OK, what word does this word most often go with?

Well, that was easy. Cherry or cherries. What else?

Now tell me how you pronounce it.

That will be easy for most people too: I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say it any other way than “merra-shee-no”.

Anyone other than myself, that is.

You see, I can’t escape being aware that this word is not a German word. And sch may spell “sh” in German words, and words derived from German, but rarely elsewhere. If the word is from Greek or Dutch, for instance, the original is [sx], where [x] is the International Phonetic Alphabet symbol for the consonant you hear in “ach!” If, however, the word is from Italian, sch is [sk]. The h is just written to keep the c from being read as palatalized before an e or an i.

Anyone who’s ever gotten their knickers in a twist over mispronounced bruschetta knows this one. And in the case of maraschino, the root is marasca – which is a kind of small black Dalmatian cherry – and there is the derivative suffix on it, which starts with an i, so that h is added so that the c won’t soften. Ironically, if it were written marascino (no h), it would be pronounced in Italian just as nearly every Anglophone says it now. But… it’s not. (What’s worse, if it were written that way, many Anglophones would say it “maras-chee-no”, a grating hypercorrection.)

So is it snobby of me to say “mara-skee-no”? More likely obsessive or compulsive, or anal-retentive, or what have you. But if you look in English dictionaries, you will see my pronunciation listed – sometimes as the first option, with the now-more-common one as the second. So I feel comforted that I am not being blockheaded. Which is not to say that I think the way that most people say it is wrong. But I would like to point out that that more common way is the newer way, first officialized in a dictionary a mere half century ago, and spreading from the US to England (and of course elsewhere).

Some of you may have said, halfway through my etymology, “Whoa. Small black cherry?” Well… here’s yet more I must break to you. Maraschino cherries, those red things you buy, are actually light-colour sweet cherries of the Royal Ann, Rainier, or Gold varieties, soaked in sugar water and coloured with food colouring.

So why the heck are they called maraschino? Because the original soaked cherries were soaking in maraschino.

Getting dizzy? Yes, there’s another thing to explain. Maraschino is not a name for the cherries. It’s the name of a liqueur flavoured with marasca cherries. Luxardo is a popular brand of it. It’s sweet with a slightly bitter flavour… because marasca cherries are a little bitter. Marasca may be derived from amaro, “bitter”.

So, to recap: little black Dalmatian cherries are used to flavour an Italian-named liqueur in which other cherries are sometimes soaked, and, in emulation of that, other cherries soaked in sugar water and coloured bright red are described with the name of the liqueur that is named after the cherries that these bright red cherries differ from about as much as two cherries can differ from each other. And, just to put the cherry on top, the Italian name is now commonly pronounced as if it were German.

Just a little thought, though: what difference in effect does the different pronunciation of the word have? With the “sh” it makes me think of garish mustachios, and it’s soft like a marsh too – a soft, sweet word. With the “sk” it has a kick, a skip, a zip like skis or a skee ball; it’s risky like keno in a casino and it’s sexy like mascara. It’s like… well, the adult version of the word. Put in that [k] and it kind of… loses its cherry, as it were. Even as it regains its original cherry.

12 responses to “maraschino

  1. I read the penultimate paragraph to my wife; she got a faraway look in her eye and wondered aloud where she could get some of that liqueur. “I bet it’s fantastic!”

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  3. Very nice and comprehensive, and now I can show my girlfriend the definitive proof. (She still thinks that my/your pronunciation is pompous. Bah.)

  4. But how do you pronounce the “mara” part? Like an Anglophone or like an Italian?

  5. Thank god I’m not the only one! I can’t tell u how many times I’ve argued about this.
    Thank u for confirming what I was already sure about! 😀

  6. I grew up in Central New York . . . first generation German (Mom) and second generation Polish (Dad) – and in my family, we always pronounced it “marra-SKEE-no” and still do. I don’t remember when the first time was that I heard it pronounced “marra-SHEE-no” but, when I did, I thought the person was just mis-pronouncing it – I honestly didn’t know there was another pronunciation!

  7. Amazing! So fun to read and know somebody out there is as much of a sticker as I am! Loved your writing and passion. 🤓

  8. Thank you for a totally enjoyable article. I love a good pronunciation!

  9. Mara-SKEE-no! That’s how we said it in New York and Indiana too in the 1950s. The “shee” is simply wrong and just as annoying as pronouncing the “t” in often. Don’t get me going…

  10. My recommendation is that the American day-glo cherries be pronounced as mara-SHEE-no, and the liqueur be pronounced mara-SKEE-no. This is a very neat and tidy demarcation that honors that they share a spelling but aren’t otherwise related.

    Another fun fact is that prior to Prohibition by law to be a maraschino cherry it had to be a marasca cherry soaked in maraschino liqueur. There is no such product on the market in the world today.

    So to make homemade semi-authentic maraschino cherries, drain a bottle of marasca cherries in syrup (saving the syrup for other uses), rinse until the water runs clear, drip dry, then cover with maraschino liqueur. You will never go back and you will have earned the right to call them mara-SKEE-no cherries.

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