Tag Archives: chilins


Ah, newspeople. Who was it that said that news was like sausages – you don’t want to see how it’s made? Oh, wait, that was laws. But they are like sausages in that they want to get to the guts of the issue, but they have to do it presentably – and in a way that they think is palatable to their audience. And they are like people of the law in that they are often very concerned with appearing impartial and correct.

Indeed, you can see some of the most egregious hypercorrections in newspapers. And broadcast news, the same place that brought us “harris-ment” for harassment and “urine-us” for Uranus, is about the only place you may hear an [r] after the [b] in February or – o hypercorrection indeed – hear the hump day of the week pronounced [wɛd nɛs deɪ] rather than [wɪnz deɪ] (even the Oxford English Dictionary does not include that three-syllable spelling pronunciation).

Or hear tell of chitterlings. As I recall hearing on the news when there was a recall related to some chitterlings in Alberta once.

Before going any further on what chitterlings are and what they’re usually called (things you may or may not know), let’s stop and enjoy the look and feel of this word. It has the crisp skip of the voiceless affricate and stop in the first part, and then it softens to liquids and a nasal and a voiced fricative. It seems to skitter, chatter, perhaps even glitter; the lings may make you think of earthlings, and you may wonder if chitterlings are denizens of Chattanooga, say. Or could they be little critters, monkeys perhaps?

Naw, they’re pigs’ guts. Or guts of other animals, but usually pigs’ guts.

“Um,” you may be thinking. “Why would they recall pigs’ guts? And what do they do, take the pigs back to the factories for gut replacements?” No, these guts have been taken from the pigs already and the pigs are not going to need them again. These guts are for cooking (at length, as usual with digestive organs) and eating. (They were recalled due to contamination. With what, I can’t recall. Pig poop?)

And the more common word for them is chitlings, or chitlins. Which is of course just a rubbed-down version of the original, sort of like vittles for victuals. It is, naturally, newer (1800s rather than 1400s for the first known use in print), and is associated with the Southern US in particular.

Did you know that was what chitlins are? If you didn’t, now you do. My guess is you’ve probably heard of “chitlins and grits” or something like that. So, uh… do you know what grits are? Have you had them? (I certainly have, and I quite like them.) I’ll tell you this: I can’t see how a newsreader could possibly hypercorrect the word grits.

But if we’re going to go the whole way with chitterlings, following the formally correct and extremely WASPy model, why not have some more guts and go with a spelling from way back when – I like this one from 1440 (thanks, OED): chytyrlynge. That really looks more like fried porcine intestine. Note that it’s singular, though… like guts (and grits), chitterlings has come to be a plural (also conjugatable as a singular).

And where does it come from? Well, words are like sausages. I don’t mean that you don’t want to know how they’re made. I mean sometimes you just don’t know what the heck went into making them and you’re probably never going to find out. So just enjoy the flavour.