Tuesday, November 10, 2009

You Say To-mah-to ...

"What would you like on your sandwich, ma'am?" the man behind the counter asked the woman.

"A slice of to-mah-to," she replied to him.
I was next in line at the sandwich counter of the deli as the above exchange took place. Like the man preparing her order, I raised my eyebrows in reaction to the haughty manner of her enunciation.

I've heard 'tomato' pronounced as 'to-mah-to' before, and it came as no surprise to hear it from a lady who spoke with her nose in the air. It was her deliberate use of the long 'A' (rhyming it with 'day') to begin her reply that caught my attention.
( In response to the man, most of our replies would have sounded like, "Uh slice of tomato." )
When referring to the letter 'A' itself, it is pronounced with a hard or long emphasis. But when used as an article in speech, it is generally voiced as "uh."
"Make sure the to-mah-to is fresh," she added waving her finger at him.
With that statement, the word 'the' was expressed with a long 'e' to sound like 'thee.' Of course, most of us would have verbalized 'the' as 'thuh.' ( Hmmm ... curious that 'a' and 'the' would rhyme, isn't it? )

According to the lexicographer, Mr. Noah Webster, when referring to the letter a or A, it is correctly pronounced long. However, when used as an article, it is pronounced as 'uh' as indicated by an upside down 'e.' ( Give the lady one demerit for her verbal faux pas. )

On the matter of the word 'the', Webster lists first 'thuh' as the preferred pronunciation, but also mentions 'the' with a long 'e' as also acceptable, although archaic.
Either one is correct. Neither one is wrong.
I suspect that this lady would have taken exception to my vocalization of those two words.
I say 'ee-ther' and 'nee-ther'.

No doubt she would have said 'eye-ther' and 'nigh-ther'.
Now, even though she spoke in a blue-blood haughty manner, and had a typical Bostonian accent, her next request caught me by surprise.
"Could you wrap that in al-u-min-i-um ?"
Wait a minute, I thought. This woman wasn't British. Why was she pronouncing 'aluminum' like those people across the pond. I thought only the British added the non-existent syllable to that word!

I can only assume that this woman was trying to put on an air of sophistication by displaying a holier-than-thou attitude. ( Should 'thou" be pronounced as 'thoo'? )

In the end I was about to dismiss her act, after all what harm was she doing anyway? I was about to ... until she was paying for the sandwich ...
"That'll be $3.07, ma'am," the counterman announced.
She handed the man three one-dollar bills and inexplicably counted out seven pennies from the plastic tray next to the register.

I decided not to dismiss her act! Not only was she a phony and putting on airs, but she was cheap too!

Lady, you say to-mah-to, I say ... phooey!



Sandee said...

I wanna be if you ask me. I just gag on these kind of folks.

Have a terrific day. :)

Hale McKay said...


I'm glad I'm not alone on my sentiments for the lady and her ilk.