those spellings!  (Not blaming them, just sad for my post that they haven't got(ten) to this one yet!)


Yes, chilli is still the BrE spelling for piquant peppers--but giving chilly as the alternative spelling and not the standard AmE chili reads very odd in the 21st century. Chili is acknowledged there as a historical spelling, and is present in the quotation evidence in the entry.  And it's consistently been the more common spelling in the US:

(click to enlarge)

At the conference, I've been at two sessions where someone's called into question the OED tagline, visible at the top of the dictionary screenshot: 'The definitive record of the English language". That's marketing talk, not lexicographical talk, and it's unfortunate. There can be no definitive record of the English language, because there is no definitive English language. It's always varying and changing and you can never know if you've found the first instance of a word or the last one, etc. So here's a little plea (in the form of advice) to the Oxford University Press: If you put most before definitive it would be an accurate tagline. And it would have a marketing-department-friendly superlative in it! Win-win!

As a side-note, there's this little bit of puzzling prescriptivism in the run-on to the entry (i.e. the additional defined items at the end), which seems to have been added later—or at least I'm assuming so, given the AmE spelling (it's hard to tell, though, the link to the previous edition includes none of the run-ons).

I've been trying to figure out what that 'erron.' is referring to. I believe what it's saying is that the "real" meaning of chili pepper is 'pepper tree' and it's an error to use it to refer to chil(l)is, but why does it only have the US spelling? It's not clear to me when this chili pepper was added to the entry, as the link to the 2nd edition does not include all the compounds that are in the run-on entries. But it must be old, as it's not marked as a post-2nd-edition addition.  But it's interesting to see how recent it is to say "chil(l)i pepper":


Anyhow, back to the word itself: it comes ultimately from Nahuatl, with an /l/ sound in the middle. We pronounce it with a 'short i' sound (like in chill). You can see, then why BrE likes the double-L spelling: without a double consonant, it looks like it should have a a different vowel: we say wifi differently than we'd say wiffi; fury versus furry, etc.

So why does AmE have a single L? My educated guess would be because Americans have had more consistent contact with Spanish. When the Spanish went to spell it, they used a single L, because double consonants don't do the same thing in Spanish spelling that they do in English. If you pronounce chilli in Spanish, there's no L sound. (What sound is there depends on your dialect of Spanish, but I learned in my US Spanish classes to pronounce the LL like a 'y' sound.) It stayed Spanish-ish in American, while getting a more English-ish spelling in Britain.

Now, I think that back in the mists of time when Lauren requested a post on chil(l)i, she meant the stew, rather than the fruit. I am not going to wade into the debates about what "real" chil(l)i (con carne) should have. But I will say this: every American I've seen to order the dish in the UK has had a moment of "Whaaaa?" when it was served with rice. Not something we're used to. But nice when you get used to it.

There is another spelling issue here, though. The pepper almost always ends with an i, but the stew sometimes ends with an e. But not much anymore, according to my corpus searches:


And on that note, I'll post this before my battery dies!

108 comments

  1. but why does it only have the US spelling?
    Well, it seems logical to me if the only attested examples are in US texts using US spelling.

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  2. Be warned. The Preview function is not currently working. Worse, pressing the Preview button currently destroys the post.

    So, copy your text before trying to post. And if Preview is still not working, go straight to Publish.

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  3. This reminds me of the different pronunciations of the country "Chile". In the UK, when I grew up, it was invariably homophonous with "chilly". But in the US, it's more likely to be given a faux-Spanish pronounciation "chee-lay", which I've also heard making recent inroads in the UK.

    This is an example of the more general phenomenon of US English pronunciations being more likely to be Spanish-influenced, while UK English is more likely to be French-influenced, which I'm sure Lynne has covered elsewhere in her blog (great to have you back blogging, Lynne!)

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    1. Although sometimes spelt "chile", chili has nothing to do with the name of the country. The condiment exists in Chile, but its name is quite different: "ají". I pronounce Chile like "chilly" when talking with my relatives in England, but I pronounce it as in Spanish when talking to my (Chilean) wife or other Chilean people.

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    2. I grew up in the US and pronounce the country "chilly."

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  4. When the Spanish went to spell it, they used a single L, because double consonants don't do the same thing in Spanish spelling that they do in English.

    Up to a point. There are no double consonants in Spanish, apart from rr, and ll doesn't count as until 1994 it was treated as a distinct letter in its own right, different from l. In modern alphabetical orderings l and ll are no longer separated, but they're still regarded as separate in most people's minds. You're right that the spelling chilli in Spanish would give completely the wrong pronunciation.

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  5. Living in New Mexico, it pains me to see you say "The pepper is[sic] almost always ends with an i, but the stew sometimes ends with an e.", which is entirely backward. We are, of course, famous for our Hatch Green Chile (peppers). If you really want to get someone's goat around here, try spelling it with an 'i' and watch their ears start to steam. 'i' can only refer to Texas Chili [con carne], the lesser of the chili/es.

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    1. Yeah, I grew up (midwestern US, where black pepper is spicy, alas) calling them chili peppers, and was corrected enough upon moving out of the midwest that the peppers were "chile" and the dish was "chili" that I now also make that distinction.

      Chili powder is the mixed seasoning used for convenience, containing ground hot peppers, cumin, oregano, etc. Chile powder is one particular chile, dried and ground, generally labeled with the actual type (ancho, pasilla, etc).

      I associate "chilly" and "chilli" mildly with British English, but really I associate them with Indian English which I then tend to assume matches British, since it does a lot of the time.

      (Also, I was near but not from the area where "chili" the dish is served as spaghetti sauce, so I also recognize that as chili.)

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  6. What is chilli normally served with in the US if not rice?

    (I do sometimes make it with nachos but rice is definitely the norm here!)

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    1. On its own, usually. There may be toppings, like cheese, sour cream, green onions, etc., but the chili itself is the main event, eaten like a soup with a spoon.

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    2. And it's probably worth noting here that 'eaten like soup' can mean that it's served with saltine crackers. (Crackers and soup don't go together in UK.)

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    3. I've always eaten it with chips (aka French fries) as that is the way I was first served it.

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    4. A friend of mine (from Arkansas) puts a bunch of saltine crackers in his bowl of chili, mixes it up, and calls it "spackle". :) (For non AmE speakers, spackle is quick setting plaster used to patch holes in walls.)
      Also, most places I've lived (California and the Midwest), chili has beans in it. Texas chili snobs disdain this.

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    5. I'm not sure why, but decades ago I was introduced to chili served on rice by a girlfriend (American, despite her last name, which was -- no kidding -- English) who had lived for a while in New Mexico. It's how I prefer it, especially if the chili is spicy, as I like it. I also go for a healthy dollop of sour cream (it cuts the heat too) plus shredded cheddar cheese and chopped red onion on top. Tortilla chips on the side.

      About saltine crackers crumbled on a naked bowl of chili: I'm certainly familiar with it. Indeed, once upon a time it seems to me that casual restaurants in the U.S. typically served most soups with a cellophane pair of saltines next to the bowl. Whether they were hastily crumbled on top was one of those ways of distinguishing the state of someone's table manners ... kind of like whether you'd (as the Three Stooges used to do) tuck a cloth napkin into the opening between unbuttoned shirt collar and neck -- instead of placing it in your lap.

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    6. By the by, the BrE for 'spackle' is 'polyfilla'.

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    7. And can someone if possible translate — or, failing that, describe — saltine crackers?

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    8. I've seen it here (London) served on a baked potato (is that a jacket potato in the USA? Can't remember).

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    9. It's a jacket potato in UK, not US. (Baked potato in US.)

      There is no translation for saltine cracker. It's kinda like a salted cream cracker. Kinda. A bit lighter.

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    10. Bother, thought I had replied but evidently not. And why am I signed out of Google? Oh dear. Anyway, point is I (BrE) have always called it a baked potato, although obviously I recognise jacket potato as a synonym. A family shibboleth, I suppose?

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    11. I (BrE) have always called it a baked potato as well.

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    12. I wasn’t saying that BrE doesn’t have ‘baked’, but that ‘jacket potato’ is a BrEisn not found in US.

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    13. Thinking about it, for me, "jacket potato" is restaurant-menu-speak, like serving one with sour cream instead of butter. At home, I serve baked potatoes with butter (sometimes); in a restaurant I'd expect to be given a jacket potato with sour cream.

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    14. Anonymous in New Jersey27 July, 2018 05:32

      In my family (Southern NJ, USA), chilli was always served with rice. Always! I was shocked and disappointed the first time I had it without (in a restaurant). Chili needs rice, at least in my head. I just thought that (some) restaurants were weird. Or cheap (I always end up ordering a side dish of rice when it doesn't come with the chilli). And when one of my editors chastised me for bringing chilli and rice to the potluck, I assumed that my way was the norm and blamed his taste on his Texan homeland. Who knew he was the "normal" one?!?

      I also tend to use the double-L spelling, so I guess I'm not really a good source. (I actually had to check the spelling on the fossilised bottle of chili powder in my cupboard to truly accept that we actually use only the one L!)

      – AiNJ

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  7. Interesting, I hadn't thought about the spelling difference, but it makes perfect sense when it's pointed out.

    I must admit the thing that made me (Southern UK) double-take was describing chilli con carne as "stew" - it's not a usage that would ever have occurred to me. My understanding of stew is that it has bigger discrete pieces of meat (usually stewing beef) and vegetable, in a thinnish gravy, whereas chilli is made from mince in a thicker sauce. I'm not sure whether that's a universal British understanding, or a more personal one.

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    1. Sally, Looks like we were writing about "stew" at the same time. See my comment below. It's also worth noting that while in the US it's probably most common to have minced/ground meat in chili, it's also common to have big chunks of cut-up chuck steak as well (which, I would guess, is the same or very similar to what you call "stewing meat"). See the photos in this recipe: https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2011/11/real-texas-chili-con-carne.html. I think I'd be more likely to call this latter "stew" than a version with ground/minced meat for the reasons you describe.

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  8. I know this is aside from the main topic here, but calling chili (con carne) a "stew" struck my American ears very strangely (in that "well, I guess if you think about it, technically it is, but nobody normally things about it that way" way in which a hamburger is technically a sandwich).

    Lanta: Generally speaking, in the United States, chili (con carne) is served in a bowl in its own right and is eaten with a spoon like soup (or, dare I say it, stew). It's often garnished with some combination of cheese, sour cream, diced green onions, diced raw jalapeño. It could be served with crackers or tortilla chips. It can be served as a sauce or topping to other foods (chili dogs, chili fries) but that's not the main, unmarked way it's served. See the first photo at the Wikipedia article for a prototypical example.

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    1. Ha! I left my other comment before reading yours and am amused to see that we described chili in almost the same terms, down to the green onions.

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    2. Southern English here. I always thought that mince is often used for convenience and/or because it's cheape than chunks of beef. Having checked my Delia Smith (imho the definitive cookbook) from 30+ years ago, her recipe uses chuck steak cut into very small pieces.

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  9. For those asking about my use of 'stew'--it seemed less ambiguous than 'dish', and it's what the OED uses. But I agree, if you said you were serving 'stew', I wouldn't expect chil(l)i.

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  10. Adding another comment just to get notifications. Blogger has not been notifying blog owners of comments since 25 May, when they said they were working on a fix. But...

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  11. Ah yes, chile with an "e," New Mexico's state vegetable, an altogether different thing. It does indeed go in a stew - green chile stew, which usually also includes some kind of meat, potatoes, onion, and sometimes tomatoes. It's definitely not the same thing as chili con carne. Chile also goes in or on all manner of other foods too, sometimes to the point of ridiculousness (green chile wine, for example), but in most uses it's delicious.

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  12. I just wanted to add my agreement to the comments above that chile is the pepper (most likely because that's how it is actually spelled in Spanish) and chili is either the dish or the spice that has a blend of chile powder with other stuff. I'm in California and as far as I know this distinction applies in any state with a decent amount of Mexican/other Latino influence.

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  13. It's just occurred to me, reading this, that the reason why we expect to eat chilli con carne with rice, is because it's hot. Even though it might originally have come from another part of the world, we think of it as a sort of curry. And that is how we eat curry. Adding some variety of tortilla then corresponds to adding a chapati or a poppadom.

    The country is pronounced the same way as chilli but if it wasn't referring to the country, the vowel in 'chile' would be the one in child - as it would be to me if chilli was spelt 'chili'.

    I hadn't realised until reading this that chilli powder and the little fiery red chillis derived from a Latin-American plant. I'd somehow imagined they came from the east.

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    1. Exactly what I was speculating, @Dru, when I saw the allusion to rice -- in Britain, the closest analog would be to curry, which takes rice, and I'm sure tortillas and tortilla chips were scarce when chili first arrived for y'all.

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  14. On the ‘erroneous’ marker, is it because capsicums are not actually a form of pepper (i.e. like black pepper)? The pepper-tree, wikipedia tells me, is also botanically not pepper, but it does have similar bundles of little round hard fruits.

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    1. That's probably it. I think it'll be removed when they update it, because the meaning of 'pepper' has moved so much.

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  15. Lynne, I am surprised that Chili (a town in New York near Rochester) has its name pronounced in the "wifi" manner. (I spent six long years at the University of Rochester as a grad student in philosophy in the 1970s.)

    And on the chili-chile controversy, the Associated Press gives "chili" and "chilies" as the only acceptable forms. Or more precisely, it did in the 2011 edition; I lost access to the online version when I retired.

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    1. Ah, I had meant to mention Chili, NY. Thanks! Yes, definitely a Rochester-area shibboleth.

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    2. I was going to ask how one can imagine pronouncing chili as anything other than a short "i". I guess I was proven wrong. "wifi" is pronounced the way it is because it descends from "hi-fi". Of course that doesn't explain why "hi-fi" is pronounced the way it is. When I first encountered it (in print, not spoken) I thought it was in fact pronounced pretty much with the same vowels as "high fidelity" which it is short for. I guess maybe rhyming has something to do with it. Still we've got "Siri" and nobody seems to mispronounce that.

      It seems words ending with "i" are rare and usually of foreign origin. Still, if I see an unfamiliar word ending with "i", I assume it's a short "i" unless it's clearly a plural or a shortening of another word that has a long "i".

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    3. Boris, the sound I perceive inwardly as short i is the stressed vowel of KIT.

      For me, the first vowel sound of chilli is a KIT sound. But the second vowel is and unstressed happY sound. In some accents these are identical sounds, but not in mine.

      The simple reason that few 'native' English words are spelled with a final letter-I is that a very strong convention has virtually always substituted letter-Y.

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    4. Boris, I suspect a lot of us would pronounced siri differently if we encountered it exclusively in writing.

      As you say, the two syllable of hi-fi are pronounced to rhyme (as with wi-fi). Partly this is an echo or high, but it's also a logical spelling pronunciation of stressed syllables in which the vowel letter is not 'checked' by a following consonant letter.

      The hyphen underlines the importance of both syllables — leading to both of them carrying stress. Spellings hifi and wifi might invite
      a more siri‑like spelling pronunciation.

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  16. This has got me thinking about letter-I and I-sounds in British English. I'm struggling to whittle it down to a short post.

    Meanwhile, enjoy this rhyming couplet from the folk song The Gallant Frigate Amphitrite

    Farewell to Valparaiso, and farewell for a while
    Likewise to all your Spanish girls along the coast of Chile


    (It actually works when you hear it sung!)

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  17. OK, my latest attempt to be brief.

    Scottish excepted, most accents of British English have a set of checked vowel sounds — which can only carry stress when followed by a consonant sound. They are KIT, DRESS, TRAP, LOT STRUT, FOOT and they correspond to historic short vowel sounds.

    Accents of American English have a slightly different set (minus LOT), ands both the historical link and the psychological link to short vowels have been severed.

    But over here the historical spelling conventions based on historical short~long distinction have a degree of psychological strength. This is particularly true of the default that
    • KIT is spelled by letter I followed by two or more consonant letters (or one letter at the end of a word). Exception with another vowel letter such as bury and women are very few.
    • PRICE is most often spelled by letter I (or Y) followed by no more than one consonant letter. Even the exceptional spellings usually include the letter I.

    The pattern is complicated by spellings that preserve the spellings of words taken from Latin (e.g. finite but infinity) or when suffixes follow a single consonant (e.g. electrician). Another pattern is the alternative long I for words from French (e.g. police, unique) and a few other languages (e.g. casino, ski). And there's the Greek-derived prefix-like phil- and some Greek sword (e.g. epsilon).

    We've been faced with two homophones: one an important country with spelling supported by international recognition and the other a foodstuff that was little spoken or written of for much of my lifetime.

    The KIT vs PRICE mindset inhibits almost all of us from approximating to a Spanish pronunciation. And even those who try it for the country Chile tend to say CHEE LEIGH.

    Besides, we have a third homophone (pertaining to cold wind or water), and we spell it chilly.

    This brings out another history-conditioned mindset:— that words do not ent in letter I.

    So, we have (in large part) accepted the final letter I in the foodstuff word because it's excusably exotic. But we've remained totally resistant to anything but ill to represent the stressed KIT vowel.

    So I'm not surprised that an early generation of Americans associated the spelling Chili with the sound CHIGH LIGH. Just like that folk song I quoted.

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    1. This comment was confusing in the font on my font. Glad to see on my PC it has a font that makes the capital I(i) distinct.

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    2. Exception with another vowel letter such as bury and women are very few.
      Surely "bury" is pronounced with the DRESS vowel, not the KIT vowel? In my dialect of BrE, it is a homophone of "berry".

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    4. A typo that I failed to spot. The examples I had in mind were busy and women

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  18. Reading the history of Chili in Spanish, most believe Chili comes from a dish used in the late 1880's in Baja California (Mexico) to extend limited access to meat using chile peppers. It was spread into southwestern US and northern Mexico (probably due to migrant cowboys and farmers across the borders) where the name was anglicized to chili. Chili was introduced to the rest of the US at the World's fair in Chicago by the San Antonio delegation moving the dish from Texmex to an American dish.

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  19. I'm American and I do enjoy rice in my chili, but I've only had it that way at home by my own doing, I've never ever seen it served that way.

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    1. The UK way is *on* rice, not rice in it. :)

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    2. First, it's still the same combination. Second, I did NOT say chili in rice. Rice in chili, not chili in rice.

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    3. That’s what I said ‘rice in it (chili)’. Didn’t mean to offend. Just noting tfst the experience is different.

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    4. Usually, the rice goes round the side of the plate with a dip in the middle into which the meat is ladled. Which confirms my suggestion earlier that we tend to see chilli con carne as a sort of curry, because that is how curry is often served.

      By the way, in the US does chilli con carne also include red beans? They are more or less obligatory here.

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  20. This reminds me. As an American living in Ireland, I've had more than one Irish person tell me they had vegetarian chili con carne for dinner. Which, I understand why this happens (they used chili con carne sauce, and they don't know any Spanish), but it always sounds strange.

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    1. How would one say "Chilli without carne"? I frequently make mine vegetarian, it's not a dish (I find) that wants meat.

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    2. Americans rarely if ever use the full phrase "chili con carne"; we just say "chili." So meatless chili is "vegetarian chili." The full phrase "vegetarian chili con carne" is facially absurd whereas "vegetarian chili" is only absurd is you know what "chili" is originally short for, which I would guess most Americans do not.

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    3. I would just usually just say chili, to be honest. I'm not sure I've ever had regular chili, as I was raised by a vegetarian and am mostly vegetarian myself, so it doesn't really occur to me to clarify. But yeah, vegetarian chili doesn't sound odd to me.

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    4. When I worked in a vegetarian cafe in the 1980s (Oxford, UK), we used to serve "chilli sin carne"

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    5. In a somewhat similar way, when I described here how in Greece I'd been served a very tasty fish moussaka, a Greek colleague said 'there's no such thing as a fish moussaka; such a thing cannot be', even though everything else about the ingredients and the way it was prepared was the same as a moussaka.

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    6. I frequently cook vegetarian chilli. I'd normally just call it chilli, but I like "chilli sin carne".

      As I have a young daughter who doesn't like spicy food, I sometimes cook it with no chillies in at all: with lots of paprika instead, and the normal cumin, oregano and garlic, it is still recognisably a chilli. So, if I make a chilli con carne with no chillies and no meat, is it a con?

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    7. Paprika is a chile product; dried, ground, and sometimes smoked capsicum berries. So no, Chili with paprika is still chili.

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    8. The OED treatment of chilli pepper stresses that, botanically speaking, a chilli isn't a pepper. Conversely, the pepper that paprika is made from isn't a chilli.

      I can easily taste the difference — when they're not too hot to disguise the flavour, that is.

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  21. I'll never forget my first experience of chilli con carne, in Paris in the early 1970s. (I'm British; but there were both British and American people present). It was for a party - the cooks, bless them, didn't realise they needed to taste the liquid, not the meat, and the result was HOT and needed a great deal of rice to "dilute" it... and then someone was vegetarian (rare, in those days, you didn't automatically cater for vegetarians) and ate a plateful of plain rice with every appearance of enjoyment.... How times change - these days I hardly ever put meat in my chilli!

    But it was not until 20 years and more later that I discovered that, actually, "chilli peppers" were a category of food, not a food in themselves - in the USA they were called things like chipotle and jalapeno. These days, here, you can get birds eye and Scotch bonnet, but unless it is specified they are still mostly generic "chilli peppers". Oh, and sweet peppers are what we (BrE) call bell peppers.

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    1. jalapeno - yes. Or ancho, anaheim, serrano, poblano, and probably a dozen more. These days groceries also have green and red thai peppers (small, thin, hard, and hot). But chipotle is not a separate kind of pepper, it is a pepper that has been dried and smoked.

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    2. Is it? You see, I didn't know that! Okay, we do get more varieties of chilli peppers than we did 20 years ago, but the supermarkets still sell generic "chillis" and anything else is either bought in a shop catering to e.g. Jamaicans or else preserved. Oh, you co sometimes get jalapenos stuffed with cream cheese, and very good they are, too, but they are preserved, not fresh.

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    3. We call them bell peppers in the U.S. too. Though, I'm never sure if something is a southern thing (where I'm from) or if it applies to America as a whole.

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    4. Chili con carne in a Mexican restaurant? But it isn't a Mexican dish! It's Texan or at least Southwestern US. Yes,there are Mexican dishes made of meat and peppers: chile colorado, chile verde, chile de res, but they are not chili con carne. Here in California a Tex-Mex restaurant might have both chili con carne and tacos on the menu but it would almost certainly be advertising itself as Tex-Mex.

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  22. Chili is acknowledged there as a historical spelling,

    But not as the earliest. As I read their etymology, the spelling chilli was used in the 16th century to represent the Nahuatl word from which Spanish chili/chile was derived.

    The earliest record was in French, so there must have been some motivation to use double-L.

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    1. There was indeed a motivation.

      I was beginning to wonder whether the Nahuatl dictionary had been written in French but by a British English speaker..

      But no. According Wiktionary the Classical Nahuatl word was pronounced with a long L-sound. They offer two IPA transcriptions. One is tʃ͡iːlli but their preferred one is tʃ͡iːlːi which doesn't suggest a syllabic break between two L-sounds.

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  23. About changing the motto of the OED to "The most definitive record of the English language": "most definitive" sounds a little to me like the deviously provocative phrase "more perfect" in the preamble to the U.S. Constitution. Granted, "most" is a superlative and "more" is a comparative ... but both "definitive" and "perfect" in essence convey superlatives, making "most definitive" a pleonasm (not that there's anything wrong with that) and "more perfect" a contradiction that somehow suggests no government can or ever will reach a true state of perfection.

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    1. Well, 'definitive' has lots of meanings and the slogan is playing on that. Some of those meanings are definitely gradable.

      And the sense they're probably most wanting to bring up is 'authoritative', and you can definitely be more or less authoritative--so I don't see a problem here.

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  24. We (work colleagues) also came up with 'chili sin carne' years ago when a vegetarian version was served at a party.
    Has anyone answered the question as to whether the US version includes beans as standard? If it was originally a way of 'stretching' scarce meat, my guess would be yes.

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    1. The usual sorts of canned chili are typically found both with and without beans. The version without beans commonly has a very visible note to that effect on the front.

      That said, I think that if I were to order a bowl of chili (and it's usually sold in bowls or cups) in a restaurant, I'd expect to see beans.

      Again, this is for chili, not New Mexico red or green chile, which is an entirely different thing.

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    2. There is no definitive answer to the question of "beans in chili", as there are SIGNIFICANT differences in opinion based on where you live. This is similar to the differences in the definition of barbeque across the US (where it can mean anything from an outdoor gathering where food is cooked on a grill to chopped pork in a vinegar sauce to beef ribs cooked in a red sauce). There are as many types of chili (the soup/stew/sauce) as there are regions in the US.

      So for me, I hate beans in my chili, but I suck it up because I live in a part of the country where beans are required (even if someone is making white chicken chili).

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    3. Agree with @Amanda -- you can fill a whole racks of cookbooks just on chili, with wildly disputing recipes. My mother's parents both grew up in the Texas panhandle, so we're pretty firmly of the meat, meat, and more meat school of chili making. Pinto peans are served on the side only (and I've never cared for them that much, but it's been too many years so my tastes may have changed). Oh, and cornbread's pretty much mandatory too, not the sicky-sweet Northern variety with far too much (wheat) flour in them. Preferably in stick form. Wow, typing this makes me remember.....

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  25. Another use of dried chillies is to flavour vodka.

    We discovered this in a book on 'Russian' cooking (It's actually better known as an Ukrainian recipe) when living in Egypt. It made sense to infuse the local Better than Vodka as imported spirits (or any other imported booze) cost the earth. Lemon zest was probably the best, but juniper berries produced passable gin.

    Chilli vodka gives the illusion of greater strength, and other expats copied the idea from us. They also copied from us the Russian way of making a Bloody Mary. This involves floating the vodka over the tomato juice — pouring over a knife, just as you would to float cream on Irish coffee.

    This the sort of drink that Russians like. When you knock it back in one — as Russians do — you get a fierce throat attack followed immediately by a soothing draft of tomato juice. The Cairo expats compounded the effect by using chilli vodka.

    And they gave the drink a name. They called it a 'Bloody Crosbie'.

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  26. Chilli is not the only food spelled with a double letter in the UK and a single letter in the US. There's also pit(t)a and fil(l)et. I wonder if that's coincidence or due to a similar process?
    I pronounce pitta with the KIT vowel; do Americans pronounce pita with the FLEECE vowel?

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    1. There's another food where we do depart from spelling pronunciation of letter-I plus double consonant. At least we do now.

      I'm pretty sure that when pizza was still more of a novelty in Britain, some people pronounced it with a KIT vowel. I don't remember people using an English-type Z-sound. It would have been an easy matter to hear and adopt the extra T-sound. But many British ears were deaf to any other sort of I-sound.

      But then pizza became popular and often spoken of, so pretty well everyone uses the FLEECE vowel.

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    2. Hi, Rachael -- AmE speaker here, and can attest that I've only ever heard the FLEECE vowel in one-t pita, among AmE speakers.

      And in case you haven't seen it before, fil(l)et is discussed here: https://separatedbyacommonlanguage.blogspot.com/2006/08/pronouncing-french-words-and-names.html.

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    3. I (BrE) spell it pita and pronounce it peeta. I first came across it over 30 years ago in Australia where some people called it "Lebanese bread"

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  27. Rachael, the OED etymology of pitta/pita is full of uncertainties and alternatives.

    They give the immediate source as Greek πήττα. Letter-by-letter transliteration makes this pitta. However Greek also has the spellings πίτα, πίττα — which transliterate as pita and pitta.

    The bread is understood to be an old Jewish Balkan artefact with a name partly influenced by Hebrew. The transliteration — from yet another alphabet — of the Modern Hebrew word is pittāh. But other Balkan languages spell the word with a single letter-T.

    My guess is that double letter T (in whatever alphabet) has persisted in various languages even in the absence of a double tt sound. This is what seems to have happened to chilli in French, where doubling a consonant letter doesn't have the effect it has in English spelling.

    So, in French the double letter-L is a preservation of a spelling used to transcribe Nahuatl. In British English the spelling is reinforced by its effect of signalling a KIT. In Spanish — and subsequently in America English — they went purely by the sound for the L-sound. In all four cases, the same was involved, since none of the languages/dialects has an independent double ll sound.

    The OED gives the US pronunciation of the bread word as /ˈpɪdə/ — that is a KIT vowel and 'flapped' T-sound.

    If BrE chilli can be (partly) down to spelling following the etymology, BrE fillet is the result of the opposite.

    The French word is filet meaningful 'thread' but also by extension the narrow fleshy band of meat near the ribs, and by further extension to other slices of food from ribs. In English, these feel like two different words — a headband in old poetry, and a cut of meat. I believe the old ribbon-type thing is pronounced only with a KIT vowel. The cut of meat, though, is pronounced not so consistently.

    At a restaurant table, it's easy to see filet as a French word and pronounce it with an approximation to French. The OED seems to state that Americans do this all the time with (sometimes stressed) for the French e (with either KIT or FLEECE for the first syllable). In a butcher's shop, I don't think BrE speakers treat it as a foreign word. I for one would always rhyme it with skillet when talking to a butcher.

    Personally, would spell the cut of meat — even outside a restaurant — as filet. But I would spell the verb 'cut from the ribs' as fillet.

    The OED spellings from British texts seem to be mostly fillet in the last two hundred years — restaurant contexts excluded.

    To summarise
    • Neither BrE nor AmE have double consonant sounds (as opposed to the same consonant repeated as in chill longer or fill lately).
    • Double consonant spellings in chilli and pitta are based on etymology. But BrE fillet is an invented spelling based on sound.
    • BrE is sensitive to the traditional sound-spelling relationship of KIT vowel to double consonant spelling. This created the fillet spelling and reinforced the chilli and pitta spellings.

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    Replies
    1. I am now reminded of an anecdote someone told in a programme on Radio many years ago. He was an Englishman at some sort of banquet in the US and the wait staff were going around the table asking a question. When they got to him, he heard the question as, "How do you like your flaming yonkurt?"

      He was flummoxed. Was this some item from an exotic cuisine, Turkish perhaps, that he'd never come across before?

      Finally, the person sitting next to him translated for him: "How do you like your filet mignon cooked?"

      (And, in a similar vein, in 1981 I went with some friends to a Mexican restaurant in Denver and was asked a question that sounded like, "Do you want [some name]s mother?" This was finally explained to me as "Do you want your tacos smothered?" but as I had no previous experience of Mexican cuisine, I was still at a loss as to know what it meant.)

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    2. Contrary to the OED, I'd say the usual AmE pronunciation is peeta.

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    3. FWIW, Lynne covered "fillet/filet" and similar words some years ago now, here.

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    4. Paul, the last time I said 'Yes' to an incomprehensible offer like that I was in a Leningrad park in winter, queuing at an outdoor beer kiosk. (Draught beer was hard to find in the old USSR.)

      The vending woman turned to a second tap and gave me a shot of heated foam to take the chill off the glass and the top of the beer — the sipping-from part.

      It was good.

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    5. Oh, blast, of course there's a better comment further down in the thread, and by the estimable David Crosbie and Lynne herself. Agree with Lynne on AmE pronunciation; I don't ever recall hearing the flap in pita -- just FLEECE plus a fully-enunciated (almost over-enunciated, to AmE ears) T.

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  28. FWIW, I think I only ever hear the FLEECE vowel in pita (the bread word), OED notwithstanding. (AmE, western US)

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    Replies
    1. Yes, the OED sound file for the entry sounds like a FLEECE vowel. Two editors disagreeing? A typing error?

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    2. Upon reflection, this vowel sound association is strong enough in AmE that it also affects the pronunciation of PITA, the acronym, even though the "I" there stands for "in".

      Delete
    3. Sorry, Doug, you'll need to explain what PITA stands for, and how it's pronounced.

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  29. PITA the acronym stands for Pain In The "Rear End."

    In my dialect of AmE, we pronounce both the bread and the name for an annoying person with the FLEECE vowel and a tap in the middle.

    Is my family the only one that serves chili with corn bread? Regular unsweetened Southern-style cornbread for everyday, or fancy cornbread with cheese, green chilis, corn, and onions for Superbowl parties.

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    Replies
    1. In most accents of England — and of some other chunks of Britain — the FLEECE vowel makes those words sound like Peter.

      Come to think of it, I have a friend whose unusual name sounds like that even in 'rhotic' accents — accents that pronounce R-sounds even when there's no following vowel. But she's spelled Peta.

      Oh yes! The organisation PETA is pronounced the same way — at least whenever I've heard it spoken.

      But we do accept the foreign long-I before t in some names taken from other languages: Rita and Margaritaetc, and the more obviously foreign señorita.

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    2. I'm fascinating by a distinction: are FLEECE and "foreign-long-I" different is some dialects? To me they're the same: fleece, Lisa, Elise, pizza, Peter, pita, margarita (rocks and salt, please) -- oh, and "please" itself -- all take exactly the same vowel, including length.

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    3. (I omitted "Theresa" only because I didn't want to reopen that conversation...) ;-).

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    4. Christian, the historical association of KIT and PRICE with short I and long I respectively has not lost its potency in accents of British English.

      This can affect our spelling pronunciations — the pronunciation of Lisa to rhyme with miser is still heard. But there's a long-ish history of foreign words spelled with letter-I and a single consonant letter but which are pronounced with something like our FLEECE vowel.

      Ignoring exceptions — which is, of course exactly what we do — spelling~sound correspondences fall into three classes:
      1. Letter-I followed by two consonant letters (or one final consonannt) corresponds to KIT.
      2. Letter-I followed by one consonant corresponds to PRICE.
      3. Letter-I followed by one consonant corresponds to FLEECE.

      To me at least, both Class 2 and Class 3 are long I. The words covered by Class 3 are foreign and relativelyin origin, so I think of the sound — in relation to its spelling — as foreign long I.

      in Accents of English, John Wells identifies three groups of words with the FLEECE vowel. Two had different E-sounds in Middle English, but then merged and changed to the modern sound. English spelling was largely regularised before the two sounds merged, so the former distinction is widely preserved in the spellings ee versus ea. The third, much smaller group is of recent borrowings from French and then other languages. Wells's example list is:

      police, machine, prestige, elite, mosquito, casino, trio, ski, chic ...

      Of your examples, Peter belongs to the same class as the ee words. And please is, of course, in the ea class. In Middle English the two words were pronounced with different vowels.

      I think of both Peter and please as having a long E. But it's impossible to think that of machine. Hence the invented term foreign long I.

      But, no, they're not different sounds in my accent or in any accent that I know of.

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    5. Leaving aside the word Theresa itself, there are foreign borrowings with E spelling and a FACE vowel, But they're not numerous and don't call out to be treated as a class. Wells lists only
      crêpe, fête (often spelled just crepe, fete), bouquet ...

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    6. Also reasonably common: melee, melange

      and if you allow final syllable FACE vowel sound (bouquet) then cafe, duvet, née, parquet, risqué are also reasonably common examples.

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    7. Ethan, you've almost persuaded me to invent a new category of foreign long E spelling correspondences. However, John Wells's examples and yours seem to constitute a narrower category — French words with approximations to French pronunciation.

      I wouldn't myself pronounce melange with a FACE vowel, by the way.

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    8. OK, I'll renounce my some vows, and attempt a taxonomy on vowel spelling-to-sound correspondences with made-up categories.

      I'll call the categories CHECKED, LONG and INTERNATIONAL.

      There's a virtual pure system which doesn't exist even for RP-speakers, but seems to underlie what we actually do.

      …..…CHECKED……..…..LONG……....INTERNATIONAL
      A……TRAP……………....FACE…….….BATH
      E……DRESS……………..FLEECE…….FACE
      I…….KIT……………...…...PRICE……….FLEECE
      O…...LOT………………….GOAT………..GOAT
      U…..STRUT………………Y+GOOSE…..GOOSE
      (Y…..KIT………………….PRICE)

      Letter, by letter

      A:
      Between accents of England, BATH words are not consistently pronounced. RP speakers and some others consistently use a PALM vowel. But — depending (often but not always) on geography — many speakers use the TRAP vowel for INTERNATIONAL words. Amazingly, some Pakistanis hear this as an insult.

      E:
      The INTERNATIONAL correspondence seems to be largely confined to two groups of words:
      • obvious French borrowings, some spelled (sometimes) with French accents
      • women's names such as Theresa, Irena, Helena...
      As discussed elsewhere, there is no consistency over the names.

      I:
      A long time ago, before American English could even exist, we started taking words from French like police with an INTERNATIONAL vowel correspondence. As already discussed, all dialects use INTERNATIONAL FLEECE for a number of words adopted from a number of languages. But AmE has been readier than BrE to do so with recent borrowings.

      O:
      American accents have destroyed the system. The LOT vowel is like the PALM vowel, so can't be categorised as distinctively CHECKED. The AmE GOAT vowel is close to the o sound in many languages — in which it can be CHECKED or not. Because there is no vestige of the old SHORT-LONG system, Americans tend to have a GOAT vowel in words ending in –os (see the Barbados thread). This extends to words from Classical Greek where they were spelled with omicron — the short vowel letter.

      U:
      In LONG correspondence RP and some other accents seem be consistent in inserting a Y-sound in words spelled with U — with the exception of words spelled with –LU- or –RU-. We don't do this with recent and obvious borrowings such as hula or sumo.

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    9. In AmE, mesa, beta, eta, zeta, and many other loanwords use that FACE vowel for the e. It's not just French loanwords. There is a variant pronunciation of "rodeo" that uses the FACE vowel as well, but it's not one that I use.

      And I'd use the FACE vowel (or a fairly close approximation) for the vowel in melange as well.

      My perception is that during the 19th century, AmE was very willing to Americanize pronunciation of loanwords (see the pronunciations of Cairo IL and Versailles IN for examples), but is much less willing to do that now. We seem to prefer a closer approximation of native pronunciation for loan words now, at least for words from languages that Americans commonly borrow from.

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    10. Doug, I know of Cairo Illinois only from Blues singers who (to my ear) pronounce it with a FACE vowel. That doesn't seem to me like Amercanising or any other Anglicising. Or is it actually a SQUARE vowel?

      Your pronunciation of mesa is understandable. But beta, eta and theta must reflect a change from the long-E value of the time that your ancestors took to America. Eta itself was the long E of Classical Greek — distinct from the short-E epsilon.

      And just how do you pronounces Versailles Indiana?

      We too have opened up in the last century or so to pronunciations that run counter to English spelling patterns. Not so long ago, we pronounced Prague to rhyme with vague. And the Irish still do when referring to the Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Prague. But British and Irish alike now use the PALM vowel fro the Czech capital.

      But our openness is much weaker than yours — which is somewhat ironic, as we like to pride ourselves on being more open than you to the outside world. Not so, apparently.

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    11. David, I think I've mentioned on these threads before that the local inhabitants of Bath pronounce the vowel in their city's name in a different way yet again, neither with the 'trap' vowel, nor the 'palm' one but as a longer version of the 'trap' vowel, a sound which I don't think exists in RP. It's closest to the sound in 'Baa' meant to represent the noise a sheep makes.

      However, one also needs to be careful referring to the 'palm' vowel as such. It may surprise people from other dialect communities to be told that there are some dialects where the 'l' in 'palm' represents a sound that is pronounced. It's not the 'l' as in 'light' or 'love' but a sort of swallowed 'l'. I suspect that most of the places where this happens are also rhotic, but not all rhotic places do this.

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    12. "Is my family the only one that serves chili with corn bread? Regular unsweetened Southern-style cornbread for everyday, or fancy cornbread with cheese, green chilis, corn, and onions for Superbowl parties."

      Nope, as a foreigner transplanted to Southern California, cornbread (fancified or otherwise) is the only accompaniment to bowl of chili I have ever experienced. The chili (con or sin carne) of course has the obligatory diced raw onion and grated cheese topping.

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    13. David,

      The American city of Cairo, Illinois, is pronounced with the FACE vowel. The American pronunciation of the Egyptian city Cairo is with the vowel in PIE (or TIE, DIE, MY, etc.).

      In many (most?) American dialects, the FACE vowel and the SQUARE vowel are the same phoneme (what nonlinguists call "long a", so most folks would't really understand your apparent distinguishing of them as different vowels. A coda R does color the vowel, though, so they are different allophones, if that's what you were asking about. In the case of Cairo, Ill., the R is the onset of the second syllable not the coda of the first, so it's a "pure" FACE allophone not the R-colored one. It's pronounced, with an initial K, of course, like "Hey, Row" not like "Hair, Oh." (And the Egyptian city is pronounced like "Tie, Row" not like "Tire, Oh.") Both pronunciations are a little unusual in that the stressed syllable (the first one for both) doesn't pull the R to be a coda as stressed syllables often do.)

      Versailles, IN, also has the FACE vowel and is pronounced with the second syllable stressed and exactly like the noun "sales" (as in "Walmart and Target both got back-to-school sales going on right now").

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    14. Dru, John Wells's lexical sets were complied to establish a basis in two reference accents: RP and General American. For the most part, vowel sounds in individual accents can be described quite simply in terms of sound values for words in each set. It's simple as long as all the words belong in the usual lexical set. But if someone pronounced a word — the city Bath, say — in a different way to the other words in the set, then it not too difficult to describe it j=in terms of belonging in a different set.

      When it comes to local variation such as pronouncing an L-sound in palm say, it's still straightforward to speak in terms of difference from the reference accents.

      Wells allowed himself just under two pages to discuss BATH/TRAP/PALM/START vowel sounds in West Country accents. But that's a big geographical area with many local differences. And there are class-based differences too. So there's a lot of detail, but not enough to pin down what he thinks of the accent(s) of Bath (the city).

      He does recognise three A-sounds in some middle-class Southampton speakers, for example. At this level of detail he has to use IPA notation
      [æː] ~ [æ] ~[ɑː]
      hand ~ land ~ command
      Sam ~ Spam ~ psalm

      But often it's possible to speak of, for example, a lengthened TRAP vowel — a process that can happen in different accents with different actual sounds produced.

      PALM was chosen as a label for its lexical set because the 'native' core members are very few indeed — fourteen words, he thought. The spelling of palm (like calm and psalm) is eye-catchingly easy to remember — unlike bra or blah. It's no big deal to explain that in a certain accent the three words spelled with -alm — plus geographical names such as Calne — are pronounced differently from the expected.

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    15. Cairo, IL is pronounced with the FACE vowel. Cairo, Egypt is pronounced with the EYE vowel (approximately). Or at least that's the case with all the news presenters and Arabic speakers that I've listened to or talked to. I'd call that an Americanization, though it's possible that was the common pronunciation in all dialects of English at the time the city was established.

      Versailles, IN is pronounced with the FACE vowel and a voiced 'L' (rhyme with "fur sales", though the stress is on the second syllable in 'Versailles').

      Those Greek letters are universally pronounced with a European "long-E" (FACE, see, for instance the article "dem" in German, which has a very similar value for the 'e') in AmE.

      As to openness, we've been doing mass immigration for quite a long time, so for the average person in the US, direct exposure (non-native-English-speaking neighbors, for instance) to many languages is more common than is my perception of the case in the UK until pretty recently.

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  30. As an American, I would never have connected chili, the stew like food, with chili con carne had it not been for this post. We've always just called it chili, whereas I've only seen chili con carne at Mexican restaurants.

    How chili is made depends on the region too. People from Texas and Louisiana seem to like to make it without beans and more spicy, and here in Alabama people like beans in it and not quite as spicy. Some people like rice with it but in my family we've never made rice with chili.

    I've also never known the difference between the chili and chilli spellings. It seems like one of those grey/gray things where I'd use either one arbitrarily.

    ReplyDelete

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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)