You Say "Mo-Jai-Toe," I Say Mojito

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When I was a freshman in college, I had a friend who got hold of a fake ID. This friend wasn't of the keg-swilling genus of college student; instead, he talked me into splurging on a nice dinner so he could order a pricey glass of wine. He didn't have the best fake ID, and it was probably the implausibility of an underage drinker risking his precious fake on a glass of wine, more than the plausibility of the ID itself, that convinced the wary waitress that he was legit.

That is, until he asked for a glass of "mer-LOT," the "t" included. Oops. "Lemme see that ID again," the waitress said. Card in hand, she went to the back and returned with the check—without the ID. Fortunately, we had already finished our entrees.

I always say, "You mean co-burn the wine, right? Cock burn is something else entirely."

We were mortified at the time; now we look back and laugh. Everyone, after all, has a similar story—I went for years of my young drinker's life pronouncing "draught" like "stout." And that's the easy stuff—the world of liquor is indeed a world, with even a basic hotel bar stocking liquors from Europe, Latin America, and Asia.

So what are the most commonly mispronounced drinks? To find out, I surveyed bartenders from around the country. Here's what they said:

"Our most common one at Copper Gate is the Tyttebær, for obvious reasons. 'Tyttebær' [note: correctly pronounced with a long "i" in the first syllable and "bear" instead of "bar" in the third syllable] is the Norwegian word for 'lingonberry,' and that drink is basically lingonberry-flavored sparkling wine. About 90 percent of the crowd calls it the 'titty bar' (giggle, giggle).

"As for pronunciation, most of that same 90 percent either confidently spouts out an incorrect drink name (like 'lie-sholm linnee' vs. 'lee-sjhom linye'—spelled Lysholm Linie Aquavit), or slowly works through a word one syllable at a time getting close to correct. The best are those who glacially work their way through a word messing up each syllable as they go. In any event, we normally know what they're talking about and only correct them if they seem to want us to. That being said, no one on staff speaks Danish, Swedish, or Norwegian, but have picked up some of the pronunciation from the 10 percent of our crowd that knows exactly what they're looking at. My guess is that some of them have better stories of us screwing up their language."
Perryn Wright, The Copper Gate, Seattle

" 'Ku-ra-ko' for 'Curaçao' and 'comber' for 'combier.' "
Martin Cate, Smuggler's Cove, San Francisco

"Aside from the obvious butchering of most of the Scotch world, with names that a leprechaun doesn't have a chance at nailing, here goes: 'I want three of those cosmo-top-ilans!' I made the drink and proceeded to knock it over on her ... not really, but it would have been funny. You definitely get the occasional mo-ji-to ('mo-jai-toe') order ... Don't even get me started on cachaça or caipirinhas! The important thing to remember is not to make the guest feel stupid if they mispronounce...if there's a tactful way to correct them, great; if not, prepare your best mo-jai-toe and remember we have a lot of work to do!"
Charles Joly, The Drawing Room, Chicago

" 'Jim-lay' for 'Gimlet.' "
Tony Devencenzi, Bourbon and Branch, San Francisco

"One I can think of is one guest's recent pronunciation of the scotch Bruichladdich. There is some controversy of how the name is supposed to be pronounced anyways. The distillery now suggest saying 'brook-laddie' but most believe that is just a modern interpretation and contend that it always has been 'broo-ich-klad-dik.' Either way, it is definitely not pronounced 'bruk-la-dish' as I recently got."
Michael Shearin, Drago Centro, Los Angeles

"Cockburn Port being ordered as 'cock burn' rather the 'co-burn.' I always say, 'You mean co-burn the wine, right? Cock burn is something else entirely.' Lillet pronounced 'lillette.' Caipirinha: some of my bartenders still can't say it. And I personally think it funny the way so many guests put a possessive 's' after brand names: Stoli's, Jameson's, Macallan's, etc."
Neyah White, Nopa, San Francisco

"Although I have been in many situations where I have heard a guest obviously butcher the name of a drink or spirit, such as ordering a 'Lou Parry' instead of a 'Vieux Carré' or 'kuh-cha-cha' instead of 'cachaça,' I don't see that as a bad thing. If anything, I am happy to see them stepping outside of the box and attempting to try something new that they may be unfamiliar with. I see the role of the bartender as being a tour guide for our guests and leading them to try new cocktails and flavors, and it goes without saying, that it is our job to assist them and help them as they pursue new adventures in drinking."
Erick Castro, Rickhouse, San Francisco

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Clay Risen is an editor at The New York Times, and is the author of A Nation on Fire: America in the Wake of the King Assassination. He has written for The New Republic, Smithsonian, and The New York Times Sunday Magazine.

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