You say risotto, I say rah-zotto



Recently commentators tried to get his surname right. But it turns out Aussie Rules footballer Orazio Fantasia isn't too fazed if his surname is pronounced in the anglicised way — Fan-tayshia — or the correct way, Fanta-seea.

Risotto fungi porcini on rustic wooden table (photo by fcafotodigital via Getty)It must wear you down after a while, the constant mispronunciation of your name. For many people, giving in and rolling with the anglicising is understandable. But isn't it nice that we are at the stage now that you don't have to if you don't want to?

In Anglo Australia it wasn't the done thing to pronounce a word using its non-English sound. A word incorporated into the language was spoken as its spelling would sound to us, and if the alternative was a ways from the sound of the original, that was just tough.

If you did speak a non-English word as it was spoken in its language of origin you were ... well, a bit of a wanker. Putting on airs. I remember this attitude well from my childhood and teenage years. In many instances the idea still stands. In other areas, it's eased up a little. For example, if I went to a restaurant and ordered the pahehyah with choritho, I may be looked upon as a wanker by some of the patrons, but as a knowledgeable foodie by others.

Maybe it's partly the cooking show influence that's made it a little more acceptable to pronounce the names of dishes in the traditional way. For other things, however, not so much. For example, you might be fine with my pahehyah, but if I called the building we were sitting in a restahroh or a cuhfeh, my wanker status would hit stratospheric heights.

I've thought a fair bit about this whole pronunciation thing in recent years during my habitual viewing, despite my best intentions, of the low-grade human sausage factory that is My Kitchen Rules. On MKR, there is an enormous amount of social cachet that comes from not just cooking your heritage but also speaking it. If you are cooking Nonna's risotto, extra authenticity points are to be had if you pronounce it rissawtaw.

This propensity irritated me for quite some time. After a while, I began questioning myself as to my irritation's origins. Where did it come from? Was it that inherited displeasure of people putting on airs and being wankers? Was it jealousy that I do not have an exotic culinarily heritage? Perhaps a bit of both.


"I may be charged with cultural appropriation. But think of it more as homage. As words reattached not just to a written culture but to an oral and historical one too. "


But I think ultimately it was just suspicion that these usages were inauthentic. There was more than one instance of contestants with Italian heritage forgetting their place and referring to the dish with the far more commonplace rah-zotto favoured by bogan plebs with few social cachet credits.

If I was a MKR contestant, my own UK/Channel Islands heritage would feel distinctly porridgelike by comparison. My Celtic roots — and whatever Druidic spice notes and heavy Gaelic garlic influences they might have contained — were lost to the mists of time several Norman and Saxon invasions back. I would have nothing to draw on, heritagewise, as a contestant.

But I would still want to be able to call it rissawtaw without feeling like a wanker. After due consideration I have flipped from the inherited idea that no one should speak rissawtaw to believing that everyone should be able to call it rissawtaw. To call things by their proper name, by how that name should actually sound, rather than how it has been anglicised. But I would still feel like a wanker.

I may be charged with cultural appropriation. But think of it more as homage. As words reattached not just to a written culture but to an oral and historical one too. Because why should the flattened, written version of a word take precedence over a word as spoken by the people who originally created the dish, or created the child Orazio? Words flattened down into one flavour note only? 



Sue StevensonSue Stevenson has had political commentary, essays and short fiction published in New Matilda, Independent Australia, Southerly Journal and The Big Issue. She is an unironical hugger of trees.

Main image: Risotto fungi porcini on rustic wooden table (photo by fcafotodigital via Getty)

Topic tags: Sue Stevenson, My Kitchen Rules, AFL, Orazio Fantasia



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Existing comments

Look, I'm nothing if not an amateur wordsmith! For instance, what do the words 'cuckoo' and 'sizzle' have in common? Answer: onomatopoeia. And for a vocabulary upgrade: don't say he or she is an excellent writer of after dinner speeches, say he or she is a belletrist (thank you David Bramwell "The Mellifluous Book of Hard Words").
Pam | 04 July 2019

Astraya's not a lost sheep - it's a bloody country1
john frawley | 04 July 2019

The better answer for your question is that they reflect the sound they make. This is clear whereas "onomatopoeia" requires reference to the dictionary for most and hence fails the communication test, although I will grant that it is superb for use by linguists and some pedants. Also, would have been nice to include "inter alia" after "sizzle" thereby reinforcing Pam's wordsmith abilities. As an aside, some years ago a Board noticed that all Board papers included an unusual word not known to many. Apparently a couple of weeks before each Board meeting a senior Executive issued an "unusual" word and there was a competition to see who could make the best legitimate use of this word in their Board Paper. Most often the winner was an actuary or a lawyer. Needless to say, after a few rounds the Board issued a directive banning the practice.
Mike | 08 July 2019

Final para: Was that 'homij' or 'ormaazh'? Oh, and since the epithet 'wanker' appears six times in this piece, is there a preferred pronunciation we should know about?
Richard Jupp | 08 July 2019

When in Roma (the one in Italy, not the smaller place in Queensland) do as the Romans do.
Richard Laidlaw | 08 July 2019

Very amusing. Back in the late 1960s, when Italians were teaching us that real coffee did not come in square sauce bottles, I was trying to impress a girl by ordering "due cappucinos ". The waiter quietly corrected me " due cappucini". But I was still far from idiomatic. The real point was of course the superior coffee. Just another example of learning both language and culture from immigrants.
jpb | 09 July 2019

Given Astraya's track record in mangling French pronunciations, why not try 'wonka', Richard Jupp? It sounds less rude, unless linked with 'Willy', which would restore our global reputation for humorous vulgarisms.
Michael Furtado | 09 July 2019

I grew up in North Queensland where Mackay rhymes with hay. I left home and started listening to the ABC, so when I went back recently and said Mackay rhyming with sky people were beside themselves with rage. It was ... like... How dare you southerners come up here telling us how to pronounce the names of our cities!
Paul Smith | 10 July 2019

I went to live in New Zealand in the Year of Maori Language. Thinking I was being respectful, I tried to pronounce Maori place names as I heard them pronounced by the national broadcaster - something like ‘Fongaray’ for ‘Whangarei’, for example. I kept this up for some time until a Pakeha work colleague summoned the courage to tell me I was driving the test of the staff crazy. It felt to them like a lecture from an Australian in correct Maori pronunciation. We both laughed a lot at this, though not so hard as did the group of Maori children with whom I attempted to pronounce ‘Aotearoa’! No points scored for achievement, though maybe a B- for effort!
Joan Seymour | 13 July 2019

Just a comment on John Frawley's. It is true that Astraya is a bloody country, but it has to be said that its political leaders behave like lost sheep!
Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 01 August 2019


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