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Chili, Chilli, Bang, Bang!

Determining whether to use ‘Chili,’ ‘Chilli,’ or ‘Chile’ often depends on where you are. In American English, ‘chili’ is the preferred spelling for both the spicy peppers and the stew or hotdog topping. In British English, ‘chilli’ is more commonly used. In Spanish-speaking regions, as well as certain areas of the United States, ‘chile’ is the prevalent variant.

If you’re someone who enjoys spicy cuisine, you’ve likely noticed the different spellings for the hot pepper known scientifically as Capsicum. It can be spelled as ‘chili,’ ‘chile,’ or ‘chilli’ on menus. You might have wondered why this is the case, but perhaps you got distracted when trying that five-alarm chili. While studying word origins won’t cool down your mouth (try milk instead), we can offer some insights into using these terms.

Spelling and Geographic Variations:

The spellings are tied to specific geographical regions. In American English, ‘chili’ (or ‘chilies’/’chilis’) is standard for both the pepper and the spicy stew or condiment. Conversely, British English usually favors ‘chilli’ (or ‘chillies’/’chillis’). ‘Chile,’ stemming from Spanish, is commonly used in parts of the U.S. where Spanish is spoken.

Interestingly, there isn’t much controversy surrounding the origins and usage of these spellings. The term ‘chilli’ appears in a 16th-century Nahuatl dictionary (Nahuatl being the language of the Aztecs). Spanish-speaking Mexicans adapted it to ‘chile,’ and it entered English in the 17th century in various forms. The Anglicized version ‘chili’ became predominant in modern American English, while ‘chilli’ became the standard in British English.

This preference extends to food names and products containing chili peppers. ‘Chili con carne,’ translating to “chili with meat,” is commonly found on American menus, while ‘chilli con carne’ is more typical in the UK. The abbreviation ‘chili’ for this dish became established in English by the late 1800s. The ‘chili dog,’ a hot dog topped with chili con carne, became popular in mid-1900s America but isn’t as common across the Atlantic.

While ‘chilli’ can be used as a variant for this hot dog, ‘chile dog’ implies a different topping. In the southwestern U.S., a “chile dog” typically features minced red or green chili peppers.

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