How Do You Say?

Poinsettia closeup from Wikimedia Commons

18 December 2012

It’s poinsettia time so I went online to look for a pretty picture.  That’s when I got into trouble.

I searched Wikimedia Commons for poinsetta and found only four pictures.  Huh?  Only 4?  That cannot be possible.

One of the photos pointed to another view of the same plant and I finally got the hint.  I was spelling it the way I pronounce it — poin SET ah — without the second “i.” I was spelling it wrong.

Poinsettias are native to Mexico where they are very leggy plants in the wild.  They were named for Joel Roberts Poinsett, first U.S. Minister to Mexico, who brought them to the U.S. in 1825.

The plant became popular as a Christmas decoration when Albert Ecke became fascinated by them, his son learned to make them into bushier, more beautiful plants, and his grandson promoted them on television in the 1960’s.  The rest is history.

Meanwhile, I was shocked — shocked! — to discover that there are two i’s in poinsettia and the second “i” should (or could) be pronounced.    I have never pronounced that second “i” and I wondered if this was a ‘Burgh thing (we have a notoriously vowel poor accent) so I conducted an informal poll.

How do you say the name of this plant?

So far, everyone I’ve asked says poin-SET-ah (no second “i”).  Two people knew about the extra “i” and one of them changed her pronunciation after she learned about it — but she didn’t start out that way.

I’ve heard that in some parts of the U.S. people say poin-SET-tee-ah, but if you’re from the Pittsburgh, well…    Poinsetta.

Hah!  No wonder I misspelled it.

(photo by André Karwath on Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

7 thoughts on “How Do You Say?

  1. I always knew the second “i” was there, but being a Pittsburgher, I just can’t bring myself to pronounce it that way. Happy Holidays to all!

  2. I remember watching Johnny Carson… YEARS AGO…with my Mom and he and Ed McMahon were having a lengthy discussion about how to pronounce it. They were all over the TV set. That is when I learned about the second I. I have been know to say it both ways. I just know that it is beautiful and have been told you should not let your cats near it.

  3. I’ve always said poinT-SET-tee-ah. Not sure where that extra T came from (probably parents) but I always need to mentally say the word before actually uttering it. And it still comes out wrong! :-/

  4. I hate to say this but……you grew up in a house where the second “i” was (and is) pronounced! Kids rarely listen, do they! See you soon.

    1. I’ve lived in Pittsburgh so long that I don’t even realize I have a Pittsburgh accent. 😉

  5. Ha John! My parents had the second T too! Learned about the second “i” at some point in my adulthood and now say poin-SET-tee-ah

  6. I haven’t lived in the Pittsburgh area since 1982 and I still pronounce it without the second I. lol On another note, we were stationed in Panama and actually saw them growing in the wild. That’s when I learned there was more than one color. It was amazing. 🙂

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