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?

  • 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, 2011 at 4:44
  • 3
    I'm pretty sure this is just a Gilbert & Sullivan like joke.
    – cindi
    Dec 30, 2011 at 9:13

3 Answers 3


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

  • 4
    I've never heard anyone in the US say it either. Dec 29, 2011 at 17:48

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.


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.

  • 4
    I've never heard this - is it a regional/ethnic pronounciation?
    – cindi
    Dec 29, 2011 at 15:36
  • 3
    Where in England? It's outside my experience.
    – Colin Fine
    Dec 30, 2011 at 22:26
  • 1
    I've taught in a school where a pupil spelt hedgehog 'egog'. I wouldn't say that was acceptable. And his teacher marked it wrong. Apr 29, 2015 at 7:32
  • I've heard a few times "scissors" pronounced so that c makes a k sound, but that doesn't make it right...
    – Heimdall
    Oct 13, 2017 at 5:39

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