A few weeks back we explored words and phrases that can sabotage our communication—and our perceived persuasion—by being mispronounced or misspoken. The article inspired thoughtful feedback and additional entries from readers who likewise monitor the proper use of English.
What follows are two items from our current list that were questioned, as well as more words and phrases to watch out for.
Forte to mean “strength” or “talent,” correctly pronounced fort, often mispronounced as for-tay.
Responses both supported and opposed this entry. Observations in favor distinguished the French feminine forte (silent e: fort) and masculine fort (silent t: for) meaning “strong” from the Italian forte (FOR-tay) meaning “loud.” In this case, pronunciation communicates definition, reinforcing our stance that forte to mean “talent” or “strength” in American English maintains the silent e.
The opposition pointed out that forte has no satisfactory pronunciation in American English. Another reader further noted that the Merriam-Webster dictionary allows for pronunciation of forte as either fort or for-tay.
Another reader identified the French word can be confused between fort (meaning a defensive structure stationed with troops, pronounced for) and forte (meaning a loud section of music, pronounced for-tay). With that confusion, the two words’ meanings and pronunciations can often be swapped.
After weighing the feedback and evidence, our stance is that try as we might to define and uphold a single proper usage, forte will vary in pronunciations that may not form a majority. If they do, the most prominent form in American English will likely tilt toward for-tay with the accent on either the first or the second syllable or no accent at all.
Niche to mean “suitable position, distinct market segment”; correctly pronounced nich, often mispronounced as neesh.
Similar to the counterclaims concerning forte, opposing observation cites the pronunciation of this French word meaning “recess, alcove” as neesh or, in some cases, neesh-uh.
While we recognize the word’s source and original treatment, we are most interested in American English pronunciation and usage. Within that context, most of our office dictionaries, as well as those we checked online, list the pronunciation nich. A few allow for neesh as a secondary pronunciation, which is more popular in British English than in American.
Our readers identified these other misspoken or mispronounced words and phrases:
|Word or Phrase (Glitch: S=misspoken, P=mispronounced)||Correct Treatment|
|physical (relating to financial matters) (S)||fiscal (FIS-kuhl)|
|I could care less. (S)||I couldn’t care less.|
|jewelry (P)||JOO-uhl-ree not JOO-ler-ee|
|library (P)||LIE-brer-ee not LIE-bare-ee|
|Old Timers’ Disease (S)||Alzheimer’s disease|
|prostrate disease (S)||prostate disease|
|salmon (P)||SAM-uhn not SAL-muhn|
|verse (to mean opposed to, in conflict with) (S)||versus|
We also received references to words with two apparent schools of pronunciation: era (EER-uh or AIR-uh) and often (OFF-en or OFF-tun). As with forte and niche, here we have diction that may be proper and common to some but not accepted by others. Furthermore, dictionaries provide one pronunciation or the other (or both) for each word. As we’ve noted before for often, we’ll stick with OFF-en while designating OFF-tun as a hypercorrection. We have no preference regarding era and find either pronunciation acceptable.
We also conclude that this topic inspires us to refer to multiple dictionaries when we’re uncertain of how to say a word correctly. Doing so opens us all to different points of view and helps us determine which pronunciation suits our sense of accuracy, as well as our style of usage.
We’ll remain on the lookout for other words and phrases that can interfere with articulate writing and speaking. We encourage you to continue doing the same!
Posted on Tuesday, July 10, 2018, at 11:00 pm
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