« Surely you jest: The Swedish lodger | Main | Permission to address the chair »

How to pronounce it -- 2

Posted by John McIntyre at 4:31 PM | | Comments (23)


You go from strength to strength. Thank you.

And so nattily attired!

thanks for the chuckle JM!

I'd forgotten "long-lived"!

(my 10-year-old son is very careful to say "com-fort-a-ble." I don't know what he does w/ "car-a-mel." I'll have to check.

Hilarious. I was raised by a british father and a southern mother, so I say to-mah-to and my-naise (that white stuff you put on sandwiches).


I have just spent the most enjoyable half hour listening to your "Surely you jest" and the topic of How to Judge a Book by it's Cover, was my favorite thus far. I lift my glass of merlot to you. The anectdotes (did I spell that right?) and the bow tie, just make me smile. I'll be back to see and hear what you have to say.

I have always campaigned for ‘flak-sid’ (no one speaks of being in a car ass-ident), but your point is well taken. The ‘soft’ c is most certainly consonant with the meaning of the word. Still not sure I like it, but OK.

Forte – thank you. As a late-blooming music student, I appreciate the distinction.

Ca-ra-mel, indeed. Thank you again. If only the offenders read this blog.

Niche – “nitch”?? That hurts my ears. I know, it’s been adopted – and all the dictionaries are cool with it. But would it be so hard to say ‘neesh’? The day they pigeon-hole me, I would rather live out my days in a neesh than in a nitch. But that’s just me.

thank for "caramel"...finally!

Why is niche English but not forte? What is the distinction? I do not try to deny it, I ask merely for information.

I laughed so hard I almost cried. (Love the more formal attire.)

Thank you for the distinction of 'forte' - but my concern is always that I will fail to be understood by hearers grown dully accustomed to 'for-tay'.

At what point does proper usage/pronunciation yield to the purpose of communication (to make oneself be understood)?

The joy of this is that it is as funny the next day as it was on first viewing.

Thought I'd share what I discovered about "forte," having been put through the wringer by Copyediting subscribers over one of my recent editor's tips about it:

The original French is "fort," not "forte," and is pronounced "for." English speakers erred in borrowing a feminine form. The "for-tay" pronunciation arose because of confusion with Italian "forte," but it's been dominant since the end of the 19th century. It's no less defensible than using a pronunciation that is based on a different error. In fact, I'd say it's more defensible, because Italian "forte" is also used in the meaning of "strength." The real howler is writing "forte" with an accent over the "e."

This is hilarious. I found it very timely considering I read this just last night. "Writing Tips" blog post about 50 mispronounced words:

I laugh harder everytime I watch this.


I believe I say "forte" with two syllables, the second stressed, to mean "particular talent," and in fact saying "grammar is her forte" without the added "ay" sounds wrong to me, perhaps because of the possible confusion with "fort." But I am pretty certain that "forte" as a musical direction should be pronounced FOR-tay, not for-TAY. A minor quibble.

I am enjoying your videos immensely. Thanks!

Okay, I do say caramel with three syllables, but have never heard "caramel corn" pronounced that way. Fortunately I don't eat the stuff.

Incidentally, if you would like to add to your store of words with Greek roots, the word for correct diction or correct pronunciation is "orthoepy" ("orthos," right; "epos," speech).

And you might also note that the introduction to this video does not say that the pronunciations that follow are "correct," but merely that they are respectable.

My new goal: become an orthoepest.

Allie, I too enjoyed the list of mispronounced words. Most of the 'mispronunciations' cited appear to be from what might be termed "Urban English." I am reminded of Henry Higgins' song in My Fair Lady:

An Englishman's way of speaking absolutely classifies him,
The moment he starts to speak he makes some other Englishman despise him.

"Urban English"? You want me to learn you Kentucky English?

Kentucky English? Is that the southern drawl the Kentucky Colonels speak while sipping Mint Juleps on the porch? Or is it the veranda?

True story: While I was living at home in New York in the mid 60s, I applied for a college summer hire job in Maryland. One afternoon I came home from school and my mother said I had gotten a call and the message was "Call Operator 25, Laurel Merlin." To her Northern ear the pronumciation of our fair state sounded like the name of an old English mage. Even after living here for over 40 years I still sometimes find it hard to dedcipher the locals.

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

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
Baltimore Sun Facebook page

Most Recent Comments
Sign up for FREE local news alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for local news text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
Stay connected