How do you say 'pecan'?

You can trace the debate back to 1066

Pecans
(Image credit: iStock)

April is national pecan month, and while it's easy to celebrate by cooking up some pecan treats, it's a little hard to talk about it. Is it pih-KAHN or PEE-kan? Or maybe puh-KAN? There may be as many ways to say it as there are pecans in a pie. What makes this word so hard to pin down?

The main thing people disagree on is which syllable to stress. The pe-KAHN vs. PE-kan difficulty can be traced back to a problem that's plagued English for a long time. English at its historical core is an old Germanic language that always puts stress on the first syllable in a two-syllable noun. The oldest English words, the ones that have been part of the language since before the Romance-language speaking continentals arrived on English shores, follow this pattern: mother, father, water, meadow, iron, apple, liver, marrow. (Words formed with prefixes like besmirch, forbear, and afoot did not follow the same pattern.) It is still the case that a high percentage of English words have first syllable stress.

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