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Naturalized immigrants

My esteemed colleague Elizabeth Large has written about a reader of her dining blog who ordered bruschetta, pronounced with a k sound, at a restaurant, only to be corrected by an officious server who said it should be pronounced brushetta.

Ms. Large has been so thoroughly conditioned by a Sun copy editor of Italian heritage that, not wanting to startle our monoglot readers with the word cannolo, she has trained herself to write of cannoli only in the plural.

When, she wonders, do foreign words adopted into and naturalized in English take on Anglicized pronunciations as well?

It appears to be largely arbitrary. We retain something approximating the Italian pronunciations of lasagna, pizza and spaghetti, despite their long tenure on these shores; but we tend to render espresso as expresso, and it is not uncommon to hear people refer to a paparazzi or a graffiti and to cannolis or paninis. The Latin plurals bacteria, data and media have been turning into singulars (spite stout resistance in some quarters), but not alumni.

I don’t think that bruschetta has been in common circulation in this country long enough to advise anyone to abandon the original Italian pronunciation, but insisting on it carries some hazards. Just as George Orwell commented that “an Englishman considers it effeminate to pronounce a foreign word properly,” so in the United States an insistence on the foreign pronunciation of foreign words can mark the speaker as pretentious, fussy and — here comes the dread word — elitist.

So, if you’re willing to take on the risk, use the foreign singulars/plurals and pronunciations — taking care, of course, to avoid the finicky hyperpronunciations so beloved of announcers on classical music stations. And if your preference is to speak pure Amurrican, well, this is, after all, Amurrica. Ciao.



Posted by John McIntyre at 7:27 PM | | Comments (4)


"We retain something approximating the Italian pronunciations of lasagna . . . "

Not that I'm a pretentious, fussy elitist, but I think the Italians actually refer to the dish in the plural as "lasagne." The "e" is not silent.

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.

You fuddy-duddy, East coast elitist!

There is no "i" in Amurrca, or Amurrcan!

As for you, Annonymous:

The only way to ensure a smooth dipthong is to stand up real nice and straight while wearing one.

Point to Bruce Robinson!

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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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