A lengthy list in Insider has told me what no one has in my entire 34 years on this lonely earth: I’ve been pronouncing the word “hummus” incorrectly for decades. Stop giving me the judgmental side eye, Trader Joe’s clerk.
We’ll return to my low-level mortification in a moment, but first, a word about this list. When we were discussing Insider’s “30 food and drink names that you’re probably mispronouncing” in this morning’s Takeout staff call, there were a few items here we dismissed. Yes, croissant is kwah-sahn, not craw-sandt, but craw-sandt has become the accepted American pronunciation, hasn’t it? The same goes for cho-REE-thoh (accurate) vs. chuh-REE-zoh (our bullshit). Words change over time and from place to place; it’s maybe not the most positive trait we’ve got, but it’s there.
But regardless, this is an interesting list. In some cases, it mentions common mispronunciations I’ve never heard (par-muh-jawn cheese, and may-tay as opposed to my-tie for mai tai). In others, it offers precise pronunciations for trickier words (WOOS-tuhr-shuhr, dzah-DZEE-kee, boo-yah-BASE). But the most interesting entries were for words I’ve been apparently mispronouncing my whole damn life, and it feels like I’ve had metaphorical lipstick on my language-teeth and no one bothered to tell me.
Among them: ceviche (seh-BEE-tche), anise (AHN-ihs), nougat (noo-GAH), and yes, hummus (HOOM-us). The first three are embarrassing, but the last one blows my mind.
Apparently, confusion is warranted. The folks behind The Six O’Clock Scramble wrote a piece about avoiding the word altogether, though someone from Sabra told them any pronunciation is fine. (Presumably they don’t care how you say it as long as you keep buying.) The Cambridge Dictionary gives “hoo-moose” as the U.K. pronunciation and “huh-muss” as the American. And here’s Spoon University on the matter, in a list of 11 Middle Eastern foods that are often mispronounced:
No, it’s not humm-iss. It’s homm-us. Emphasis on the “H.” I know, I know, you’re probably thinking to yourself: has my entire life been a lie?
That is exactly what I was thinking.
The last thing I want to do is go full ugly American and say something the way I’ve always said it because I can’t be bothered to correct myself. But until there’s some sort of definitive ruling on the pronunciation of hummus, I think I’m going to keep pronouncing it as I always have: a hum, followed by an us, sometimes preceded by the word “dessert.”