Adventures of a Chilihead is the title I chose ages ago for what I intended to be a story album or themed collection of short stories about my experiences eating hot chili peppers and other blow-your-head-off food. As usual, getting the book pulled together is an adventure itself as it morphed from loose stories to mini-memoir, and part of that adventure includes resolving a quandary about the proper spelling of the main subject.
More years ago than I can remember, my father sorted me out on the proper spelling of chile. “Chile is a country in South America. We eat chili!” He grew up in New Mexico, staying there until he was a grandfather. He’s a reliable trivia consultant and can always back up his opinions, so as far as I was concerned, that settled it. I consistently used the correct spelling in my manuscript.
Or so I thought. I follow a couple of Facebook groups populated with people who grew up in Los Alamos. On a whim, I posted a request for comments testifying to their love of chili. Results were completely unexpected. A few posted short comments about their love of chili, their favorite varieties and so forth, but far more made sure I know the New Mexican way to spell CHILE!
The word was originally adapted by the Spanish explorers from Mexico’s native Nahuatl term, “xilli” o(alternately spelled “chilli”). The Spaniards adapted it as chile, which was subsequently rendered chili in American English. The Brits, whether by design or fluke, stuck to the Nahuatl spelling, chilli. Although most of the United States accepts chili as the proper spelling, many southwesterners assert that the word is of Spanish origin, hence the Spanish spelling should be retained.
New Mexicans are especially assertive about this, and on November 3, 1983, Senator Pete Domenici, R-NM, had a statement read into the Congressional Record 129 (149) entitled “The correct way to spell chile.” However, I know of no resolution introduced or legislation passed, so the question continues to loom.
Not relying strictly on a well-informed, but possibly biased, sample, or grandstanding Congressional hoopla, I turned to my own definitive resource, a decades old publications from the New Mexico State Agricultural Extension Service. The title says it all: CHILE.
You may wonder why I’m taking such pains to detail all this. Why I don’t just quietly make the change? Because of the cover. I’d like to be true to my roots, but I also want an instantly recognizable title. So, I’m asking you to help me decide. Please look at the two images below and leave a comment to tell me if you see any reason to stick with Chilihead rather than changing to Chilehead.
Stay tuned for more of the writing adventure.
Write now: make a list of colloquial terms specific to the area where you live or grew up. Select a couple of related ones to include in a story, and consider how to make them clear to your readers while remaining true to your roots and voice. Do any necessary research to support your usage. Involve others who share those roots.