What do you think about when you see the abbreviation BBQ? Before your mouth starts watering, let’s look at how to correctly spell out the word, just in case you ever need to know.
I was working on a church announcement video when one of the topics was an upcoming “BBQ Competition.” This particular contest happens to be happening next month in the Silicon Valley, not necessarily the first place one might assume such an event would happen.
The write-up I was given only listed “BBQ” in the title. But the design of the video required a longer word to be more visually appealing, so this left me with a problem: how do you actually spell out the abbreviation BBQ?
There seems to be a great deal of confusion over whether the correct choice is barbecue or barbeque.
Here in the south, I see it spelled quite often with a Q.
The American word is correctly spelled out without the Q. Its first use, according to Mirriam-Webster, dates back to 1690, and is traced back to the Spanish word barbacoa, which referred to the framework for supporting meat over a fire.
The confusion with the Q seems to come from two sources.
First, there’s a French phrase that’s very similar: barbe a queue, which means “whiskers-to-tail.”
Let’s forget that we ever knew that. It will only mix you. Even more confusing, I think, is the abbreviation. Using the Q leads people to believe the word must be spelled out that way.
So we have to think about how the last syllable is pronounced: like a cue.
This becomes important when you consider how que is pronounced in either French or Spanish. The French pronounce que as “kuh.” In Spanish, it’d be “kay.”
If you pronounced barbecue as “bar-buh-kuh” or “bar-buh-kay,” you’d get some strange looks. Remember that the last syllable is pronounced “cue” and you have the correct spelling of the last syllable of the word.
With the spelling issue solved, it’s worth pointing out that barbecue means different things to different people. In the deep south, it often refers to a specific kind of meat that has been grilled and then slathered in some sort of barbecue sauce. In college, I had a Geography professor who’d written a book about the different “zones” of barbecue sauce bases used in the southeast. Some prefer a mustard-based sauce (my favorite), while others prefer a tomato-based sauce and still others like theirs based with vinegar.
In much of the rest of the country, barbecue simply means grilling out. In the south, if we were just going to cook burgers over a grill, we’d call it a cookout, not a barbecue.
Such regionalizations make life that much more interesting, don’t they?
I hope you have plenty of chances for a tasty barbecue (or cookout), depending on your preference, this summer!