You say po-tay-to, I say po-tah-to
Let's call the whole thing off
Many words have multiple accepted (or one accepted and one less accepted, but common) way of pronouncing them. Usually, these differences vary across geographical regions and not from person to person, hence you'll usually only hear one pronunciation being used, but cross over to a different region and you might encounter characters who have their own varied pronunciation for a certain word.
The general consensus is that if you encounter somebody say "tomahto" rather than "tomayto" (or vice versa), it is considered rude to point it out, but in fiction for some reason people tend to like commenting, possibly due to the Funny Foreigner trope.
Of course, as mentioned above certain words have alternate forms that are considered mispronunciations, such as "nucular" for nuclear. In this case, this trope can be used to identify a character as having Delusions of Eloquence, or to contrast Slobs vs. Snobs.
A variation can occur where the trope name is mentioned to indicate two different things seeming almost the same, although often used for laughs, for instance in "Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word.
Not to be confused with Pretentious Pronunciation, where somebody pronounces something in an uncommon (or even never-before) way in order to make the word sound fancier. Occasionally overlaps with Pronouncing My Name for You, if the speaker clarifies that multiple pronunciations is acceptable. May result in Got Me Doing It.
- Diabeetus, courtesy of Wilford Brimley.
- A recent Kid Cuisine commercial keeps calling penguins "pengu-eeens".
- A PSA for healthy eating has a grandfather and grandson. The grandfather jokingly calls asparagus "aspargoose." The grandson corrects him "it's not 'asparaGOOSE' it's 'asparaGISS.'"
- Two different ways of pronouncing "tomato" are shown in an Uber Eats commercial with Mark Hamill and Patrick Stewart.
Hamill: Tonight, I'll be eating a veggie cheeseburger on ciabatta. No to-may-toes.
Stewart: Tonight, I'll be eating four-cheese tortellini with extra to-mah-toes.
- A 2012 commercial for Wheat Thins starring Stewie and Brian Griffin had Stewie ask Brian for "hu-weet thins" and Brian insisting he pronounce them as "Wheat Thins," referencing a gag in the show where Stewie mispronounces words with the "wh-" prefix.
- In Oh, Suddenly Egyptian God, Thoth constantly corrects his peers on their pronunciation of the word "pizza" (the English "pit-za", as opposed to "piza" which is more common with Japanese voice actors' tongues).
- The Smurfs: One story was entirely about the divide between the northern and southern Smurfs and whether "smurf" replaces an adjective or a noun, as a parody of the Separated by a Common Language issues in the strip's native Belgium.
- The New Adventures of Invader Zim: A quick gag at the start of Season 2 establishes that the Tallest have a long-standing argument over the proper way to pronounce "caramel". Red thinks it's "car-a-mel", while Purple is sure it's "car-mel".
- Rocketship Voyager. Nee'Lix gives the trope straight when introduced to tomatoes for the first time in Voyager's hydroponics garden.
Nee'Lix: I can do wonderful things with vegetables, Captain! Take these tomatoes... am I saying it right? Is it pronounced 'tomayto' or 'tomahto'?"Captain Janeway: It's eether, I mean either... never mind.
- In Hercules during "Zero to Hero," two of the Muses can't agree on how to pronounce "vase." "And they slapped his face on every vase!" "On every vahs!"
- Megamind upon being corrected in his pronunciation responds "potato tomato, potato tomato" without changing the pronunciation at all. He tends to do this with a lot of words, like "Ollo" instead of "Hello", "Shool" instead of "School" and "re-VARNGE" instead of "revenge"; presumably because he learnt from reading more than social interaction. His unique pronunciation of "Metro City" (i.e. as if it's all one word that rhymes with "atrocity") becomes important later Titan discovers the "Metro Man" he fought was actually Megamind in disguise because "There's only one person who says Metrocity".
- Black Widow (2021) has a scene where Natasha tries to push for how the Hungarians pronounce their capital (Buda-PESHT) while Mason just goes for the English wayo.
- In The Hangover, the future brother-in-law pronounces "ree-tard" as "re-taard".
- In High Anxiety, Dr. Thorndyke's chauffeur Brophy refers to the hotel they're staying in as "modren".
- In Hot Rod, Rod tells his crew that his safety word is "huwisky". His stepbrother wants to know why he's pronouncing "whiskey" so weirdly, which leads to Rod pronouncing a string of words starting with 'wh' (and one that just starts with 'w') in the same way until his stepbrother gives up.
- According to the director's commentary, this was inspired by a skit on Gang Starr's album Moment of Truth.
- The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers: "PO-TAY-TOES!"
- Lampooned in The Colour of Magic film, as Twoflower (who is played by Sean Astin, who also played Sam Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings film) goes completely overboard with the pronunciation of "potatoes".
- In The Pink Panther (2006), Inspector Jacques Clouseau would like to buy a "damburger" and would also like to rent a "rhume" for the night and pick up a "massage" at the front desk of a hotel. It's worth noting that he didn't do this in the original film, as the original Clouseau's pronounciation became ever more outrageous over the course of the original film series.
- Rain Man is, of course, based on a child's pronunciation of "Raymond".
- The trope-naming song, "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off", was introduced in the 1937 film Shall We Dance?, in which Fred Astaire sings it to Ginger Rogers.
- Interestingly, the way it tends to be alluded to these days is actually opposite to what it meant in the musical. Today, saying "tomayto, tomahto" basically means "that distinction is meaningless, it's six of one and half a dozen of the other." In the musical, the differences are being mentioned because they're actually important signifiers of the class difference between the two characters; it means "this will never work because we're too different."
- Take Down has a moment of racial tension when white wrestler Kier makes fun of his African-American teammate Macgrudder for how he says "cotton" ("kat'in"), and Macgrudder gets him to back off.
- Often used by Anne Robinson when a contestant from Northern England shows up on The Weakest Link (unless that contestant is from her home city, Liverpool).
- In one episode of Wheel of Fortune, host Pat Sajak pointed out that then-announcer Charlie O'Donnel says "ca-RIB-be-an" while Pat says "CARE-uh-be-an". He then added that he says "Wheel of Fortune" while Charlie says, quote, "Wheeeeeeeeeeel of Fortune" (the way that Charlie used to announce the intro).
- In a 1963 prime time telecast of The Price Is Right, Bill Cullen is describing a Chevrolet Impala a contestant won as a bonus prize and pronounces it "Im-PAY-la."
- The peculiarly "posh" pronunciation of words used by the Arts Curator in Discworld's Thud! draws a lot of comment from Nobby and Colon particularly, complete with its own lampshade and characteristic merciless mocking. Leads to plenty of exchanges like this:
Sir Reynold Stitched: We've had a burglareah, officer!Nobby: A burglar rear?Fred Colon was impressed. You could barely understand the man, he was that posh.
- It is very possible Terry was basing the character of Sir Reynold Stitched on real-life TV and heavy-newspaper arts pundit Sir Brian Sewell, who really does talk like that. Just Google on his TV appearances on heavy arty programmes like the South Bank Show and all will be made manifest.
- Similarly, in Jingo, one of the things that infuriates Sam Vimes about Lord Rust is that the man pronounces "years" as "hyahs".
- Hand hsevheral hbooks have hcommented hon the hway Mrs Hwhitlow hspeaks hwhen hsuffering hfrom hclass hconciousness. Leading to a maid using the word "spat", Mrs Whitlow corrects this to "hexpectorated", and the genuinely posh (but very much backwoods country gent) Ridcully calls it "gobbin'".
- In the James Bond novel Nobody Lives for Ever, it's mentioned that Bond's landlady has a problem with the m-n pairing, referring to something as "crinimal".
- Knuffle Bunny: In the sequel, Trixie's rival Sonia pronounces Knuffle Bunny's name like "Nuffle," infuriating Trixie, who pronounces it as "Kuh-nuffle."
- Common in the Winnie the Pooh stories, being based on the playacting of a little boy. Notable examples include Woozles (weasels), Heffalumps (elephants), Jagulars (jaguars), Tigger (tiger) and Winnie the Pooh himself (based on Winnipeg, a bear at the London Zoo).
- The King of Queens:
- Doug gets in an argument with Arthur when Arthur asks for the "catsup" (which is an acceptable variation of "ketchup", just not to Doug). Of course, Doug is one to talk, considering the way he talks: "Sanitasheeown." "I'm the 'onioniown' guy!"
- In another episode, Carrie makes fun of Doug's pronounciation of "Worcester Sauce". Except she says the "correct" pronunciation is to mumble it so nobody's sure what you've said.
- In one episode of 30 Rock, Liz pronounces camera as "cahmerah", and is unsure whether she's saying it weirdly or not. Also: "This is always hard to say: You have die-AB-uh-dees?"
- Mystery Science Theater 3000. They love to deliberately mispronounce names. For instance, Tom Servo said: "Chai Chainote Rodreh-gweez".
- A Chewin' the Fat sketch featured the "actor" Ronald Villiers auditioning for The Matrix. He repeatedly pronounces it "Mah-trix".
- William Shatner's...pronunciation...oftheword...sabotage.
- On The IT Crowd, Jen pronounces "computer" with the emphasis on the first syllable (rather than as more commonly on the second syllable). This serves to highlight her lack of expertise and interest in the area.
- Ted on How I Met Your Mother has his own pretentious way of pronouncing several words. But his pronunciation of "encyclopædia" warranted comment from other characters. "En-cyc-lo-PAY-dia" because of the æ.
- As well as chameleon (shamil-e-on).
- The Community episode "Physical Education" focused on Britta's pronunciation of the word "bagel" as "baggel".
- Friends: in the What If? episode, Ross insists on calling karate "kaah-raah-Tay" instead of the U.S.-normal "kuh-rah-dee." There's also Chandler's pronunciation of the "whipped" onomatopoeia/gesture as "Whoop-pah!" (with the rest of the cast favouring "hwu-cher!").
- Drake & Josh, anyone? Walter constantly mispronouncing "touché" and "capice" was made into a running gag.
- A Seinfeld episode involves George breaking up with his girlfriend because she's pretentious, pronouncing words such as "pap-ee-ay maché" instead of "paper mach-ay" (because it's from papier-mâché, so she is right).
- In one Hancock's Half Hour episode where Tony was planning to emigrate, he was continually mispronouncing Canada (he said it as if it rhymed with Grenada) despite everyone's attempts to correct him.
- John Candy and Eugene Levy as Yosh and Stan Schmenge do this on SCTV. Each of them pronounced their last name slightly different (which was part of the joke). Candy pronounced it "Shmen-gee", while Levy's pronunciation sounded more like "Schman-gee."
- Legion: In "Chapter 22", when Gabrielle (a Romani) pronounces tomato as "to-may-to," Charles Xavier (an Englishman) remarks that the correct pronunciation among Brits is "to-mah-to."
Gabrielle: Have you heard of a to-may-to?
Charles: Well, we say to-mah-to, but, uh, yes.
- The Star Trek peculiarity, shared by Spock and Worf, in the way words such as "honor" and "valor" are pronounced - emphasis firmly on the second syllable which is emphatically drawn out (Ho-NORRRR, va-LORRR)
- Christopher Walken hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live where he performed the Trope Namer song... unfortunately, as he was reading it off of cue cards, he simply pronounced it "po-TAY-to" each time. Jimmy Fallon tried to correct him... so he switched to "po-TAH-to" both times.
- The Goodies: A Running Gag in "Bunfight at the O.K. Tearooms" has the characters arguing over the correct pronunciation of 'scone'; with one pronouncing it 'sc-ON' and the other 'sc-OWN'. (In truth, both are accepted regional pronunciations.)
- in Will & Grace, Karen references the trope in her own unique way, calling it "You say potato, I say vodka".
- Monty Python's Flying Circus: When Raymond Luxury Yacht is introduced on a chat show, he insists it's not his name.
Host: Sorry. Raymond Luxury Ya-cht.
Raymond: It's spelt Raymond Luxury Ya-cht but it's pronounced "Throatwobbler Mangrove!"
- On Avenue 5, the resident Upper-Class Twit at one point says "tomahto tomahto", and when called on it, responds
Judd: You say "tomayto tomahto", I say "tomahto tomahto."
- In the 'Odd Moments in History' segment of Odd Squad, the world's fighting over the pronunciation angers the tomatoes. In 1951, the tomatoes separate from their vines and fly to the tropical island of Galapanogostoflonfleesilvaniaopolis. Odd Squad agrees to help, on the condition that they be pronounced "to-mee-tos."
- The children of The Family Circus, most often Jeffy, pronounce some words in a nonstandard way.
- Dilbert: Dogbert quoted this in a 1992 strip...to compare stimulating the economy to giving himself a tax break. Seen here.
- In one FoxTrot strip, Andy expresses her annoyance with someone on TV saying "realitor" instead of "realtor", to which Jason replies "Wow, you're really going nucular" to deliberately wind her up.
- Tuatha from The Fallen Gods drops this regularly in episode 2, even when it doesn't actually apply.
- Our Miss Brooks: Notable in "Hello Mr. Chips", where an English headmaster, a Quintessential British Gentleman, visits Madison High School. His pronounciation varies greatly from that of the regular characters. So much so, that it's a Running Gag throughout the episode.
- BBC radio comedy show Son of Cliché subverted this, in a sketch where the two singers performing "Let's call the whole thing off" go to the producer complaining the song doesn't make sense. One, an American, complains the lines are nonsense - she proves her point by singing You say tomayto and I say tomayto, using the "tomayto" pronunciation throughout. Her English co-singer similarly says You say poh-tay-to and I say poh-tay-to is just as silly. He frankly can't see the point of the song either...
- British people do say pot-ay-to (and tom-ah-to) though; nobody actually says pot-ah-to!
- Comedian Ron White, in one of his bits, makes fun of a person pronouncing "coupons" as "coupins".
- Alan Davies had this joke back when he did stand-up on how some people pronounced "falafel" as "fliffel".
- The Moon is Blue:
Patty: Did you say "invaygled"?
David: Yes, but I assure you I...
Patty: Is that how it's pronounced? I always say "inveigled." Is "invaygled" right?
David: I think so. Inveigled—invaygled—inveigled. Now I don't know. Silly word, isn't it?
- "Zip" from Pal Joey:
Zip! English people don't say clerk, they say clark.
Zip! Anybody who says clark is a jark!
- In Aviary Attorney, Falcon will do this if you press a particular piece of testimony while cross-examining Volerti the rooster.
Volerti: At 10 o'cluck in the morning…
Falcon: Surely you meant to say 10 o'clock?Volerti: I beg your pardon?Falcon: You clucked…like a chicken…
- An event in Crusader Kings III has the player character and someone in their court debating whether "gibbet" starts with a hard or soft G sound. In a clear nod to the "gif" debate, the other character insists that the person who coined the term pronounced it with a soft G.
- Ruphand: An Apothecary's Adventure: When first meeting Sir Vantus, Brill and him talk about how to pronounce "Malixinne":
Vantus: I am not from around these parts, but I do keep abreast of the local history. So you pronounce it "Mah-leek-sin-uh," or "Mah-lik-sin"? Her name baffles me.
—> Brill: Everyone pronounces it a different way. We honestly don't know how to pronounce it around here. Sometimes we just call her "Mal".
- In Achewood, there's Teodor's pronunciation of helicopter.
- One strip of It's Walky! features the eponym cracking up because of how a British character pronounces his name.
- Homestar Runner: Part of Coach Z's shtick is saying words weird due to his bizarre, vaguely-Midwestern accent:
Coach Z: Oh, now here's something that doesn't appear to be makin' fun of me. It's the Pam Pam b'loon!
Marzipan: That's "Pom Pom balloon", for those of you who don't speak Coach Z.
- Fat Friend from the Dr. Tran series says "hev" for have, "melk" for milk, and "pellow" for pillow.
- RiffTrax was quick to pounce on Indiana Jones' use of the term "nucular" in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull:
Kevin: Nucular: Let's just give up and stick in the dictionary!
- From JulianSmith.tv: "Give the man a glass of malk!"
- This excerpt from an episode of the Giant Bombcast. Ironic considering Ryan Davis' penchant for stupid pronunciation of simple words.
- slowbeef of Retsupurae fame calls the main character of Donkey Kong "Mary-oh", even correcting himself when he says it normally.
- In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Sounds of Silence", Autumn Blaze is The Exile, and a little desperate for contact with someone else. When Autumn meets Applejack, she admits there are a few words that she has trouble pronouncing because of how little she uses them.
Autumn Blaze: You have no idea how much I've missed jokes. Hi-larity! Am I pronouncing that right? Some words I haven't said in a will- while. While.
- Dr. Blowhole in The Penguins of Madagascar pronounces "penguins" as "pengwuins". Kowalski theorizes that he does it just for spite.
- The Simpsons:
- Moe makes fun of Homer for Frenchly pronouncing garage as "ga-RAJ"note . Moe prefers the term "car hole".
- During the episode when Marge is kidnapped by a biker gang, they quibble over the pronunciation of resume. In this case, both pronunciations are considered correct.
- South Park:
- The planetarium manager in the episode "Cheesy Poofs" has a rare disorder that doesn't allow him to pronounce the t in "planetarium", although he seems to have no problem pronouncing it elsewhere.
- When Al Gore shows up looking for ManBearPig, a Running Gag has him pronouncing "serious"/"seriously" as "serial".
- In South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, the Americans make fun of how Canadians pronounce "about" to sound like "a-boot."
- When Mr. Garrison tries to scare all the "rich" people out of town in "Here Comes the Neighborhood", the "richers" scream when they see their neighbors in ghost sheets and say: "South Park is hainted!"
- In one Family Guy episode, Stewie pronounces 'Cool Whip' as 'cool-huwip'. Brian tries fruitlessly to explain that it sounds weird, leading to Stewie using other w-silent-h words with the same weird pronunciation, totally unaware that he's doing it.
- It's all been 'reweened'.
- Another Family Guy moment inverted this, with Peter making fun of a Lois for saying "nuclear" instead of "nucular", adding that "the 'S' is silent". Oddly enough, this was from before George W. Bush became president.
- Marge Simpson says "foilage" instead of "foliage", as well as "nucular", "excape" and "libary." She also once told Bart to "run like the wine!"
- Homer correcting his superior officer in the Naval Reserve: "It's pronounced 'nucular'."
- Kent Brockman says "tax avoision" rather than "tax evasion".
- Homer also sometimes refers to Lisa's saxophone as "saxomophone".
- One episode of Back to the Future has several characters get distracted by Doc's insistence on saying "po-tah-to."
- On The Proud Family, Sticky pronounces "yacht" as "yatch".
- Yogi Bear says "av-a-redge" quite distinctly for "average" and "pic-a-nic" instead of "picnic".
- And while we're on the topic of Hanna-Barbera, Touche Turtle always pronounced the "w" in "sword".
- On Rugrats, Tommy pronounces "animals" as "am-mi-nals".
- Elmyra Duff also pronounced it "aminals". On Animaniacs, Mr. Director discussed it.
Mr. Director: Take the word "animal". Transpose the letters "n" and "m" and you get "aminal". That, in a nutshell, is comedy.
- The 2 Stupid Dogs episode "Trash Day" has the Little Dog at one point trying to barter with the Big Dog over a discarded toilet seat, offering him a vase as a trade. The Little Dog pronounces it with a long "a" sound, as "vayse." But the Big Dog insists he wants the toilet seat, and that it's pronounced with a short "a" sound, as "vahse." Both dogs argue over the pronunciation of "vase" for a while ("Vayse!" "Vahse." "Vayse!" "Vahse.") But the argument ends when the vase ends up broken from their fighting.
- The song "Me the Mouse and I'm the Duck" from House of Mouse.
- According to Sandy Plankton from Finding Nemo, a boat is called a "butt".
- Apropos of nothing, Ed of Ed, Edd n Eddy once popped up from a grocery bag to happily tell his friends "I SAY TO-MAH-TO!"
Giant Brain: The Big Brain am winning again! I am the greetest! Mwa-ha-ha-ha! I will now leave Earth for no raisin!
- Zapp Brannigan enjoys drinking "champaggin" and eating "guacamowl".
- Bender does the same mistake with "guacamole" when showing off his "flawless" Spanish accent.
- And on "The Day The Earth Stood Stupid", Fry confronts the Giant Brain in the "libary".
- The same episode had Fry trap the Giant Brain's mind in a book he wrote (badly) himself.
- Bugs Bunny is fond of odd pronunciations. "Maroon" for "moron" is perhaps the best known. Part of it is his accent, but much of it seems to be affectation. His thrown gauntlet to the knight in "Knight-mare Hare":
Bugs: Don't go around insulting my friends or I will get thee a can opener and open thee like a freshly packed can of to-MAH-toes!
- Norbert from The Angry Beavers likes to draw out syllables, saying "mee-oo-vee" for "movie" to name one example.
- Similar to the How I Met Your Mother example above, a running gag in the T.U.F.F. Puppy episode "Doom-mates" is that somebody keeps mispronouncing the word "chameleon".
- Hayley on American Dad! pronounces "aunt" like "aahnt", rather than "ant". This does not go unnoticed by her mother or her aunt.
- SpongeBob SquarePants:
- "Karate Choppers"
SpongeBob: I'm practicing my karate, or ka-ra-tay, as some call it.
Mr. Krabs: "Ka-ra-tay"? You should be making "mone-ay", with your "spatul-ay".
- The Trope Namer is referenced on "Fear of a Krabby Patty", when Plankton engages SpongeBob in a Word Association Test but SpongeBob just keeps repeating what Plankton says. When told to say something different, this happens.
- "Karate Choppers"
- Punky Brewster: Punky pronounces "aunt" as "aahnt" in the animated episode "Punky The Heiress," when she finds out she has an aunt and an uncle.
- In the Tom and Jerry cartoon, "Springtime for Thomas", Butch the cat reads a fake love letter addressed to him.
Butch: I have always admired your fis-i-que.
- The Powerpuff Girls, in "Powerpuff Bluff," two of the male criminals disguised (rather crudely) as the Powerpuff Girls notice a vase, and the one disguised as Blossom points out "Look at this vase!" using the long "a" sound. The crook disguised as Buttercup corrects, "I think it's pronounced 'vahse.'" The vase ends up smashed, when the first crook says "I think it's pronounced... 'broken!'" and deliberately breaks it.
- While Uranus is often pronounced as "your anus", the characters in Ready Jet Go! insist it is called "your-eh-nus", which is actually the correct way to pronounce it, making this a weird example of the trope.
- The Ollie & Moon Show: The episode "Italian Gelato Twist", shows that Ollie pronounces "tomato" as "to-may-to", while Moon prefers to pronounce it as "to-mah-to".
- Accent Tropes
- The song "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" (quoted at the top of the page) was originally written because lyricist Ira Gershwin noticed that Ginger Rogers habitually said "ee-ther" while Fred Astaire said "eye-ther."
- Contrary to the song, nobody actually says "potato" with an "ah" sound.
- Children often pronounce words differently, such as "malk" for milk, "shigger" for sugar and "pasgeti" for spaghetti.
- Many Americans pronounce it "nucular" instead of "nuclear," including at least two U.S. Presidents. This instability is frighteningly close to standard American, in fact.
- This goes with Accent Tropes as well. Jimmy Carter has a Gulf Coast Southern accent, and George W. Bush has a Texan Southern accent. Nuclear has a strong neutral or Midwestern pronunciation, so it feels awkward to pronounce it that way with most Southern accents.
- Check: idiolects.
- An Australian in New Zealand or a New Zealander in Australia would often be asked to say "fish and chips". This is due to the difference in the short "i" sound between the two accents. "fish and chips" allegedly sounds like "fush and chups" with a New Zealand accent and "feesh and cheeps" with an Australian one.
- Similarly, a Canadian in the US would be asked to say "out and about," which may get the response "I'm soory, but what's the reason?"
- If one wants to spark an Internet flame war, all it takes is three letters: GIF.