Let's Call the Whole Thing Off

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"Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" is a song written by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin for the 1937 film Shall We Dance, where it was introduced by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers as part of a celebrated dance duet on roller skates.[1] The music is marked "Brightly".[2] The song is most famous for its "You like tomato /təˈmtə/ / And I like to-mah-to /təˈmɑːtə/" and other verses comparing their different regional dialects.

The differences in pronunciation are not simply regional, however, but serve more specifically to identify class differences. At the time, typical American pronunciations were considered less "refined" by the upper-class, and there was a specific emphasis on the "broader" a sound.[3] This class distinction with respect to pronunciation has been retained in caricatures, especially in the theater, where the longer a pronunciation is most strongly associated with the word "darling."[4]

The song was ranked No. 34 on AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs.[5]

Notable recordings[edit]

The song has been re-used in filmmaking and television production, most notably in When Harry Met Sally... – where it is performed by Harry Connick Jr. – and The Simpsons.

In the February 18, 1970, Anne Bancroft television special, "Annie: The Women in the Life of a Man," Bancroft appears in a comedy sketch with David Susskind where she plays a hapless singer in an audition who sings the song from sheet music, cluelessly ignoring the different pronunciation of to-may-to and to-mah-to, etc.[10] Ira Gershwin relates a similar incident in his 1959 book.[11]

The tune was also featured in the 2012 Broadway Musical Nice Work If You Can Get It.


  1. ^ "Shall We Dance". 7 May 1937 – via IMDb.
  2. ^ Gershwin, Ira (1959). Lyrics on Several Occasions (First ed.). New York: Knopf. OCLC 538209.
  3. ^ Flexner, Stuart Berg (1982). Listening to America: An Illustrated History of Words and Phrases from our Lively and Splendid Past. Simon and Schuster. p. 511.
  4. ^ Dunkling, Leslie (1990). A Dictionary of Epithets and Terms of Address. Routledge. p. 86.
  5. ^ "America's Greatest Music in the Movies" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 2011-10-04.
  6. ^ "Astaire on 78". America.net. Archived from the original on 2011-09-27. Retrieved 2011-10-04.
  7. ^ "Ella Fitzgerald Discography – Part 2 – The Verve Years part 1". Ellafitzgerald.altervista.org. Archived from the original on 2011-09-29. Retrieved 2011-10-04.
  8. ^ "A Bing Crosby Discography". BING magazine. International Club Crosby. Retrieved December 8, 2017.
  9. ^ "allmusic.com". allmusic.com. Retrieved December 8, 2017.
  10. ^ "Broadway.com". Retrieved November 13, 2018.
  11. ^ Gershwin, Ira (1959). Lyrics on Several Occasions (First ed.). New York: Knopf. OCLC 538209.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]