What does your choice of restaurant say about your palate and your palette and your pallet? Is it important? Well, in speaking, it doesn’t matter at all. But if you don’t know the difference between these words, you may look ignorant in writing. And that’s a shame. Because all of these words are pronounced pretty much the same (I’m come back to that shortly). And they are all perfectly clear in context.
If you care about your palate, you may choose a restaurant where the food is most delicious. This is because “palate” means, “a person’s appreciation of taste and flavor, especially when sophisticated and discriminating.” But you might also choose a restaurant that does not serve pizza, which can burn the roof of your mouth. This is because “palate” also means, “the roof of the mouth.” Hot pizza has been known to badly burn the palate.
If you fancy yourself another Maurice Utrillo, you may choose a brightly colored restaurant, so that you can put a lot of different colors on your palette before you paint the restaurant as the sun falls below the horizon and many blues and reds surround the structure.
If you are a delivery man in a rush, you may choose a restaurant where the employees quickly process the goods you have delivered, so you can have your empty pallet back and get on with your next delivery.
The English language is a real pain. There is absolutely no reason to have these three spellings for four different things that all sounds pretty much the same. It is almost as if we had decided to have a language that is designed to make people feel stupid. At least they could have different pronunciations! And indeed, “palette” does have a very slightly different pronunciation. “Palette” has a slightly more distinct sub-accent on the second syllable. Or the main accept on the first is slightly less sharp.
“Palate” comes from Latin (13xx). “Palette” comes from the French (1622). And “pallet” also comes from the French (1558). So it really makes no sense at all. “Palate” isn’t so bad because it comes from a different language and is hundreds of years earlier. But the two French related words are from the same time. What a mess. No wonder Shaw was so upset!
But I do have a bit of help. “Palate” relates to eating. And if there is one thing that is easy to remember, it is that it is a bad idea to be late for dinner, because it will disappoint your palate. It helps that it is also the simplest and most reasonable spelling. Pa-late.
The second most reasonable spelling is “pallet.” Those are the things you stack. Or if you prefer: if a pal offers to help you stack pallets, let him. “Thanks pal for offering to help stack my pal–lets; I’m happy to let you!” Pal-let.
As for “palette”: that’s easy! Artists always want to put extra letters on the ends of words that don’t need them. Think: artiste. So that stupid thing painters use obviously needs an extra “e” on the end. But it can’t just be a single “e.” That would sound Spanish, “Pallete.” Pronounced, “Pa-zjet-a.” It has to stay French, so it’s got to have two “t” characters. That leaves us with “pallette.” Unfortunately, adding those two useless letters makes the word too long. So they removed one of the other unnecessary letters: the extra “l.” It’s silent, anyway. Problem solved! Pal-et-te.
If anyone wants to start a revolution, I’m ready. Until then, I’ll be using my palette to paint pallets whetting my appetite for the for the food my palate will enjoy afterward. (And yes: wet vs whet. What a pain English is!)