One Tamal, Two Tamales: Setting the Record Straight

chicken-tamales1A tamal (from Nahuatl tamalli, plural tamales)

As a Mexican immigrant in this country, I truly appreciate the efforts of the so-called “general population” to embrace the so-called Latino culture (chips and salsa, burritos, chimichangas, tortillas, tequila, etc.) But a story this morning on The Daily Breeze (yep) reminded me of something that has bothered me ever since I arrived here: Americans insist in calling the singular of tamales a ‘tamale,’ when we all know it is really a tamal.

In the story, aptly titled Tamale is a Hot Choice for Yule, a customer at a local tamal factory declares: “I love them, and I’ve never had a decent tamale in Arkansas.”

OK, that is nice, but just for the record: next time you want to talk about one and not several, keep in mind it’s one tamal, two tamales, three tamales, etc.

12 thoughts on “One Tamal, Two Tamales: Setting the Record Straight

  1. ¡De acuerdo! It bugs me to hear Mexicanos say, “Dame un tamale.” I’m like, “¿Tomas un avione cuándo viajas lejos?

    I think in grammar terms, the e is called a syllable filler because it would it would sound strange to say: dos tamals or dos avions or dos luzs. Words that end in a vowel don’t require this.

  2. FINALLY! i love it! thank you for clarifying that! and juan carlos, love your response too! ja ja ja ja ja! que comico! avione!! jajaja!

  3. Thank you! Ignoring a well known name of a popular dish just shows disregard, ignorance and insensitivity to a point. Overreacting? No way! Imagine thousands of people saying Americans love a “Hot Dogo”, or a “Hamburgeru” or something like that.

    Can you believe that the International Festival of Tamales in Indio, California spells it “Tamale”???? If you have feedback about the correct way of spelling “tamal” send your comments to them:

  4. I understand how you cringe when English speakers say “I ate a tamale” but back-formation happens in every language, including Spanish, and one type is the mistaken inference regarding borrowings from other languages. Otherwise – just to pick one example out of hundreds, perhaps thousands – the names ‘Tiago’ and ‘Diego’ wouldn’t exist. They are incorrect back-formations from ‘Santiago’ which was misinterpreted by Spanish speakers (just like Anglos’ mis-reading of ‘tamales’) as being San + Tiago. There is another major reason why ‘tamale’ makes sense in English – a matter of sound/rhythm. For more of my contrarian view of tamal/tamale please see:

  5. Funny, I found this article while havng the same conversation. I was looking for an example of the correct form to illustrate the fact. Thanks for providing one with such delicate humor.
    That said, to return the favor, referring to your post, one insists on something rather than insist in something.

    ¡Que Viva El Tamal!

  6. too bad many mexicans call one a tamale instead of a tamal… and they get upset if somebody corrects their lousey spanish

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