Quinoa Seems To Be The Hardest Word


March 24, 2014

March 24, 2014

There are some words and phrases in the English language that completely baffle me. You might even say they are my phonetic foibles.

Awry is one of those words. When my eyes come across it in a sentence, my mind immediately wants to pronounce it as aw-ree. When I do, it’s followed by a momentary beat and I say to myself, “Oh, it’s uh-rye again.”

That’s fine if I’m reading quietly, but not if the word should make an appearance mid-paragraph if I were reading aloud. In that situation, I don’t think there’s such a thing as even a little-bit pregnant pause.

A new word joined the list just a few years ago. Quinoa. Sorry doesn’t seem to be the hardest word, Elton.  Quinoa is.  If I see it on a menu or in the grocery store, my first impulse is to say, kwin-o-uh — like it’s a summer camp on the shores of a Catskill lake. It never ever occurred to me to pronounce it as keen-wah.

The realization that my kwin-o-uh and everyone else’s keen-wah were one in the same occurred while watching a cooking a show. The celebrity chef spoke of keen-wah, but the ingredients printed on the screen said kwin-o-uh.

Here that?  That’s the sound of a light bulb flashing on.

Still, my instinct is to continue to use my own pronunciation, which is why I avoid speaking of the grain in public. The last thing I want to do is ask a waiter, “How do you prepare the kwin-o-uh?” I imagine other waiters dropping trays, diners stopping mid-slurp, steak knives screeching across china — and then silence and stares.

Very recently, briefly deciduous made an even briefer appearance on my list of linguistic liabilities — all thanks to my friend Mary Collins, of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens in Miami, Florida. During my quest to find signs of spring in summer-like South Florida, she explained to me that some species of trees lose their leaves for a short while and then re-bloom.

I tried to use this piece of information at a gathering of neighbors. As they looked across the canal, they noticed a tree that seemed to be losing its leaves — the same tree that I had featured in a WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge called “Reflections,” shown at the top of this post.  Only now the leaves of the tree were turning brown and dropping. Could this be briefly deciduous in action?

April 25, 2014

April 25, 2014

As the neighbors commented on the tree’s sad condition — it looked like it was dying — I wanted to say, “You know, some South Florida trees are briefly deciduous.”

But I kept quiet, as if that tree were a big heaping bowl of kwin-o-uh.

What if the neighbors asked me more questions, asked me to explain what it means to be briefly deciduous? What did I really know about briefly deciduous trees, anyway? In the north, trees are deciduous for a lot longer than briefly. And why would a tree be deciduous at this time of year? I thought trees lost their leaves as a reaction to lower temperatures and changes in hours of sunlight. In South Florida, temperatures are warm and there is ample sunlight.

As I watched the tree — which I believe is Swietenia mahagoni, or West Indies Mahogany — go through its personal autumn, the questions I had about briefly deciduous swirled around in my head, much like the confetti-like leaves falling from the tree with each tropical breeze.

I contacted Mary Collins once again with my questions. She wrote to me: “Their deciduous period coincides with the driest time of year. Perhaps the loss of leaves helps to cut down on the amount of water loss or evaporation from the plant.”

My observation of the tree became a daily ritual. Each day there were the tiniest of changes — and as quickly as the leaves had turned brown and fallen, a new flush of pale, spring-like green appeared along the branches. And as Mary had said, this coincided with the weather forecasters talking more and more about increased moisture in the Florida air — the rainy season.

For some reason, I’ve done a lot of thinking about the idea of being briefly deciduous. As gardeners, there are days when dehydration takes hold and we drop — briefly — until we replenish our liquids so that we can re-bloom with gusto.

More philosophically, though — and this may have to do with my sore back (I swear I did nothing to hurt my back, other than grow another day older) — is how nice it would be to be briefly deciduous.

Many gardeners embrace winter as a time to not be tied to the garden, a time to plan, a time to nap. But this winter proved too long for many — but what if it could be, I don’t know, brief? How nice it would be to take a few short weeks off from gardening, to let down our leaves, to take a few moments to heal, and to be as good as new after a not-as-long-as-the-usual-winter rest.

I probably won’t bring up briefly deciduous in that context at the next neighborhood gathering, but, thanks to Mary, I’ll feel more confident about delving into nature’s briefly deciduous process.

Unless, of course, something goes horribly aw-ree.

May 15, 2014

May 15, 2014

Giveaway Winner!

A great big thank you to everyone who left a comment describing their favorite garden tools and/or garden attire.  You are a well-dressed, well-equipped group of gardeners!

After placing all of the entrants into an Excel spreadsheet, and then inputting those numbers into a Random.org selector, a giveaway winner was chosen.

Congratulations to Jo, the Bloomin’ Chick behind The Portable Homestead.  I will contact you via email to arrange shipping of your book.

Again, many thanks for your support!

34 thoughts on “Quinoa Seems To Be The Hardest Word

    • Hi my dear friend. I do miss you!! The tree is very much alive — and I’m still working on acquiring a taste for quinoa. It must all be in the prep. . . 🙂

  1. I don’t know how i missed another post, Kevin. I really don’t, but I’ll go back and read, because I always enjoy hearing what you’ve been up to. 🙂 Tweaking your back seems to be the latest happening. I’m sorry for that, of course. And you’re experiencing what I think about every winter–in warmer climates there is NO stopping the gardening. Of course, we can enjoy the outdoors year-round and that’s wonderful, but oh the workload! I’m a big fan of quinoa, and happy several years ago when a friend used the word in a sentence. 🙂 My mom continues to mangle the word horribly, but I haven’t been able to successfully redirect her. “Briefly deciduous” is an interesting phenomenon. I’m not familiar, but thank you for the information! Hope you have a great week, Kevin. 🙂

    • Hi Debra. I think I’m also missing your posts — I don’t know if they’re appearing in my list of subscriptions. I will have to look into that. Go easy on Mom — it’s a tough word. Talk to you soon!

  2. We readers do that a lot. A big chunk of our vocabulary has been picked up from books. We know a word, can define it in any context and even have a feel for all its nuances, but we’ve got it stuck in our heads with the wrong pronunciation.

    • Hi Ann. I think I only scratched the surface of this topic. I can go on and on about “pecan.” My mother is from the south, so I was raised to say “pi-caaaaaawwwwwwwn” rather than “pee-can.” Phonetically, my way sounds a lot nicer. 🙂

      • ahhhh 🙂 I must admit, that I thought quinoa was pronounced qwin-o-wah. It wasn’t until lunchtime at work, someone was eating it and called it keen-wah!!! I said “Is that how it is pronounced???” That was just a couple years ago! Eeek!

    • Hi Maggie. Thanks for the laugh. When I read your comment and came across “clandestine,” my first impulse was to say “clan-de-steen” — and that became a whole “Young Frankenstein” laugh-fest. 🙂

      • an aside/lament: where was WordPress all these years when no one in my circle “got me” when I’d say, dramatically… “He vuz… my boyfrwiend!” Seriously, you are the third or fourth blogger to mention Young Frahnkensteen in the last short while.
        I have found my people! 😉

    • Hi Laura. After that comment, I’m sure there are lots of people who want to know your pronunciation. 🙂 You can trust us — we’ll never tell a soul! 🙂

  3. HaHaHa! You crack me up – and you reminded me of a joke about 2 guys in a restaurant. One guy says to the waitress “How about a quickie?” and she slaps him and stomps off. The other guys leans over and says “I think that’s pronounced “keesh” (quiche.) LOL! Anyway…here in Oklahoma a lot of our trees are “briefly deciduous” every summer when the drought strikes. The trees drop their leaves in defense, and it’s time to bring out the underground watering probes! :O) Always enjoy your posts!

    • Hey Kathy. Thanks for the joke. Briefly deciduous is a whole new concept for me — and it’s been interesting to watch it happen. It’s a nice marker in a climate that always seems to be green. Be well!

  4. Reminds my of an elementary school teacher/youth choir assistant who used the word segue (seg-way) in a sentence and pronounced it “seg-you-ee”. I found it a little frightening at first, but then realized that, for years, I thought the word paradigm (para-dime) was pronounced “para-dij-em”. I guess we all have our “bugaboo” words that stump us, no matter how old we are! Now, we won’t talk about Girlie!!! Anyway, I hope that back of yours gets better! I’m glad you are finding people in your area with whom to discuss the differences in northern and southern gardening! We are never too old to learn new things! Thanks for my morning chuckles!

    • Hi Aunt Pat. You can appreciate this one. I mentioned in another response to a comment about the “pecan.” I can never order pecan pie in a restaurant because I say it the way my mother taught me: “pi-caaaaaaawwwwwwn.” Long and drawn out, southern-like. The rest of the world says “pee-can,” which is not the sort of dessert I’d like to try. 🙂

  5. Ha, I always feel rather awkward talking to other gardeners about plants. I’ve read a lot about plants whose names I realize I have no idea how to pronounce! It would be nice to be a briefly deciduous gardener. We all need breaks sometime. Right now I’m forced to take a break from building our veggie garden, since our tiller needs a new gear. I’m rather glad – I haven’t been this sore in a long time from all the digging and tilling and rock moving!

    • Hi Indie. There’s nothing like a day of gardening to remind us how out of shape we are, especially after our winter hibernation. Maybe we should have gardener boot camp before the season. 🙂

  6. So glad I decided to post something or I would have missed this. I’m not getting alerts that you’ve posted. Mmmmm. Good to know that your writing hasn’t been briefly deciduous. Fun as usual. I can so hear you in this. That’s why you’re such a good writer. My foible is “assuage” because I’m from Jersey and the first syllable will never be a soft “eh.” I can say it correctly as long as I don’t see it.

    • Carla, my friend! Glad you stopped by — I’m afraid I’ve been just as delinquent in keeping up with your posts. By the way, I giggled with your foible — I so badly want to say “ass-wage.” 🙂

  7. I think this is a common problem for readers, as words often enter our brains through our eyes long before we ever hear them pronounced. Awry has always tripped me up, too — and my mother was shocked as a child to go to the movies and find out that Ali Baba did not say “Open Ses-SAME.” I still have to remind myself that Nancy Drew’s friend (and many others who share the name) was not called PEN-a-lope

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