Tag Archives: pecan

pecan

“Knock knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“European.”

“European who?”

“European in the pecan.”

Pause.

“I don’t get it.”

So, now: why didn’t he – or she – get it?

Could be that there are several ways to say pecan. Since it comes from Mississippi Valley French pacane, which in turn comes from Illinois pakáni (Illinois was an Algonquian language, i.e., Native American), the rather pretentious-sounding “p’cahn” pronunciation is closest to the origin. The similar version with [æ] before the [n] is also in the ballpark. But if you happen to look at this word with Anglophone eyes, well, it does look like it should be said “pee-can.”

Now, admittedly, “pee-can” doesn’t really sound pretty, and that by itself could motivate a person to prefer “p’cahn” (just as similar kinds of echoes have driven pronunciation mutations for harassment and Uranus). But “p’cahn” or “p’can” sounds rather like a chicken pickin’ in the coop, no?

Still and all, it is a foody kind of word. It has a cryptic hint of canapé in its form, but look at the shapes of the p and c for clues to its most common collocation: pie. It’s also often preceded by butter and associated with praline. It’s a very popular nut for a nut that’s not a nut… Technically, it’s a drupe, just as cherries are. (I think I’ll avoid puns on nuts and drupe around pecan, though.) But, then, technically, strawberries aren’t berries and bananas are. Botany really makes a mess of common semantics.

But to return to the original question, person B above actually didn’t get it because there’s nothing European in a pecan. They’re indigenous to the Americas, in particular to parts of Mexico and to the southern and southeastern parts of the US, and up to Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana. In fact, the pecan is the state tree of Texas. And no doubt their schools teach that you find the area of a circle using pecan pi.