Throw it on the barbeque


Determined to earn a living despite his state’s deplorable unemployment, a young California relative has started a mobile restaurant business. He calls this endeavour, “The New Black.”
Beneath “The New Black” printed on the sides of his black van, he has added, “Progressive American Barbeque.”
Oh, oh.
Barbecue is one of the most frequently misspelled words of our time and is listed as such in Words Most Often Misspelled and Mispronounced, by Ruth Gleeson and James Colvin.
We’ve all seen the spelling “barbeque.” Maybe some readers have used it themselves. But barbeque is a misspelling.
A few U.S. dictionaries now list this as an accepted “alternative” or “variant” spelling. And that great encyclopedia of sometimes correct information, Wikipedia, lists barbeque as, “a common variant spelling.”
It is indeed common, but that doesn’t make it correct. Although this spelling has not yet shown its face in most Canadian dictionaries, the Oxford Canadian says it’s a “variant of barbecue,” so Canadian dictionaries are succumbing as well.
This misspelling arises directly from the way barbecue is abbreviated. BBQ, the abbreviation, contains a Q. It’s natural for people to then assume there’s a Q in the unshortened word. There isn’t.
I suppose one might forgive our American neighbours for this hatchet job, but there’s no excuse for Canadians. We, of all people, know enough French to realize that que says, “Kuh” and rhymes with “the.” That qu in French, including in Québec, is pronounced “k.”
One way to recognize that barbeque is a misspelling is to check a recipe book — even those on display at the supermarket’s checkout. You’ll see only the spelling, barbecue on those books.
It’s important to note that the Oxford Canadian is a descriptive, not a prescriptive, dictionary. That is, it lists words in common use without recommending preferred usage.
Barbecue is an interesting addition to our language. A loanword, it was first used in English in the 1600s when we borrowed and Anglicized it from the Spanish, barbacoa. But it is of Haitian origin. In Haitian, the word was barboka (a wooden frame on posts).
The original meaning was, “a rude framework for sleeping on, and for smoking and drying meat over an open fire” (OED).
By 1764, a barbecue referred to an ox or hog roasted whole. In the U.S., by 1809, a barbecue was an open air fiesta where animals were roasted whole. And, in 1856, the word referred to an open floor for drying coffee beans.
All the above are nouns but, from the beginning, barbecue has also been employed as a verb. In 1661, it meant, “to dry or cure on a barbecue; to broil or roast an animal whole on a huge gridiron.”
Barbecue is still found as barbacoa in Spanish dictionaries. Australian slang has shortened barbecue to barbie (barbi). And, in U.S. slang, a barbecue stool is “the electric chair.”
In French, where you will never find the spelling barbeque, a barbecue appears as le barbecue.