The Mysterious Origins of the Cooking Term “Chaunce”


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If you have ever cooked in ISKCON I am sure you have heard the term “chaunce” used often. It’s the frying of spices that you then mix into the dal or vegetables you are cooking to add flavor. The word is used so standardly, you would assume its a real word, but you would be surprised that it doesn’t exist in any dictionary.

It seems to have been one of the early linguistic creations of ISKCON. As far as I can surmise, the origin is the hindi word “chaunk” with a hard ‘k’ ending instead of an ‘s’ sound. Probably who ever first came across it saw it transliterated with a ‘c’ (chaunc), as ‘c’ can have both an ‘s’ sound and ‘k’ sound. Its reasonable that in those times it may have been transliterated as “chaunc”, and pronounced as chaunk, since transliteration standards did not really exist at the time. Whoever first read that, would have converted the last ‘c’ to an ‘s’ sound, and made the now famous word chaunce.

The word occurs as early as 1970 in an old ISKCON cook book, so it would have happened even before that, probably in the late 1960’s. Srila Prabhupada even uses the word in one of his letters from 1970, though since we don’t have the audio its not possible to know whether he was pronouncing it as chaunce or chaunk or whether he was adopting a word usage that had become common in ISKCON by that time.

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