Monday, August 16, 2004

I don't mean to pick, but...

Forte pronounced fort is a thing a person does particularly well; forte pronounced for-tay is a musical term meaning "loud."

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According to my American Heritage Dictionary, "fort-ay" is a possible pronunciation of the word when one means "something at which one excels." It is listed as a third way to pronounce it, after "fort" and "fort" with different symbols over the o.
Chayyei Sarah
www.chayyeisarah.blogspot.com  

Forte, meaning m├ętier, or specialty, is a French loan word. In French, it is pornounced "fort."

Here is the usage note from my own dictionary:

Usage Note: The word forte, coming from the French fort, should properly be pronounced with one syllable, like the English word fort. Common usage, however, prefers the two-syllable pronunciation, which has been influenced possibly by the music term forte borrowed from Italian. The result is a delicate situation; speakers who are aware of the origin of the word may wish to continue to pronounce it as one syllable but at an increasing risk of puzzling their listeners.  

Wow, a word snob. You MUST be cool.

Now that my eyes are done rolling, common use IS the accepted norm, and in this case the "specialty" is pronounced with accent on the first syllable, whereas use of the musical term finds the accent in the latter word. "Playing the trumpet con FORte is his forTE."

It may not be correct, but say it any other way and most people will think you're nuts. Then again, most people using either word with frequency who isn't a musician may well be just that.  

Every human being is a snob; we all look down our noses at someone, and right now, friend, that someone is you.

Seriously, though, this is an old battle: prescriptionists, who tell people what to say vs. descriptionist, who hold that common usage is correct. In most things, I'm a descriptionist, but when common usage is based on a plain and obvious error, I lean the other way.  
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