You know how to bake with the darn thing (or do you?), but you have no idea how you actually pronounce it. Consulting your friends is no help. Some say ANN-iss, but others are just as insistent that it’s pronounced ANN-niece. You’ve all but given up and resigned yourself to just calling it “The thing that tastes like licorice.”
Rest easy, there IS an answer. But how did this discrepancy come about in the first place?
It All Started with a Tummy-Ache
Anise came into the English language via Old French, which in turn got the word from the Latin word anisum, or Greek anison, which means dill. It was first grown in Egypt and the Middle East, and then was traded in Europe because of its highly valued medicinal uses. Anise has a carminative effect when consumed—in layman’s terms, that means it helps with gas. In fact, Ancient Romans cooked cakes with the seed to eat at the end of meals, lest they be struck with some unfortunate digestive issues in front of company.
The Honest Anise Answer
This journey through Europe is the source of the warring pronunciations. While Merriam-Webster declares the approved pronunciation as ANN-iss, with the “a” sound like “cat,” the word itself is derived from French, which pronounces it “ANN-niece.” So, it’s possible that some regions of the U.S. that are heavily French-influenced, like Louisiana, might have strong opinions on the pronunciation.
Potato, Pah-tato, Tomato, Tah-mato, Anise…Ann-niece?
You can go to battle for ANN-iss knowing that Merriam-Webster has got your back. But maybe it’s a better idea to put your differences aside, and break some Ancient Roman anti-gas bread together instead.