My wife’s favorite nut is – and always has been – the pecan.
But that isn’t as relevant to this entry in this column series as how you pronounced “pecan” in your head as you read the word, and how you say it when it comes up in conversation.
There are numerous examples in the complicated (but extremely versatile) English language of words that are pronounced in more than one way – like envelope, pajamas, aunt, either and syrup, just to name a handful.
But pecan is uniquely positioned at the top of the pronunciation chart by checking in with an amazing four variations: “Pi-kahn,” “pi-kan,” “pee-kahn” and “pee-kan.” That’s pretty wild, and it’s interesting to note that Dictionary.com does nothing to resolve the matter, but rather lists all four.
Not that there’s anything wrong with any of the versions; it’s just that most words don’t receive such lenient treatment, and I’m not clear on why pecan does.
For the record, the pecan tree (Carya illinoinensis) is a species of hickory native to the southern United States and northern Mexico. The seed is an edible nut used as a snack and in various recipes (like praline candy, pecan pie and my wife’s awesome pecan-crusted chicken), and pecans are a good source of calcium, magnesium and potassium, which are all accepted as helping lower blood pressure. Also, most of the fat found in pecans is a healthy type called monounsaturated fat, as opposed to the unhealthy saturated fats found in junk foods like potato chips.
The pecan tree is cultivated in Mexico (which produces nearly half the world’s total) and in the southern United States (primarily in Georgia, New Mexico, and Texas), and the pecan is the state nut of Alabama, Arkansas, California and Texas.
According to Nerdist.com, the pecan is the seventh most popular nut in the U.S., behind peanuts, cashews, almonds, pistachios, walnuts and hazelnuts. And according to Worldatlas.com, pecans are the seventh most popular nut on Earth, behind peanuts, almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios and hazelnuts.
Hazelnuts ahead of pecans? I’m sure whoever came up with those rankings has far more experience with conducting a poll than I do, but I’m still not so sure know about that.
But four pronunciations? With that kind of inherent variety, pecan ought to be the official word of the most popular English language app and be utilized in educational curriculum to highlight the diversity of spoken language.
It’s also interesting to note that Google seems to take sides on the matter by saying, “We can all rest assured that there is no one proper pronunciation for the word pecan, though the most accepted is “pi-KAHN.”
Beg to differ. I’ve always said “pee-kahn,” which is the way I heard it said most often while growing up on the West Coast and is also the way it’s often said in these parts.
Anyway, the word “pecan” is not likely to relinquish its title as Pronunciation Champion any time soon, and all four variations will probably be with us until the end of time (or at least the end of the English language). In turn, I think we should all just be adults about this dilemma and say it any way we want to and happily allow everyone else do the same.
But now I’m wondering how you just pronounced “adults” in your head. Hopefully it was the right way.
Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: email@example.com.