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Tomato tomato? Potato potato? Let’s (not) Call the Whole Thing Off!

Updated on April 15, 2012

Shall We Dance Movie Poster

Movie Poster from Shall We Dance
Movie Poster from Shall We Dance

You say tomato...I say tomahto


There are so many expressions we take for granted in our native tongues that often leave those from other cultures scratching their heads. Words and expressions get picked up from famous speeches, newspaper headlines, music and movies becoming part of our everyday lexicon. To master a language’s slang and everyday expressions is to understand its people. It wasn’t until I used the term “tomato, tomato” within an email to a French speaking friend that I realized an expression that has always been a part of my culture meant nothing to her and in fact left her confused. It doesn’t help that when the expression is printed, it loses the differing pronunciation of “tom-eh-toe, tom-ah-toe.” In essence it translates to: ‘You say/believe this. I say/believe that. We have differing opinions and can still get along!” It’s fascinating that a lyrical verse created 75 years ago is still generating conversation today.

Let's Call the Whole Thing Off


The song Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off, from which the famous quote originates, was created by the famous brother duo of composer George and lyrical creator Ira Gershwin for the 1937 movie Shall We Dance. It was introduced by famous movie dance duo Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers during a historic roller skating dance duet. The movie’s plot line revolves around Astaire, ballet star Pete “Petrov” Peters, and Rogers, as musical star Linda Keene, faking a marriage for publicity purposes then falling in love. Although the movie’s quirky song still remains popular all these years later, it was the song They Can’t Take That Away From Me from the same movie, also by the Gershwins, which was nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Best Music, Original Song.

Let's Call the Whole Thing Off Video

Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off - Lyrics


Fred Astaire:

Things have come to a pretty pass
Our romance is growing flat
For you like this and the other
While I go for this and that
Goodness knows what the end will be
Oh! I don't know where I'm at
It’s plain to see we two will never make one
Something must be done

You say either and I say eyether,
You say neither and I say nyther
Either, eyether, neither, nyther
Let's call the whole thing off

You like potato and I like potahto
You like tomato and I like tomahto
Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto
Oh! Let's call the whole thing off
But oh, if we call the whole thing off
Then we must part
And oh! If we ever part, then that might break my heart

So if you like pyjamas and I like pyjahmas,
I'll wear pyjamas and give up pyjahmas
For we know we need each other so we
Better call the calling off off
Oh! Let's call the whole thing off

Ginger Rogers:

You say laughter and I say larfter
You say after and I say arfter
Laughter, larfter, after, arfter
Let's call the whole thing off

You like Havana and I like Havahna
You eat banana and I eat banahnah
Havana, Havahna, banana, banahnah
Let’s call the whole thing off

But oh! If we call the whole thing off
Then we must part
And oh! If we ever part, then that might break my heart

So if you like oysters and I like ersters
I'll take oysters and give up ersters
For we know we need each other so we
Better call the calling off off
Let's call the whole thing off

Other Recordings of the Song

Many famous versions of the song have been created over the years, several with a change of lyrics but all in keeping with the quirky, jovial, punchy tone. One of the most famous alternate recordings is that of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. Other famous versions have been sung by Rosemary Clooney with several duet partners, Billie Holiday and Harry Connick Jr. The song has been used in television and movies most notably in When Harry Met Sally and The Simpsons.

Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong Sing Let's Call the Whole Thing Off

Special Recognition for the Song

On June 22, 2004, in a CBS television special hosted by John Travolta, The American Film Institute unveiled a list of the top 100 songs in American cinema. Let's Call the Whole Thing Off garnered 34th place in a list spanning entries from 1932-2002.

So now 75 years later, with many renditions of the song recorded and several accolades, it's totally up to you whether you say tomato or tomato, potato or potato!


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