How to Pronounce “Culinary”

I never knew there were two ways of pronouncing “culinary” until I noticed Anthony Bourdain stretching his first syllable on the word: KYU-luh-nare-ree. It was in one of the episodes of Mind of a Chef, where he paid homage to the great sushi chefs in Japan, among whom was that smiling-faced sage from Kyoto’s legendary Kikunoi restaurant, Chef Yoshihiro Murata.

That’s definitely not how I say it. Mine’s a crisp “kah” on the first syllable: KAH-li-nuh-ree. But coming from Bourdain, I couldn’t simply dismiss his rendition, even though that sticky, stretchy “KYU” on the first syllable grates on my ears. It has a way of conjuring the imbecilic face of George W. Bush saying “nuclear” like NYU-kyu-luh. And that’s my whole problem: Bourdain is my hero, and Bush is just the very opposite.

So what’s the deal with Bourdain’s “KYU-luh-nare-ree”?

The Americans say it two ways, according to Oxford: KYU-luh-nare-ree (the Bourdain way) or KUH-luh-nare-ree.

The British go KAH-li-nuh-ree, how I say it, or you could merge the “nuh” with “ree” so that, instead of four syllables, you get three: KAH-li-nree.

Now, having spent slightly over a month at baking school now, I’ve been hearing plenty of KOO-li-nuh-ree. That’s an interesting take that finds no endorsement anywhere in Oxford. Interestingly, it’s as close to the French pronunciation as Bourdain’s version or mine. After all, culinaire, French for culinary, is pronounced koo-li-nair.


I invite you to write to me at  viv@mywritinghome.com if you have any word ideas you’d like to share.

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