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I am not an alumni

A spirited response to yesterday’s post about the vagaries of naturalizing foreign words into English challenges the point I was trying to make:

There ain't but a handful o' folks what can (or do) say "entrepreneur" or "bratwurst" in the manner of, respectively, our French and German brethren. Or pluralize them ditto.

If one is going to be insistent on treating loan words as if they are still garbed in their immigrant weeds, one is going to have to get the plural of "Weltschmerz" and "Anschauung" right, smooth out the English diphthongs in "Mozart" and "Beethoven," and fling about terms like "graffito" and "datum."

Is there much of a point in so doing? Can't think of one.

But I wasn’t quite saying that we ought to retain all loan words in their original forms; I was saying that practice in English is strongly idiosyncratic and unpredictable. Look at some of the commenter’s own examples. We may not be authentically Teutonic, but we still don’t pronounce the composers’ names as Mozzart or BEE-thoven, though we might. After all, the town in Tennessee named after the liberator of South America is pronounced Bolliver, and the residents of the capital of South Dakota render Pierre as something like pier.

As to the plurals, after all these years the plural of alumnus is still alumni or alumnae, not alumnuses; the plural of crisis is crises, not crisises; the plural of hypothesis is hypotheses.

I concede that a panini is probably how it’s going to be in English, my dislike notwithstanding, and I’m not inclined to mobilize the troops in defense of panino. But I am not yet persuaded that an Anglicized pronunciation of bruschetta is settled usage.

And there are some matters on which I think there is a reasonable and justifiable point in preserving an original distinction. At The Sun, for example, we insist on treating media, as in news media, as a plural. The basic reason, one of clarity, is that news is conveyed by more than one medium. The additional justification is that using the word as a singular suggests to the reader that the various media, diverse as they are, are somehow monolithic.

Retaining media as a plural is probably a losing battle. But then, I’m a copy editor, a newspaperman, a teacher of grammar, a reader of books, a listener to Baroque and classical music, a Democrat, a bourbon drinker, a high-church Episcopalian, a fedora wearer and a bow-tie fancier. Show me a losing cause and I’ll sign up.



Posted by John McIntyre at 10:32 AM | | Comments (10)


Two more examples of cities pronounced unlike their foreign forebears that I like: Versailles, Ky., pronounced ver-SAILS, and Cairo, Ill., pronounced CARE-o.

A fight on spelling exists between those anthropologists who dig in the ground:

Archaeology vs. Archeology.

Note, both are technically correct and acceptable.

I'm still trying to learn to pronounce croissant in American, since I first encountered them in France a long time ago, before a word was needed here.

And in the sedate world of libraries there is still a battle over "catalogue" vs. "catalog" (the preferred American usage).

Brian White--I thought that place in Illinois was pronounced more like "KAY-ro."

Mae, "croissant" is an interesting case. I usually pronounce it something like "kwah-SAHN" but with a nasal "n"; in other words, pseudo-French. Some people pronounce the "t" at the end, while others may put the stress on the first syllable, which are both steps toward anglicization. But hardly anyone, I think, pronounces the first syllable "croy." With some words, it seems, we want to maintain the exotic feeling (an example of overenthusiasm in this regard is the tendency to pronounce "lingerie" as "lahn-zher-AY," which is quite different from the original French word, which ends in the sound "ee"). By the way, when I was a child, my mother used to serve us something like croissants, only she very reasonably called them "crescent rolls."

Doesn't everyone have some shameful secret?


Cancel my subscription!

The only chance you have for rehabilitation, sir, is to imbibe Yukon Jack. Without that, I am afraid for your soul.

Rawley Grau wrote, about "croissant": But hardly anyone, I think, pronounces the first syllable "croy."

Maybe not in Baltimore but, yeah, they do...

Dahlink- I don't know about the place in Illinois, but the place in Georgia does sound like KAY-ro.

Actually did see "panino" on a menu just a couple of weeks ago. But I'm in San Francisco, where I usually need at least one ingredient per dish translated for me before I know what to order and where you might be accused of cultural insensitivity if you don't pronounce words as if you were a native speaker of every language.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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