‘PEE-can’ or ‘Puh-KAHN’? It’s just plain nuts

on Monday, 01 November 2021. Posted in Editorials

Bob Sloa  n.Editor
Did you know there is a big festival in Downtown Florence this weekend? I hope so. Now, please say it’s name. Did you say the S.C. “PEE-can” Music and Food Festival and or the S.C. “Puh-KHAN” Music and Food Festival? Let the debate begin. How to properly pronounce the name of the nut that will be celebrated in Florence this weekend has been debated for years. Many words are pronounced in different ways, but few if any, are as polarizing as pecan. People, particularly southerners, can get quite, shall we say, passionate about the “correct” way to say pecan. Some have tried to quell this nutty argument, but all have failed. Back in 2020, the American Pecan Council (pronounce it as you will) conducted a national poll in an attempt to see which pronunciation is correct. The results were quite interesting. Of the more than 350,000 people polled, 66 percent pronounced it “puh-KAHN,” while 34 percent said “PEE-can.” Surprised? Well, there’s more. Most consider the pronunciation of pecan as a regional thing. Southerners say “PEE-can” while those who live up north say “puh-KAHN.” That’s not the case, at least according to a recent national survey by the National Pecan Shellers Association. The NPSA revealed that 70 percent of people living in the Northeast call them “PEE-cans.” Only 45 percent of southerners surveyed did the same. So which is “correct,’ “PEE-can” or “puh-KAHN”? You can actually make a case for both. First, the case for “puh-KAHN.” The word pecan derives from the Native American word pakani, (pronounced PA-KHAN-I). If you check an online dictionary, try www.dictionary.com or www.merriam-webster.com. Both list “puh-KAHN” as the proper pronunciation. To make a case for “PEE-can,” please pronounce the words toucan or Republican. Get the point? Pecan should be pronounced the way it sounds. Any other way would be un-Ameri-KAHN.” It’s interesting that when you ask someone in a position of authority or “expertise” on the proper pronunciation, they choose their words carefully. Take a strong stance on one pronunciation and you risk offending someone who thinks otherwise. People take this pecan pronunciation thing seriously, way too seriously. Lenny Wells, a professor of Horticulture and Extension Horticulture Specialist for Pecans at the University of Georgia, had what I thought was the funniest response when asked which pronunciation was correct. "When they bring $2 per pound or more, they’re ‘puh-KAHNS,” said Wells. “When they bring $0.50 to $1, they’re ‘PEE-cans.” Here in Florence, the home of Young’s Premium Foods, the world's largest pecan shelling operation, there’s little or no question about pronunciation. “It’s PEE-can,” said Christie Doriety, general manager of Young's Florence store. It appears that festival officials feel the same, although they did do a little fence straddling. When asked about the proper pronunciation of the festival’s title, City of Florence Development Manager Hannah Davis stated, “We accept both pronunciations, but we go with “PEE-can.” At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter whether you say “PEE-can” or “puh-KAHN.” What does matter is that you make your way to Downtown Florence this weekend and go a little nutty. Contact Editor Bob Sloan at editor@florence newsjournal.com.