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.