In this explanation of the word myopic I get stuck by this sentence:

In terms of pronunciation: it's a tomato/tomahto word: pronounce it "my-OP-ick" or "my-OH-pick," although that short o sound is preferred.

Then what is a tomato word? I have searched everywhere but found no such a phrase. I thought may be because the o is pronounced the same as the o in tomato? But it seems really like a phrase.


You have to consider the whole phrase: a tomato/tomahto word. In the USA, some people pronounce the word 'tomato' so that the 'a' vowel is said like the 'a' in plate, date, late, etc, and others pronounce it like the 'a' in the southern British pronunciation of father, past, last, etc, which is often represented in American writing as 'ah'. A tomayto/tomahto word is one where there are two possible pronunciations.

| improve this answer | |
  • It is really a British English/American English division. I've never yet met a North American who says "tom-ah-to". Perhaps mid-Atlantic speakers from New England? – fred2 Apr 10 '19 at 12:27
  • I always thought, like you, that the well-know song was based on a US/British pair of lovers who said certain words differently tomato, potato, either, etc, but I read somewhere that the difference was a class-based one among people in New England. – Michael Harvey Apr 10 '19 at 12:29
  • 1
    Yep the mid Atlantic accent of that period, which was a class based affectation of Englishness. But I think it is pretty much defunct. And the song is a bit tricksy anyway, because nobody ever said "potahto" anywhere. – fred2 Apr 10 '19 at 12:33
  • 1
    I think the potahto was partly a joke and partly because there aren't a lot of rhymes for tomahto. I suppose there's pizzicato or gelato but too many foreign words might have frightened the horses. – Michael Harvey Apr 10 '19 at 13:05
  • 1
    @MichaelHarvey If I ever hear anybody offer me a ge-lay-to, I'll run away, scared. ;) – Jason Bassford Apr 10 '19 at 14:08

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.