There's a saying expressing that the presented concepts are distinct without a difference. It's based on the pronunciation of potato and tomato. How would one go about writing that differnece in an informal way (i.e. not applying the proper phonetic notation)?

I tried the following but then I got unsure if it's intuitively correct to a NSE's ear.

potayto-potahto, tomayto-tomahto

Also, now I'm unsure if it's distinction without difference or difference without distinction... Or are those two potato-tomato?

  • There is no "correct" way to represent differing pronunciations of words. The most consistent and informative way is to use IPA, but some people have a strange aversion to this.
    – Colin Fine
    Jun 19, 2020 at 9:16
  • I don't find that aversion strange. IPA might be a great tool but learning/verifying the pronunciation using it will be rather complicated and time consuming for a layman. And it's not motivated to get into the details for a single question or two. It's not aversion. It's convenience and laziness. (Unless one considers laziness an aversion to effort, that is.) Jun 19, 2020 at 20:52

1 Answer 1


Sure ay and ah are reasonable ways to express /ei/ and /a:/ informally. Splitting into syllables helps signal that these are phonetic spellings.

But note that while there is a difference in British and American pronunciation of Tomato (Brits say to-mah-to, Yanks say to-may-to) The same is not true of "potato". Brits and Yanks both say "Po-tay-to", despite what the song may say...

Let's give the whole thing up.

  • Curiosity took over. Who says po-tah-to then? Jun 19, 2020 at 20:50
  • 1
    @KonradViltersten: Nobody.
    – TonyK
    Jun 19, 2020 at 21:04
  • US Yanks say to-may-to Southerners say ta-may-ter or just mater Jun 19, 2020 at 21:22

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