Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Immortalized in the George and Ira Gershwin song "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" is the nitpicking of pronunciation differences:

You like potato and I like potahto,
You like tomato and I like tomahto,
Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto!

According to Wikipedia and other sources, the English do pronounce tomato as tə-MAH-toh rather than tə-MAY-toh. But this doesn't seem to be the case when it comes to potato.

(From the O.E.D.)

tomato – Pronunciation: /təˈmɑːtəʊ/
potato – Pronunciation: /pəˈteɪtəʊ/

Is "potahto" actually an acceptable way to pronounce potato? Or is the song just wrong?

share|improve this question
    
There should be a corpus of the spoken word. We will then have an nGram for it as well. We could search and be satisfied. Google tapes? Top on my wishlist. –  Kris Dec 29 '11 at 4:44
    
@Kris Thank you for making that a comment. –  Mahnax Dec 29 '11 at 19:04
2  
I'm pretty sure this is just a Gilbert & Sullivan like joke. –  cindi Dec 30 '11 at 9:13
add comment

3 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I have lived in the UK for four years, yet I have never heard anyone say pot-ah-to, only pot-ay-to.

share|improve this answer
1  
I've never heard anyone in the US say it either. –  Ullallulloo Dec 29 '11 at 17:48
add comment

Along with tomato, I have heard potato pronounced this way in England, and members of my own family pronounce it this way. So yes, I would say that it is acceptable.

share|improve this answer
2  
I've never heard this - is it a regional/ethnic pronounciation? –  cindi Dec 29 '11 at 15:36
2  
Where in England? It's outside my experience. –  Colin Fine Dec 30 '11 at 22:26
add comment

Normally, the word "potato" is exclusively pronounced with a long A (/ej/), in both American and British usage. Various dictionaries list only this pronunciation.

The Gershwin song intentionally uses a non-standard pronunciation as an exaggeration of the sociolectal differences between the two characters. According to Wikipedia:

The differences in pronunciation are not simply regional, however, and serve more specifically to identify class differences. At the time, typical American pronunciations were considered less "refined" by the upper-class, and there was a specific emphasis on the "broader" a sound. This class distinction with respect to pronunciation has been retained in caricatures, especially in the theater where the longer a pronunciation is most strongly associated with the word "darling."

Note that the rest of the song contains other clearly exaggerated pronunciations, including various regionalisms that would not likely be seen in the same speaker.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.