‘Nut’ing but the truth: it’s pee-can, not puhkahn

Published 5:01 pm Tuesday, November 22, 2022

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From the time I was old enough to stand at the sink and wash my hands, I started climbing things.

Furniture, the roof of my home, and trees were my favorite things to scale.

When I was six, my cousin and best buddy Bunky Johnson and I were playing cops and robbers inside my home. I must have been playing the role of a robber when I climbed on top of an upright piano located in our living room in an apparent attempt to avoid “Sheriff” Johnson. But low and behold, ole eagle eye Bunky spotted me, drew his cap pistol, and fired.

About all I remember after that was falling backwards to the floor. My left arm was extended in an effort to break the fall, but it struck my baby brother’s wooden bassinet. The end result was a broken arm and a trip to Dr. McLean’s office in Murfreesboro.

However, when the cast came off a few months later, I was right back climbing things again….this time around to bold new heights.

My maternal grandparents lived next door to my childhood home. At the edge of their property was our family garden, which was guarded at the rear by a towering pecan tree. I spent many hours in that tree….the older I got, the higher I went.

My climbing skills would come in handy when the time arrived to harvest the pecans. Despite gravity accounting for the majority of them escaping the captivity of their hulls and falling to the ground, some remain attached and in need of a bit of “encouragement” to break free. That’s where I fit in…climbing the tree and shaking the limbs until each and every one become dislodged and fell onto a large white sheet below.

Then came the tedious part, cracking the shells and carefully removing those “halves” of golden goodness inside. While I could eat them raw, a handful at a time, they were better as the main ingredient in one of my mom’s pecan pies. Wish I had one of those right about this time of the year.

I also enjoyed them roasted in the oven. It was a quick and easy snack…. spreading out those halves onto a cookie pan, adding small pieces of salted butter on them, and then sprinkling them with salt. That pan is placed in the oven, pre-heated to 300 degrees, and let them roast for about 20 minutes…gently stirring them about halfway through the process.

It wasn’t until my adult years that I learned about the still ongoing debate on how to correctly pronounce the word pecan. To me, the pronunciation has always been exactly how it’s spelled: pecan (pee-can).

My online research revealed that the word itself was derived from the Native American word, pacane. That Algonquin term referred to all nuts that required a stone to crack. Thusly, the hickory nut and the walnut also falls into that category.

Pecans were so popular among Native Americans, due to their taste and availability, they were briefly used as a form of currency.

But yet the debate still ensures on if they are a pee-can or a puhkahn.

I prefer “pee-can” based primarily upon the pronunciation of the last syllable – can. As an example, we don’t reference a Mexican as a Mexicon.

Then, to add to my argument, I read a Facebook post last week where a friend had this to say about pee-can or puhkahn:

“It was pronounced pecan (pee-can) because it was spelled as such. Only later did folks with social pretensions, who despaired of being snickered at for saying a word that sounded to the uncouth as referring to a container to urinate into, began to mispronounce it as “puhkahn” to avoid the reference and to sound sophisticated.”

Then, on the other hand, is the word Beaufort. Depending on where you live (either of the states that end in Carolina) will dictate on how that word is pronounced.

Here in God’s Country (aka North Carolina), it’s pronounced Bo-fert…both the county and the town (the latter of which, by the way, isn’t located in Beaufort County, but rather Carteret County; that’s a whole other column topic for another day).

Down in South Carolina, it’s pronounced Bew-fert.

While I can respect the way those folks in the Palmetto State talk, I again side with the way words are written to form my opinion on how they are pronounced.

Beau is pronounced Bo, not Bew. Back in my sports reporting days, there was a football player at Hertford County High School, and later at Chowan University, by the name of Beau Drake. He later went into a career of teaching, coaching, and educational administration.

I told you all of that because he is simply known as “Bo” Drake, not “Bew” Drake. Plus, if I ever tried to call him “Bew” he would probably rip my head off….ex offensive linemen have a tendency to show anger now and then.

Pecans and Beaufort aren’t considered homonyms, which are two or more words that have the same sound or spelling but differ in meaning. Examples of those are:

Bat – a winged creature or a piece of sporting equipment used to hit a baseball.

Compact – one word with three meanings. As an adjective, it means small; as a verb, it means to make something smaller; and as a noun it’s a small case for makeup.

Lie could mean to lay down or to make a false statement.

Minute can be a measure of time or a measurement or how small something is.

Like the word minute, second is another measurement of time, but it can also denote the placement of something after the first.

Another simple word with three meanings is row. As a noun, it means a fight or disagreement. It could also refer to how something is organized into a line. As a verb, row means to propel a boat forward.

For now, I need to fly like a bat out of…well, you know where, and get home where I think I call up my old friend Bo Drake and we’ll share pee-can recipes.

Cal Bryant (pronounced Kal…not Carl…Bri-ANT) is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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