Chile - chili -chilli - chilly

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These homophones (IPA: /'tʃɪ lɪ/) can confuse some writers. The fact that certain variants exist and are not always regarded as wrong adds to the confusion, as do some differences in pronunciation.

  • Chile (always spelled like this) is a country in South America. In English, it is pronounced just like 'chilly'; in its native Spanish it is more like IPA: /'tʃiː le/.
    • The English adjective is Chilean, usually pronounced in the UK with the stress on the first syllable ('CHILL-i-an', IPA: /'tʃɪ lɪ ən/. LPD says that in the USA, the stress is usually on the second syllable ('chill-EE-an', IPA: /tʃɪ 'liː ən/).
  • The very spicy form of the pepper, or capsicum, which supplies heat to many dishes and is the basis of cayenne pepper, is the chilli or chili (the latter is the usual spelling in the United States, according to Burchfield's Fowler.) These are usually sold as red or green chillies. (In the 18th century, this word was not uncommonly spelled chilly (chillies, which leads to such jokes as this, in Thackeray's Vanity Fair (chapter III: 'Try a chili with it, Miss Sharp', said Joseph [an Englishman who has grown rich in India], really interested. 'A chili', said Rebecca [the young heroine], gasping (from the effects of a hot curry)]; 'oh yes!' She thought a chili was something cool, as its name imported." This is Joseph's practical joke: "[i]t was hotter than the curry".)
  • The adjective and adverb chilly means 'with chill', or 'cold'. Although it is less strong a word than 'cold', it always has connotations of unpleasantness: an unheated room, or the weather, may be chilly, which means 'I don't like it'.
The name of the spice, chilli, the fruit of varieties of capsicum, has no etymological connection with the name of the country Chile, although both are from South America. (In the nineteenth century, the name of the country was sometimes spelled Chili, but this was never right, and would be completely wrong today.) Chili was adopted into European languages from Nahuatl, a Central American Indian language, in the 16th century. The root of the name of the country, Chile, is unclear.