Sweet Vindication: How To Pronounce “Forte”

Friends of mine may know about the infamous editor who once “corrected” me during a job interview–when I was doing the interviewing, mind you–on my pronunciation of the word forte. I pronounced it FOR-tay, only to have said editor, after a few minutes of conversation, mention that “the word should actually be pronounced FORT, because it’s actually a French word.”
Well, needless to say, this editor quickly revealed himself to be a COMPLETE PSYCHO for many other non-linguistic reasons, but I never quite got over his smart-arse comment.
Until today, when I had my revenge. Below, please read the words of My Personal Hero, Bryan Garner, on the correct pronunciation of the word. (BTW, I get tidbits like these daily by subscribing to Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day, sent out by Oxford.)

forte (= a person’s strong point) has long been thought to be preferably pronounced with one syllable, like “fort.” That’s because the word is originally French (in which “fort” means “strong,” corruptly made with a feminine “-e” suffix) and is so pronounced. But most speakers of American English use the two-syllable version (/FOR-tay/), probably under the influence of the Italian “forte,” a two-syllable word referring to a musical notation to play loudly. Though it might have been nice to keep the two words separate in pronunciation, that hasn’t happened — and the two-syllable version can no longer be condemned. What can be condemned is the pretentious pronunciation /for-TAY/ and the occasional use of an acute accent on the “-e.”

Take that, creepy editor from the past. Take that!


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