WTSO's Colin Cowherd talks pronunciation


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Posted by madcityradio.com on September 03, 2008 at 11:18:36:

Moe: Mouth-watering treat leaves many tongue-tied

As a public service during move-in week at UW-Madison, today we will discuss the correct pronunciation of a campus favorite, the cuisine favored by students stumbling around at bar time in search of a medicinal 3,000 calories.
Yes, I am referring to the immortal gyro.

I'm prompted in part by having heard national sports radio host Colin Cowherd mangle the pronunciation on Monday.

I am a fan of Cowherd's show, which airs weekday mornings on WTS0-AM/1070. This week, he was doubting whether retired New York Giants pass rusher Michael Strahan would come back to the team, which needs defensive-line help after some injuries.

I'm paraphrasing, but Cowherd said of Strahan: "He's in Greece. He's happy eating gyros. He's not coming back."

Cowherd pronounced gyros like this: "guy-rohs." And he didn't say it just once. Part of Cowherd's shtick is to hammer his points home again and again, so he kept saying, "guy-rohs."

To me, it was like fingernails on a chalk board. All those times I had wandered post-midnight on State Street, looking for some tasty grease from Greece to soak up the night's beer, I had asked at the counter for a "gear-roh."

And out it would come, an incredibly delicious mix of lamb and beef and garlic, served on pita bread with onions and tomatoes and a yogurt-cucumber sauce. They are so good I am not sure I can get this written without stopping to eat one, which would be the first gyro I've ever eaten in the daylight.

The thing is, when I thought about it this week, I wasn't sure I was right. I am far from infallible on matters of pronunciation.

Some years ago, I was on a Madison radio show and the subject of one of the city's most celebrated restaurants, L'Etoile, came up.

During a commercial break, someone called the station and said: "Tell Moe to learn how to pronounce L'Etoile."

I had been saying, "Lay-toi."

The caller insisted I should be saying, "Lay-twal."

Since, as a class, there are few bigger know-it-alls than people who call radio shows, I was hoping I was right and the caller was wrong. Later that day, I called L'Etoile founder Odessa Piper to get the answer.

Piper said: "Everybody mispronounces it, including me on a bad day. I probably should have given the name more thought -- though I suppose it has turned out OK."

Then Odessa chuckled and said, "I'll tell you this much: it's not Lee-toll-ee."

Still lacking a definitive response, I phoned the UW and eventually found a French professor, Andrew Irving, who broke the news that the caller was right and I was wrong. L'Etoile is pronounced, "Lay-twal."

"Because there is an e at the end," Irving said. "It holds the l."

Since I had Irving on the line, I asked him something else that had bothered me for years.

"Is it the Con Film Festival or the Can Film Festival?"

I was referring to Cannes, the French city that hosts the famed festival every spring. Irving said it is the Con Film Festival.

On Thursday, I was going to call a Greek professor to see about pronouncing gyro correctly. I had found a Web site, whatscookingamerica.net, that indicated I was hardly alone in my confusion.

"Gyro," the site noted, "is probably the most often mispronounced food name. Even its fans usually do not get it pronounced correctly -- whether it is mispronounced as jee-rohs' or jai-rohs.'"

But rather than call a professor, I took the opportunity to check in -- after too long an absence -- with my old friend Gus Paraskevoulakos, who for many years operated excellent Greek restaurants -- the Athens, and, later, Kosta's -- on State Street.

Gus, as he is known far and wide, has the kind of colorful personality that only helps a restaurateur. With his many regulars, he was quick with a joke or a put-down. He also proved to be a surprisingly savvy businessman. Gus is currently busy overseeing the imminent move of his Comedy Club on State Street to a new location on the corner of State and Dayton.

"Gus, how do you pronounce gyro?"

"When I had the restaurant, everyone came in and pronounced it wrong," Gus said. "I went along."

"Gus, how do you pronounce gyro?"

"Yeer-roh."

"Yeer-roh?"

"Yeer-roh."

So there you have it. Colin Cowherd ("guy-roh") was wrong. I ("gear-roh") was wrong.

I'm glad it's all settled -- at least until someone gets a craving for prosciutto.


(Wisconsin State Journal)


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