In countries around the world, you sometimes see a type of dish develop almost simultaneously, independently of one another. One such example is a combination of flatbread, grilled meat, fresh vegetables, and creamy yogurt-based sauce. While the combination of ingredients is unique, there is a through line that can be drawn from one to another. In Turkey, this dish is called a doner kebab. In several Middle Eastern and Mediterranean countries, it’s called shawarma. But the variation that’s caused the most confusion and mispronunciation? Easy–the gyro.
No matter how popular this dish becomes, we still seem to struggle to pronounce it correctly. Let’s take a closer look at the gyro so we can determine its definitive pronunciation.
Despite the simplicity of this short word, gyro consistently ranks among the most frequently mispronounced culinary terms. Mispronouncing gyro is so ubiquitous that a sketch about it appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.
Among the most common mispronunciations are:
So how do actually say this word? Let’s dive into the gyro’s history to unearth its official pronunciation once and for all.
The Gyro’s Origin Story and Etymology
Hailing from Greece originally, the gyro differs from the doner kebab and shawarma in one major way. Rather than using slices of grilled lamb, beef, chicken, or a combination of meats, gyro meat is either shaved and layered on a spit or ground up with aromatics and spices, then shaped into a solid cone of meat around a spit. Once on the spit, the meat is cooked on a vertical rotisserie and sliced to order.
According to the New York Times, the legacy of the gyro can be traced back to the spit-roasted meats Alexander the Great’s army ate in Persia circa 334 BC—but the iconic vertical rotisserie that is most strongly associated with modern-day gyros didn’t start until the 1830s during the rule of the Ottoman Empire.
The word gyro is a modern Greek derivative of the word gyros, which translated to “turning” or “ring,” referring to the movement of the vertical rotisserie on which it’s cooked. While the gyro didn’t see great success in the greater European market, it’s popular enough to become a staple in greek restaurants across the US since the 1970s, taking root in New York, then Chicago, and migrating north to Milwaukee before spreading to cities across the country.
Since the gyro’s arrival in the states, the word has been unofficially borrowed into the English language—though surprisingly few native speakers actually know how to say it.
In order to correctly pronounce this word as the Greeks do, soften your pronunciation of the Gy and roll the R: “YEE-roh.” For a subtle anglicization, let the rolled R fall to the wayside.
Easy as pie! If you’re ready to really solidify this pronunciation in your vocabulary, now’s a great time to visit your nearest Greek restaurant and try ordering one. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, consider making gyro at home! In either situation, you’ll enjoy this meal all the more knowing you’ve mastered its pronunciation.