Thursday, September 07, 2006

General Tso chicken

Alana and I took Beth and Kristi from Alana's work and Judy from my work out to lunch today. Beth and Kristi signed affidavits swearing that Alana and I are still married. Judy notarized the affidavits. We need these in order for me to apply to remove the "conditional" qualifier on my status as a "conditional permanent resident alien". So, we're sending yet more documents to the federal government, and yet another series of photographs! I'd be surprised if every border guard in the country couldn't recognize me on sight!

We took the women to Jade Garden, a Chineses place here in Monroe. Judy had, as one of her items, General Tso's chicken. I'm not crazy about General Tso chicken; I prefer honey chicken or pineapple chicken, but it's a popular dish. Most American chinese restaurants serve it. The big Chinese restaurant chain in town only serves it on Thursdays. We took them to a restaurant that serves it all the time. Judy hadn't been there before, so she was pleasantly surprised at the menu options.

But I, as usual, digress.

Judy pronounced the dish "General tee-ess-oh chicken". This is the standard pronunciation here in the South. I've heard it pronounced that way since I got here. It doesn't help that the dishes are often labelled in caps, making "TSO" look like an acronym.

Just one of the little observations that tell me that I'm a stranger in a strange land!

For the record, I always thought it was pronounced "General So chicken", but according to Wikipedia, I am wrong. It is more accurately — for westerners, anyway — pronounced "General Zwoh chicken".

I did impress Jenice, the development manager at work, with my pronunciation of Chinese dim sum dishes. Her parents are Chinese, though she was born in the U.S. She was surprised to hear me talk about dim sum, let alone pronounce it. I noticed, though, that my pronunciation wasn't as good as hers. Hers is probably the more accurate, as her mother used to make the stuff. (Jenice said that neither she nor her sister could ever get it to come out right when they tried to copy the recipe...)

It doesn't really matter too much, as there are no good dim sum places anywhere near here. For that you have to go to Dallas or Little Rock, apparently. I keep promising to introduce Alana to dim sum. One of these days...!

10 comments:

Jason said...

That's funny. I've never heard it pronounced as tee-ess-oh before. I guess that's just the latest example in a very long list that suggests Louisiana is actually a different country. I learned from the Japanese (yes, Yoshiko) that words that begin with TS are pronounced with a sort of "hard S", so I've always pronounced it sort of (t)sO, with a clipped long O. This may be incorrect pronunciation but, if so, it is due to incorrect transliteration. I understand "Tso" is now spelled "Zuo", which would suggest the "zwoh" sound, which seems to be proper Mandarin. Of course that doesn't change the spelling of the name of the dish. So, much like roast pee-ee-kay-eye-enn-jee duck, people will continue to spell and pronounce it in all kinds of interesting ways.

Michael Skeet said...

"Toronto Symphony Orchestra Chicken"?

Then there's the question of why it's not called "Beijing duck" these days.

I suspect that the Tso vs Zuo issue probably relates to the shift from the Wade-Giles to the Pinyin system of transliterating Chinese characters. Similar things happened to many Chinese names (Mao Tse-tung became Mao Zedong, for example). In which case it wouldn't be that Tso was incorrectly transliterated, just that the accepted transliteration has changed.

Out of an exaggerated Canadian sense of politeness, I am not going to comment on the pronunciations affixed in the U.S. to place-names such as Cairo, Raleigh, and Calais.

Pity about the dim-sum shortage, by the way. I would rub it in further, but in fact I haven't been for dumplings in, oh, weeks.

JAM said...

Allan, I with ya on this one. I canNOT convince my Alabama born and bred wife to stop ordering T-S-O Chicken. Honey, it's 'so', I'm pretty sure, says I. And when I order it as such, we get the same thing we get when she orders T-S-O Chicken.

Even my daughters do it that way. I mean, I'm FROM Monroe, and somehow, somewhere, even I learned to call it 'so'. I've never heard the 'zwoh' pronunciation, but that's no surprise. It's a wonder I can walk upright.

I am now offically gealous that I didn't think to post about this, since my wife has been doing this for years.

Great post.

Allan Goodall said...

That's funny. I've never heard it pronounced as tee-ess-oh before.

I could make a joke about people in Arkansas being unable to spell "tee-ess-oh"... but I won't. *grin*

Allan Goodall said...

I suspect that the Tso vs Zuo issue probably relates to the shift from the Wade-Giles to the Pinyin system of transliterating Chinese characters.

I wondered why Mao Tse-tung started to be spelled as Mao Zedong! Now I know!

Out of an exaggerated Canadian sense of politeness, I am not going to comment on the pronunciations affixed in the U.S. to place-names such as Cairo, Raleigh, and Calais.

Don't forget Delhi, Louisiana! You seemed particularly shocked at that one during our trip back from Vicksburg. Charan, one of our programmers who is from India, finds Delhi being pronounced "dell-HIGH" instead of "DELL-lee" as particularly hilarious.

Pity about the dim-sum shortage, by the way. I would rub it in further, but in fact I haven't been for dumplings in, oh, weeks.

*sticks out my tongue at you*

Allan Goodall said...

Allan, I with ya on this one. I canNOT convince my Alabama born and bred wife to stop ordering T-S-O Chicken.

It occurred to me that I didn't know how Alana pronounced it. So, when I got home tonight, I asked her.

She grinned and replied, "I don't. When in doubt, don't!"

If we ever get to Scotland, I'll have her ask for place names. I want to see how she pronounces Auchterarder and Drumnadrochit!

I am now offically gealous that I didn't think to post about this, since my wife has been doing this for years.

Great post.


I'm sorry I beat you to the punch (well, maybe a little bit sorry), but thank you!

Jason said...

I happen to know of several Arkansans who probably can't spell TSO. Of course most of them live near Louisiana.

As to the "Tso" pronunciation, Wade-Giles, like all systems of transliteration, is flawed. That doesn't necessarily mean "incorrect" from a linguistic perspective. However, the system does suffer from counter-intuitive pronunciation. But one of the main problems with W-G is that it is very often "misspelled" by lay people who tend to drop the apostrophes. Some checking revealed that this was not, as I believed, the case with "Tso." In G-W, "t" corresponds roughly with the English "d" and "t'" with "t" not the other way around. I was incorrectly using approximate Japanese pronunciation for a Chinese name. I should have rememebered the Tao Te Ching.

Now, out of a standard sense of U.S. American politeness I make the following comments: T'ranna? Tronna? Ch'ronna?

Winter said...

I like eating at the Chinese buffets, and not looking at the signs that tell you what you are eating. Life should be an adventure!

Jason said...

Yes, Winter, but not all of us are quite adventurous enough to risk eating General Tso's orange-furred hamster.

Allan Goodall said...

If you want adventures in Chinese food you have to try Dim Sum. When the little old Chinese ladies push their carts of food around, they chant out the name in Chinese. So, you ask to look at the food... and you still don't know what it is! That's adventure!

Now if there was only a Dim Sum place within a couple of hours of us. I hear there's a good place in Dallas and another in Little Rock.