Thursday, 6 October 2011


I was reading a book this afternoon, which contains the line:

"you say tomato, I say tomahto"

It's not that I haven't heard this phrase before, but I don't think I've seen it written down, and it made me do a double-take.

You see, I pronounce 'tomato' as tomAHto anyway. So I read those words on the first pass as "you say tomahto, I say tomahto"... which doesn't mean anything. I assume the author is a tomAYto man.

This got me to thinking about which pronunciation is most prevalent - so I decided to google it. Here are the numbers:

string# results
tomayto tomahto148,000
tomato tomahto116,000
tomayto tomato52,500

This would seem to suggest that around twice as many people find the tomAYto pronunciation natural, compared to tomAHto (of those writing web pages about this phrase... the demographic of that set is rather a different question)

Of course, these results are from the UK Google (the only one I can access without complicated proxies). I'd be interested to know if the counts are different in the US.


Tabor said...

You should be a book editor! Ha ha!

Velva said...

The majority American pronunciation would be "tomato" I say that because the of the differences in contemporary American and British English.

I enjoyed this post.


W.P. McNeill said...

From the United States:

"tomayto tomahto" 24,000
"tomato tomahto" 131,000
"tomayto tomato" 1,720
"tomato" 327,000,000

I put quotes around the words in the query to preserve the order.

Christine said...

@Velva... for me, an Australian, I pronounce the word you spelled as 'Tomato' as 'Tomahto' and read it thus,automatically. Had you put in 'Tomayto' I would have understood what you are saying immediately and not have had to read it twice or three times.

Rachel is onto the interesting subject of the differences in regional pronunciations of the same word. I guess there is no benchmark in pronunciation now although the BBC claimed to hold it for a long time.

Slamdunk said...

I fall into one of the commoners in the 327,000,000. I do enjoy reading how words and phrases vary by region.

Stephanie V said...

Words - and how they are pronounced (and why) - are always fascinating. I wonder if every language is as weird and wonderful to its many speakers as English is?.

Bibliomama said...

Very interesting - for some reason I find the visual of you reading "you say tomahto I say tomahto - what the hell?" incredibly amusing. Do British people say potayto or potahto?

christine said...

fascinating:)weird that we say potayto, though - no wonder they say English is a difficult language to master!

Anonymous said...

Pronunciation is endlessly fascinating!

Anonymous said...

Is it possible to search from the UK or does it refuse to let you do that?

Charlotte said...

Hee, I loved this post. I'm a "toMAYto" girl myself :)

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