Respect the local pronunciation: runza and Henri

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After I left Omaha and headed westward on Route 30 / Lincoln Highway, I began to notice that every little town along the way with a population of around three thousand or more had a restaurant called Runza.  My instinct was to pronounce that "roon-zuh", but the people around here say "run-zuh".

Because I was not familiar with them, at first I didn't pay much attention to the Runza restaurants, but then I saw a sign that said they made legendary burgers.  Since I'm a burger freak, always in quest of a superior hamburger, by the time I reached Cozad — which somehow has captured my heart, for more than one reason — I decided to stop in and try one.

Wow!  What I found out is that "runza" is the name of the signature sandwich that they serve:

A runza (also called a bierock, krautburger, or kraut pirok) is a yeast dough bread pocket with a filling consisting of beef, cabbage or sauerkraut, onions, and seasonings.  Runzas can be baked into various shapes such as a half-moon, a rectangle, a round (bun), a square, or a triangle. The runzas sold by the Runza restaurant chain are rectangular while many of the bierocks sold in Kansas are round buns.

The runza is a regional cuisine of Nebraska, with some commentators calling it "as Nebraskan as Cornhusker football."[


Since the chain will freeze and ship them anywhere, if you're not planning on coming to the middle of the continent anytime soon, I'd recommend that you order a dozen and give 'em a try.

More on the history of this wonderful sandwich and the etymology of its name:

The runza sandwich originated from the pirog, an Eastern European baked good or more specifically from its small version, known as pirozhok (literally "little pirog"). In the 18th century, Volga Germans (ethnic Germans who settled in the Volga River valley in the Russian Empire at the invitation of Catherine the Great because of their skill in farming), adapted the pirog /pirozhok to create the bierock, a yeast pastry sandwich with similar savory ingredients. When the political climate turned against the Volga Germans as part of Russification including the threat of conscription into the Russian army, many emigrated to the United States, creating communities across the Great Plains. These immigrants, including the Brening family that settled near Sutton, Nebraska, brought their bierock recipes with them. Sarah "Sally" Everett (née Brening), originally of Sutton, is credited with adapting her family's bierock recipe into the runza and also inventing the name for the sandwich. In 1949, Everett went into business selling runzas with her brother Alex in Lincoln, founding the Runza restaurant chain.

Many sources agree that Sally Everett invented the name "runza" although it is likely she adapted it from an existing name for the sandwich; either the krautrunz, an older, different German name for the bierock, or the Low German runsa, meaning "belly", alluding to the gently rounded shape of the pouch pastry. The modern German ranzen, also meaning satchel, derives from runsa. The word "runza" is registered as a trademark in the United States, held by the Runza restaurant chain.


The Runza restaurants also have the best, crunchiest, crinkliest french fries I have ever bit into and the crispiest, savoriest, juciest, sweetest double dipped onion rings I have ever tasted.

Runza was not the only reason I decided to stay an extra day in this charming town that lies smack dab on the 100th meridian, where the Great Plains begin.  Another reason is because it is the hometown of Robert Henri (1865-1929), famous American painter and art teacher.  Robert Henri was born Robert Henry Cozad, and the town is named after his father, John J. Cozad, who founded it in 1873, when there was nothing else out here beside the Union Pacific Railroad and the Platte River.

The father was a fabulous gambler who was so good at faro (< pharaoh) that he could easily make a fortune in no time at all, so notoriously successful, in fact, that most gambling houses across the country would not let him play.

One of John J. Cozad's businesses was growing hay.  The cattle of a neighboring rancher ruined some of John J.'s crop, leading to a heated conflict between the two men.  I think this was in the days when there were no fences and practically no law.  John J. took the rancher to court, which so outraged the rancher that he began to mercilessly beat John J., who whipped out his pistol in self defense, and shot the man, leading to his death.  There are a lot more lurid details about what actually transpired, but they are beyond my remit for Language Log.

Suffice it to say for now that the Cozads soon left town, with the result that they changed their names.  Robert Henry Cozad became Robert Henri.  Since one of the places he studied art was in Paris, I assumed that he wanted his name to be pronounced à la française.  When I heard the young guide (sophomore in college) at the Robert Henri Museum say "Robert" (as in English) and "henrye" [/ˈhɛnr/]), this struck me as provincial.  I mentioned this to her, and she said that many people from out of town told her the same thing.

It turns out that Robert Henri is well known in art history circles with the pronunciation of his name as "Robert Henrye" à l'anglaise, and that was his personal preference.  He was a distant cousin of the renowned painter Mary Cassatt and studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) in Philadelphia under Thomas Anshutz, a protege of Thomas Eakins,  Together with John Sloan (1871–1951) and other like-minded individuals, Henri was a founder of the revolutionary Ashcan School and later became an influential teacher himself, with distinguished followers such as George Bellows, Arnold Franz Brasz, Stuart Davis, Edward Hopper, Rockwell Kent, Henry Ives Cobb, Jr., Lillian Cotton, Amy Londoner, John Sloan, Minerva Teichert, Peppino Mangravite, Rufus J. Dryer, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, and Mabel Killam Day.  (source)

Aside from his extensive, well-catalogued oeuvre, Henri also wrote an influential treatise titled The Art Spirit (1923) that is still in use in some art schools today.

A final note:  one of the first things I noticed upon seeing photographs and portraits of Robert Henri is that his eyes had epicanthal folds, a physical trait possessed by none of the other members of his family.


Selected readings


  1. Allan from Iowa said,

    June 13, 2024 @ 8:18 am

    One more linguistic note about Runza… you mentioned both the fries and the onion rings. You can order a mixture of both with your Runza; this is called "frings".

  2. Victor Mair said,

    June 13, 2024 @ 8:55 am

    Thanks, Allan. That's good to know.

    And have you ever had runza with sauerkraut mixed in?

  3. /df said,

    June 13, 2024 @ 9:02 am

    Reading the culinary analysis of runza/pirog/bierock, I thought, surely this is börek as one might be served in a Turkish restaurant (s/dough/pastry/). And surely it must be etymologically too 9in the latter two forms)?

    The WP entry for börek (πουρέκι for Greek Cypriots) suggests various origins, either a Turkic root or a Persian one, possibly of Turkic origin; also derived: Arabic brik.

    The WP entry for pirog is emphatic, to the point of protesting too much, that there is no connection between more than one Russian pirog and some Polish pierogi, stressing the difference in stress. Nonetheless, leaving aside cookery, these are plainly cognate words. The entries for both words claim derivation from ancient Proto-Slavic *pirъ/pir, "banquet" or "festivity".

    So who wins? The pierogi WP entry has this remark "However, a recent theory speculates that the words bierock, pierogi or pirog may be derived from Turkic bureg". linking to a vexingly short article (or is there more for subcribers?) from the LA Times in June 1997 You Say Purek, I Say Beerock:
    "The shatter zone between the Turkish and Russian worlds was the middle stretch of the Volga, a couple of hundred miles east of Moscow, and you might hope to find the answer there. But in the language of the Chuvash, the oldest Turkish-speaking group on the Middle Voga, pie is purek, which splits the difference between borek and pirog so evenly that nobody’s satisfied."

    Should this decades-old theory be revived or even promoted?

  4. Philip Taylor said,

    June 13, 2024 @ 9:09 am

    Ah, pierogi. I cannot remember the last time I was fortunate enough to eat them, but just the mention of the name is sufficient to make me salivate …

  5. Benjamin E. Orsatti said,

    June 13, 2024 @ 10:57 am

    Yinz don't have pierogies uppair in England?
    It's practically the official cuisine of our faire city:

  6. Michèle Sharik Pituley said,

    June 13, 2024 @ 11:18 am

    @Benjamin — I lived in Cleveland for 9 years & developed a taste for them there. They're also practically the official cuisine there!

    @Victor — thanks for the links to the Southern Ohioisms. I missed seeing that post back in 2017. Having grown up in Southwestern Ohio (in Warren County), reading that was a nice way to spend a bit of time. :-)

  7. Philip Taylor said,

    June 13, 2024 @ 11:29 am

    Well, the very first ones that I ate were hand-made by my then girlfriend in the Jewish Vegetarian Centre in Golders Green, London (she used dried Boletus), and those which I subsequently ate in Poland were also freshly made, but subsequent attempts to replicate the pleasure by eating pre-made ones simply didn't cut the mustard … However, there is a Ukrainian restaurant in Falmouth which I have been tempted to try, and I know they serve (Ukrainian pierogi), so maybe I need to go there and see if they can match my expectations.

  8. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    June 13, 2024 @ 1:09 pm

    @ /df — I don't think the Wikipedia entry makes any claim about the unrelatedness of the Russian and Polish words. It just warns you to not confuse them as in "they're different dishes and pronounced differently". The word itself is evidently the same word.

  9. J.W. Brewer said,

    June 13, 2024 @ 1:35 pm

    Quoth the internet: "An estimated two million workers from Eastern and Central Europe arrived in the United Kingdom between 2003 and 2007, half of them were Polish. The stereotype of the Polish plumber was cited as a factor in [Brexit]." A million Polish immigrants, and none of them selling fresh pierogis to the locals, so single-mindedly stereotypical were they about sticking to plumbing?

    Easy availability of pierogis varies sharply by region in the U.S., typically depending on historical ethnic settlement patterns. In the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania, pierogis are so common that they are commonly offered as a side-dish at cheesesteak joints, although they are not so offered in the cheesesteak Urheimat of (heavily Italian-American) South Philadelphia. You can find bureks in New York City but you sometimes have to devote a little more care and intentionality to the search than if you're just looking for pierogis.

  10. Philip Taylor said,

    June 13, 2024 @ 3:15 pm

    Well, I have no doubt that fresh pierogi are available somewhere in the UK, but would be far less confident of finding them within reasonable travelling distance. We have two, perhaps even three, Polish shops in Bodmin (Cornwall, south-west England) but no Polish restaurants — the nearest are Penzance and Plymouth, both at least an hour's drive away.

  11. Chris Button said,

    June 13, 2024 @ 4:53 pm

    @ Philip Taylor

    You could pretend your next cornish pasty is just a single giant pierogi!

  12. Philip Taylor said,

    June 13, 2024 @ 5:38 pm

    … that tastes completely wrong and has completely the wrong texture. But apart from those two, a perfect substitute !

  13. /df said,

    June 14, 2024 @ 1:22 pm

    @Jarek, it was because I viewed the two words and also their culinary realisations as obviously related that I, perhaps wrongly, inferred a degree of partisanship on the part of the WP author(s).

    Anyhow, the main issue that I raised was Slavonic v Turkic, not Polish v Russian. That question could well be confounded by pre-historic borrowing in either direction, as typically the name of the dish would travel with it (why we eat spaghetti bolognese rather than noodles with beef and chicken-liver sauce).

    Regarding Polish food in the UK, the "internet" doesn't say, or is not quoted thus, that many of those Polish emigrant workers (including the entire workforce of our building contractors) failed to return to the UK after Christmas 2009 when they discovered the booming economy at home. Nonetheless, major supermarkets now have Polish food displays (typically alongside Kosher, Thai, Caribbean, Irish and Indian, where "Thai" encompasses Far Eastern and "Indian" S Asian). Some stores may offer pierogi in the frozen food section, but those would surely fail to meet Philip Taylor's standards; besides, why not just roll out some eggy flour dough and stuff your own?

    An aspiring Polish dumpling entrepreneur would have to contend with established sellers of dim sum as well as quenelles, ravioli, calzoni, börek, samosas, etc, and might well have left the key skill at home with his female relatives.

  14. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    June 15, 2024 @ 1:44 pm

    @ /df: The Wikipedia page on Poles in the UK does not show a drop in the Polish population after 2009. And in terms of the genders, 51% are/were women, so no shortage of cooking skill if you assume it's limited to women ;)

    And it does have a pic of a pierogarnia in Yorkshire ;)

    @ Philip Taylor: I'm afraid Google Maps tell me the closest pierogi restaurants to your place would be in Cardiff and Southampton, sorry!

    And on a linguistic note, pierogi is the plural, so pierogis is a "double plural". Funny, quite a few English borrowings into Polish end up that way (e.g. komandos 'a commando').

  15. David Marjanović said,

    June 16, 2024 @ 10:21 am

    quite a few English borrowings into Polish end up that way

    Also Czech (čipsy "crisps") and Russian (баксы baksy "US dollars".

  16. David Marjanović said,

    June 16, 2024 @ 10:21 am


  17. Philip Taylor said,

    June 16, 2024 @ 10:48 am

    čipsy "crisps") I understand, David, but how do the Russians arrive at баксы ("baksy") starting from "US dollars" ?

  18. Rodger C said,

    June 16, 2024 @ 11:52 am

    Philip Taylor: "bucks."

  19. Philip Taylor said,

    June 16, 2024 @ 12:14 pm

    Ah. That is interesting. I had always assumed that only American refer to USD as "bucks", and did not even consider the possibility that a Russian might use (or be more than passingly familiar) with the term. Thank you.

  20. Philip Taylor said,

    June 16, 2024 @ 12:30 pm

    Incidentally, although one might have thought that if the Russians can adopt (and Cyrillicise) "bucks" to refer to USD, then other nations might well have done the same, but there is one obvious counter-example — in Vietnamese, the universal currency specifier is đô (short for đô la, which is clearly a direct adoption of (the sound of) "dollar". But despite the fact that đô means "dollar", it can be used to represent the major currency unit of other nations, so a Vietnamese in England, on being asked the price of something, might respond "5 đô", and a fellow Vietnamese would immediately know that what was meant was £5-00 and not USD 5-00.

  21. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    June 18, 2024 @ 5:10 am

    @ David Marjanović Also Czech (čipsy "crisps") and Russian (баксы baksy "US dollars".

    That's very interesting. I've never thought about this as a pan-Slavic thing.

    Of course, Polish has czipsy and baksy, and many many others.

  22. George said,

    June 19, 2024 @ 4:55 am

    French also loves its 'double plurals' when it takes food terms from Italian: 'des spaghettis', 'des lasagnes', 'des raviolis', etc., although the superfluous French plural endings aren't audible.

    But the oddest food-related singular/plural mix-up operates in the other direction: 'une chips', with the 's' pronounced. I really can't get my head around that one.

  23. Philip Taylor said,

    June 19, 2024 @ 5:34 am

    Well, une chips makes perfect sense to me — it surely designates a portion of chips rather than a single chip.

  24. Philip Taylor said,

    June 19, 2024 @ 5:52 am

    "than a single chip." -> "than a single chip, does it not ?"

  25. George said,

    June 19, 2024 @ 9:53 am

    @Philip Taylor

    Sadly, 'une chips' is a single, solitary crisp. (Equally sadly, the Americans got their word in first, as so often.)

  26. Philip Taylor said,

    June 19, 2024 @ 4:24 pm

    Zut, alors …

  27. Alex Shpilkin said,

    June 24, 2024 @ 12:02 am

    Russian also has чипсы *čipsy* “potato chips”. That word exists somewhere between being a regular plural form corresponding to a little-used singular one, чипс *čips*, and a grammatically plural collective noun with a countable counterpart of чипсина *čipsina*.

    Unlike the case of баксы *baksy*, the doublet чип *čip*, plural чипы *čipy* also exists and means “chip, integrated circuit”, being a somewhat slang-coloured synonym for микросхема *mikroshema*.

    It feels like both of these came into being in the early 90s, though my word here isn’t worth much. For the latter, computer magazines from that time certainly weren’t shy to introduce English words in their translations of English-language industry news, also giving us e.g. кулер *kuler* “CPU cooler”. Баксы *baksy* < *bucks* certainly shouldn’t come as a surprise, given what a deluge of 80s American action movies the television of that time was and how hungrily the entertainment-starved post-Soviet population slurped them up.

    As a side note, another amusing and recent English borrowing in Russian is the adjectival suffix -абельн|ый -ая -ое *-abelʹn|yj -aâ -oe* < *-able* (as in *comfortable*), which I remember receiving sneers from pedants even in the mid-00s but which just sounds completely normal now.

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