Etymology of the word "forte"

I just read on various on-line dictionaries that "forte" like in "writing is not my forte" in English has a French origin... the identical expression exists in Italian "non è il mio forte"... and I was wondering how the French etymology (rather than Italian) was "established".
Anybody?
 
  • JamesM

    Senior Member
    I wonder if the fact that the word is properly pronounced as one syllable and not two in English is a clue to its French origin rather than Italian. I don't know. I'm honestly just wondering.

    I know many AE speakers who pronounce it as if it were Italian, but our dictionary definitions show it as one syllable. In fact, if you pronounce it as a one-syllable word, you'll often get "corrected" by those around you here. :)

    It might be one of those words in transition.
     

    Thomas1

    Senior Member
    polszczyzna warszawska
    I wonder if the fact that the word is properly pronounced as one syllable and not two in English is a clue to its French origin rather than Italian. I don't know. I'm honestly just wondering.

    I know many AE speakers who pronounce it as if it were Italian, but our dictionary definitions show it as one syllable. In fact, if you pronounce it as a one-syllable word, you'll often get "corrected" by those around you here. :)

    It might be one of those words in transition.
    I think you're right.
    Since there are two fortes in English, first that is in question comes from French and should be correctly pronounced as one syllable and the second one used by musicians of Italian origin pronounced as two syllables. I think, however, that people mingled both and the two syllable pronunciaton prevails; the one that should be pronounced as monosyllabic got the additional e so that's probably the perpetrator of the double syllable enunciation.


    Tom
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I get so exasperated by the forte as a single or two syllable word, that I only say, "strength" or "loud" in its place.

    Fortay (phonetically) means "loud" and is the opposite of "piano".

    Fort (phonetically) means strength.
     

    Orange Blossom

    Senior Member
    U.S.A. English
    I had no idea until now that forte was pronounced in any way other than in two syllables. In fact, I have generally seen the word written this way, forté, whether in music or elsewhere until computers became so common.

    Mathematics is not my forté.

    This section of the music is forté.

    If I hear one syllable, I think of this word: fort. I've heard one syllable only in reference to forts which are a kind of military outpost.

    Orange Blossom
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Well, here's an abbreviated version of the OED entry for forte (as in my forte)

    [a. F. fort, absolute use of fort strong: see FORT a. As in many other adoptions of Fr. adjs. used as ns., the fem. form has been ignorantly substituted for the masc.; cf. locale, morale (of an army), etc.]
    1. The strong point (of a person), that in which he excels.

    From which we draw at least two conclusions, I think:

    (1) that the origin is French
    (2) that in BrE, the one-syllabled pronunciation is obsolete: we pronounce it with two syllables.

    Loob

    Edit: sorry - the phonetic transcription made a right mess of this quote so I had to delete it! To paraphrase, though, what the phonetic bit of the entry said was that the word is pronounced 'forty or fortay; "formerly" fort.'
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I had no idea until now that forte was pronounced in any way other than in two syllables. In fact, I have generally seen the word written this way, forté, whether in music or elsewhere until computers became so common.

    Mathematics is not my forté.

    This section of the music is forté.

    If I hear one syllable, I think of this word: fort. I've heard one syllable only in reference to forts which are a kind of military outpost.

    Orange Blossom

    It took a little work, but I think I found a way to pick up "is not my forté" without including "is not my forte" using Google:

    http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&rlz=1T4GFRC_enUS207US208&q="is+not+my+forté"+-"forte"&btnG=Search

    I get 252 examples vs. 59,500 for the non-accented version:

    http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&rlz=1T4GFRC_enUS207US208&q="is+not+my+forte"+-"forté"

    I wonder, Orange Blossom, if your mind might have "filled in" the accent since it expected it. In print, such as books or articles, I've only seen "forte" (without the accent) to mean "strength" or "specialty."
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    JamesM and Orange Blossom, I'll leave you North Americans to battle it out:)

    The position here's clear: two syllables!

    Loob
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    JamesM and Orange Blossom, I'll leave you North Americans to battle it out:)

    The position here's clear: two syllables!

    Loob

    To tell you the truth, I wish it were as clear here. I'd rather have one word and one pronunciation rather than two. :)

    Maybe I should join a campaign for standardization on two syllables in AE.
     

    Orange Blossom

    Senior Member
    U.S.A. English
    It took a little work, but I think I found a way to pick up "is not my forté" without including "is not my forte" using Google:

    http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&r...22&btnG=Search

    I get 252 examples vs. 59,500 for the non-accented version:

    http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&r...2fort%C3%A9%22

    Your google results do not surprise me at all. With the increased use of word processing, the accents have been disappearing from words like crazy. Résumé is a case in point. Google, of course, does not call up typewritten, mimeographed, or typeset texts unless perhaps they have been scanned. :)
    ---------------
    I should point out that most of my experience with forté has been with music. I became acquainted with the other meaning much later in the early 1980's. I repeat though, that I saw it spelled with the accent mark. It took me an awful time to figure out what the writer meant as the only definition for the word that I knew at the time was loud! I didn't hear the word with the meaning of 'strong point' until later, and then it was with two syllables.

    I was just talking to my father, and he said that he has heard the word pronounced only with two syllables. However, when he read books with the word in the 1930's he didn't see the accent mark. His association with the musical term came much later.

    I just looked up the word in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language published in 2000. Under their usage notes they write (bold face is mine):

    The word forte, coming from French fort, should properly be pronounced with one syllable . . . Common usage, however, prefers the two-syllable pronunciation . . . influenced possibly by the music term . . . In a recent survey . . . 74 percent, preferred the two-syllable pronunciation.
    They go on to say that those who know the word's origin might want to continue pronouncing it with one syllable but in doing so risk confusing more and more of their listeners.

    From this I conclude that the word has been undergoing the shift to two syllables for quite some time. I wonder if the same trend is occuring in England. EDIT: I see from Loob's post the shift is apparently complete in England

    Orange Blossom
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I love the entry in www.m-w.com (bolding added by me):

    In forte we have a word derived from French that in its "strong point" sense has no entirely satisfactory pronunciation. Usage writers have denigrated \'for-"tA\ and \'for-tE\ because they reflect the influence of the Italian-derived 2forte. Their recommended pronunciation \'fort\, however, does not exactly reflect French either: the French would write the word le fort and would rhyme it with English for. So you can take your choice, knowing that someone somewhere will dislike whichever variant you choose. All are standard, however. In British English \'fo-"tA\ and \'fot\ predominate; \'for-"tA\ and \for-'tA\ are probably the most frequent pronunciations in American English.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    It would never have occurred to me that forte could be pronounced in any other way than two syllables and exactly the same whichever meaning is intended. Singing forte is my forte.

    I suppose this is another of those interesting situations where AE has preserved something that was once part of BE but has now changed.
    I don't recall ever seeing forte written as forté. Surely that would never have been correct?
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    It would never have occurred to me that forte could be pronounced in any other way than two syllables and exactly the same whichever meaning is intended. Singing forte is my forte.

    I suppose this is another of those interesting situations where AE has preserved something that was once part of BE but has now changed.
    I don't recall ever seeing forte written as forté. Surely that would never have been correct?

    I can't see where it would. It wouldn't make sense either in French or Italian, the two presumed sources.
     

    Matching Mole

    Senior Member
    England, English
    I suspect it has been complete for some time. I don't recall ever hearing anyone pronounce it as one syllable. It would sound exceedingly odd to me. The OED gives only one pronunciation: /fortay/
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I suspect it has been complete for some time. I don't recall ever hearing anyone pronounce it as one syllable. It would sound exceedingly odd to me. The OED gives only one pronunciation: /fortay/

    Complete in BE, you mean. :)

    I'd say that "forte" as a single-syllable word is an academic marker of some kind in AE. That's my theory, at least. The group who pronounces it this way is definitely in the minority, but to pronounce "forte" as two syllables in such a social circle will earn some raised eyebrows or an assumption that your education is incomplete.

    It's awkward to use in AE; as the Merriam-Webster entry says above, you risk the disapproval of someone no matter which way you pronounce it. Statistically speaking, you're probably safer saying "for-tay" than "fort" in AE. :)

    I'd just like to underline, though, that the transition is not complete in AE. It is still defined in multiple sources as a single syllable pronunciation when meaning "strength" or "specialty."
     

    LV4-26

    Senior Member
    This has been said in a couple of posts but I thought I might clarify the French and Italian aspects of the matter.

    In French, the word is fort (it is not my forte, ce n'est pas mon fort). It means strong and is pronounced more or less like the English for (as pointed out by one of the quoted sources) i.e. one syllable and a mute 't'.
    As used in this expression, it is an adjective made into a noun.

    There is indeed a forte in French which is the feminine form of the adjective fort which, of course, can't be used in the idiom (apart from a few exceptions, nouns do not switch gender in French, only adjectives can). It is pronounced the same as its masculine counterpart except that the 't' is sounded, this time. (which makes the word sound like the English fort (= fortress, stronghold).

    It seems that the predominant pronunciation for the English forte is the closest possible to the Italian forte (loud).

    There was no logical reason for this 'e' to be added (see my first post) in the 18th century. As is, saying that the word comes from French is only half-true. Even though it may sound weird, it is more justified to say that
    1. its meaning and initial form are borrowed from French
    2. its current form is Italian.

    Therefore, that two different pronunciations coexist is not surprising. One takes 1. into account. The other is based on 2.

    PS : There is no such word as forté with an accent, either in French or in Italian.

    Disclaimer : do not interpret any of the above as an assertion of what the English usage is or should be.
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    This has been said in a couple of posts but I thought I might clarify the French and Italian aspects of the matter.

    In French, the word is fort (it is not my forte, ce n'est pas mon fort). It means strong and is pronounced more or less like the English for (as pointed out by one of the quoted sources) i.e. one syllable and a mute 't'.
    As used in this expression, it is an adjective made into a noun.

    There is indeed a forte in French which is the feminine form of the adjective fort which, of course, can't be used in the idiom (apart from a few exceptions, nouns do not switch gender in French, only adjectives can). It is pronounced the same as its masculine counterpart except that the 't' is sounded, this time. (which makes the word sound like the English fort (= fortress, stronghold).

    It seems that the predominant pronunciation for the English forte is the closest possible to the Italian forte (loud).

    There was no logical reason for this 'e' to be added (see my first post) in the 18th century. As is, saying that the word comes from French is only half-true. Even though it may sound weird, it is more justified to say that
    1. its meaning and initial form are borrowed from French
    2. its current form is Italian.

    Therefore, that two different pronunciations coexist is not surprising. One takes 1. into account. The other is based on 2.

    PS : There is no such word as forté with an accent, either in French or in Italian.

    Disclaimer : do not interpret any of the above as an assertion of what the English usage is or should be.

    I'm inclined to go along with the OED (see Loob's post above) and see the current spelling of forte meaning "strong point" as having been the result of the influence of the form of the French feminine adjective forte--so that it would make more sense to refer to it as French rather than Italian. (The change in the noun, however, took place in English, not French.)

    The current pronunciation, having been influenced by the Italian cognate forte, could then be said to be Italian.

    Still, under the circumstances, I would say that the spelling and both pronunciations are English alone.

    I expect that such words as cachet, résumé/resumé, and touché have a conservative effect on the pronunciation of forte, because their existence would tend to keep the two-syllable pronunciation the more popular one, and in the case of the nonstandard "cash-AY" pronunciation of cache, their effect is creative rather than conservative. (Not that I expect the "cash-AY" pronunciation to become standard in the long run.)
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I expect that such words as cachet, résumé/resumé, and touché have a conservative effect on the pronunciation of forte, because their existence would tend to keep the two-syllable pronunciation the more popular one, and in the case of the nonstandard "cash-AY" pronunciation of cache, their effect is creative rather than conservative. (Not that I expect the "cash-AY" pronunciation to become standard in the long run.)

    "Cachet" is pronounced "cash-AY", definitely, but I've only heard "cache" as "cash": a cache of weapons, a cache of ammunition, a cache of money, etc.

    Is there actually a movement towards pronouncing "cache" as "cash-ay"? How confusing! How will we tell "cachet" from "cache"?
     

    Matching Mole

    Senior Member
    England, English
    I'm pretty sure there is no movement to pron. "cache" as cashay. I think mplsray was mistaken regarding the spelling of cachet.
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    "Cachet" is pronounced "cash-AY", definitely, but I've only heard "cache" as "cash": a cache of weapons, a cache of ammunition, a cache of money, etc.

    Is there actually a movement towards pronouncing "cache" as "cash-ay"? How confusing! How will we tell "cachet" from "cache"?

    The same way we tell fort from forte (pronounced "fort") or forte (Italian-derived) from forte (pronounced "FOR-tay" French-derived): context.

    I've heard the "cash-AY" pronunciation of cache from more than one source. However, as I said previously, I don't expect the two-syllable pronunciation to become standard, so there's no movement as such.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    The same way we tell fort from forte (pronounced "fort") or forte (Italian-derived) from forte (pronounced "for-TAY," French-derived): context.

    There is no "for-TAY" in French, though, mplsray. The word has one syllable in French.

    I don't think that "for-TAY" is pronounced that way to distinguish it from "FOR-tay", the Americanized sound for the word loud in Italian. I've heard people say "FOR-tay" and "for-TAY" (capitalized syllables being the accented ones) but they haven't used it to distinguish between the Italian meaning of "loud" and the French-derived meaning of "strength." It's just however they learned to pronounce "forte", in my experience.

    Can you provide a source where this distinction is made? Maybe I've missed something all these years. It wouldn't be the first time. That's one of the pleasures of participating on this board - finding out what you didn't know you didn't know. :)
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    There is no "for-TAY" in French, though, mplsray. The word has one syllable in French.

    I don't think that "for-TAY" is pronounced that way to distinguish it from "FOR-tay", the Americanized sound for the word loud in Italian. I've heard people say "FOR-tay" and "for-TAY" (capitalized syllables being the accented ones) but they haven't used it to distinguish between the Italian meaning of "loud" and the French-derived meaning of "strength." It's just however they learned to pronounce "forte", in my experience.

    Can you provide a source where this distinction is made? Maybe I've missed something all these years. It wouldn't be the first time. That's one of the pleasures of participating on this board - finding out what you didn't know you didn't know. :)

    I just corrected the pronunciation of the French-derived forte in the post to which you were replying. The reason I mentioned pronunciation in that post was simply to distinguish between the one-syllable and two-syllable pronunciations of the French-derived forte.

    While it is true that in some people's speech the Italian-derived adverb forte can be distinguished from the French-derived noun forte by the pronunciation "FOR-tay" for the first and "for-TAY" for the second--and that includes my speech--that was not what I was discussing in my post. Instead, I was discussing how forte the adverb and forte the noun are distinguished when they are pronounced the same way: "FOR-tay." It is context which disambiguates them.

    Note that there is still another pronunciation for the Italian-derived adverb and the French-derived noun: "FOR-tee," that is, a homonym for forty. In this case also, what distinguishes the homonyms is context.

    All the pronunciations for forte referred to above can be seen in Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary. And for the record, I speak French.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    All the pronunciations for forte referred to above can be seen in Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary. And for the record, I speak French.

    Thanks. I was not asking for the pronunciations, but a source that showed that "FOR-tay' and "for-TAY" are used to distinguish between the two meanings. I understand that you do so, but do you know of any place that suggests this distinction?
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    Thanks. I was not asking for the pronunciations, but a source that showed that "FOR-tay' and "for-TAY" are used to distinguish between the two meanings. I understand that you do so, but do you know of any place that suggests this distinction?

    Ah, I see the problem now, and it turns out it's actually another question of context.

    It is in the context of the speech of an individual that the pronunciations "FOR-tay" and "for-TAY" might distinguish between the Italian-derived adverb and the French-derived noun. And other pronunciation distinctions could be made in the case of other individuals.

    I still think the distinction between the Italian-derived adverb and the French-derived noun depends mainly upon the semantic context. But if an individual's speech distinguishes between the two by pronunciation, an objective observer could learn to identify which word was being used by the pronunciation alone.

    For some people, forte (Italian-derived), forte (French-derived), and forty are all pronounced "FOR-tee." An objective observer could not learn to distinguish between the three words as spoken by such people by pronunciation alone.

    but if a person pronounced forte (Italian-derived) as "FOR-tay" and forte (French-derived) as "for-TAY," and forty as "FOR-tee," an objective observer could learn to distinguish between the three words by pronunciation alone.

    I would expect some current speech-recognition systems which have the capability of being programmed by the individual user to be able to make such distinctions even now.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Ah, I see the problem now, and as it turns out it's actually another question of context.

    It is in the context of the speech of an individual that the pronunciations "FOR-tay" and "for-TAY" might distinguish between the Italian-derived adverb and the French-derived noun. And other pronunciation distinctions could be made in the case of other individuals.

    I still think the distinction between the Italian-derived adverb and the French-derived noun depends mainly upon the semantic context. But if an individual's speech distinguishes between the two by pronunciation, an objective observer could learn to identify which word was being used by the pronunciation alone.

    For some people, forte (Italian-derived), forte (French-derived), and forty are all pronounced "FOR-tee." An objective observer could not learn to distinguish between the three words as spoken by such people by pronunciation alone.

    but if a person pronounced forte (Italian-derived) as "FOR-tay" and forte (French-derived) as "for-TAY," and forty as "FOR-tee," an objective observer could learn to distinguish between the three words by pronunciation alone.

    This sounds theoretical. I understood your earlier post to say that many people already distinguish between the two meanings by which syllable they accent. Did I misunderstand you?
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    This sounds theoretical. I understood your earlier post to say that many people already distinguish between the two meanings by pronunciation. Did I misunderstand you?

    I wouldn't consider it "theoretical," but instead a question of logic and probability. Let's exclude the example of my own speech for the sake of argument. The pronunciations for forte and forty which are given in Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary are the following:

    forte (Italian-derived): "FOR-tay," "FOR-tee."
    forte (French-derived) "fort," "FOR-tay," "for-TAY," "FOR-tee"
    forty "FOR-tee"

    None of these are given a regional label, so there is no logical reason to rule out that there are people who say the three words as "FOR-tee." By a similar argument, there is no reason to rule out that there are people who pronounce forte (Italian-derived) as "FOR-tay" and forte (French-derived) as "fort," or forte (Italian-derived) as "FOR-tay" and forte (French-derived) as "FOR-tee," and forte (Italian-derived) as "FOR-tee" and forte (French-derived) as "FOR-tay."
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I wouldn't consider it "theoretical," but instead a question of logic and probability.

    Logic and language are not always easy bedfellows. :)

    What you said earlier was:

    While it is true that in some people's speech the Italian-derived adverb forte can be distinguished from the French-derived noun forte by the pronunciation "FOR-tay" for the first and "for-TAY" for the second--and that includes my speech--that was not what I was discussing in my post. Instead,

    What I was asking for was any information you could provide that indicates this is more than a personal preference. I have never heard it used as a distinction, and as I am both a musician and a student of French, I'd probably be more likely than the average person to run into this distinction if it were an attempt to distinguish between the Italian music marking and the "forte" that means strength or specialty.

    While it could be possible that people distinguish the two words this way, as you do, do you know of any source that indicates this is more than your personal preference?
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    Logic and language are not always easy bedfellows. :)

    But the analysis of usages in the wild must be consistent with logic, and that includes matters of probability. That is, modern lexicography is a science, and as such must adhere to logic. (I'm not saying that the usages themselves must be logical, just that the identifying of usages, their pronunciations and meanings, is subject to the rules of logic and probability just as much as any other science.)

    What I was asking for was any information you could provide that indicates this is more than a personal preference. I have never heard it used as a distinction, and as I am both a musician and a student of French, I'd probably be more likely than the average person to run into this distinction if it were an attempt to distinguish between the Italian music marking and the "forte" that means strength or specialty.

    While it could be possible that people distinguish the two words this way, as you do, do you know of any source that indicates this is more than your personal preference?

    I know of no such source, but such a source is utterly unnecessary due to probability!

    Given that apricot has the two pronunciations "APP-rih-cot" and "APE-rih-cot," and alloy has two pronunciations "AH-loy" (with "ah" being the vowel in hat) and "uh-LOY"--these pronunciations taken from the "Variant Pronunciations" section in the introductory pages to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed.--it is extremely likely that someone makes the following distinction: They use the pronunciations "APP-rih-cot" and "uh-LOY."

    Now, if there were a regional distinction between "APP-rih-cot" and "APE-rih-cot" and between "AH-loy" and "uh-LOY," the likelihood would diminish because the probabilities would change. But, as I pointed out before, there is no such regional distinction between the pronunciations "for-TAY" and "FOR-tay."

    Still, it occurred to me that there's a way of finding if someone other than me makes a distinction between the Italian-derived adverb forte and the French-derived noun forte based upon the pronunciation of these words. I've made a sort of survey, a post to a couple of Usenet newsgroups in which English-usage is discussed. One example (besides my own) presumably would be sufficient to disprove your belief that no one makes the distinction being discussed. I'll report back on the results.
     

    lizzeymac

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    I'm sorry if this seems dim but I am getting confused.

    Are you saying that some dictionaries give a pronunciation of "for-tee" for either forte (fr.) or forte (it. Mus.)? And in some places in America people are taught in a school to pronounce either of these 2 different words like that?

    Or that these 2 different words are taught in a school as being pronounced the same way, as for-TAY/FOR-tay?

    I really wonder if this isn't regional because I don't think I've ever heard for-tee from a local.
    Many people only use forte (fr. strength), and some, especially those who never took French in school, pronounce it for-TAY.

    I think I have only very rarely heard someone who intentionally uses both senses of forte/forte pronounce them both as for-tay or for-TAY.

    As for cache "becoming" cachet - isn't that just people not knowing that they are 2 different words & misusing/confusing them?

    Please ignore this if I have mis-read a post or missed a key point, but my experience is entirely different from mlspray's & it is a puzzle to me.
     

    Orange Blossom

    Senior Member
    U.S.A. English
    I have heard forte which means loud in music pronounced only as FOR-tay. I have heard forte which means a strong point pronounced as for-TAY. In fact, I do this myself as did my mom, though my dad didn't. He thinks it sounds affected. I suspect the for-TAY pronunciation is influenced by such words as café, toupee, and entree and not knowing French or Italian. In music, we learn very early that the pronunciation if forte is FOR-tay. We hear the word long before we read it. My experience has been that forte meaning a strong point is read before it is heard. It isn't really used much in conversation. Hence, I think, the for-TAY pronunciation when it is used.

    My theory is that forte of either definition pronounced like forty is a result of people having only read the words without hearing them first and then pronouncing them the way they think they should be pronounced. Of course, that pronunciation is then heard and learned by others. :)

    Orange Blossom
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I say we take it to a vote. The most votes decides the correct pronunciation.

    Seriously, I don't think we are going to get a concensus on this.

    My solution is to use "strength" instead of "forte" on the one hand, and "loud" in place of "forte" on the other. I realize that I am not making a strong stand on the matter, but it works for me.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Given that apricot has the two pronunciations "APP-rih-cot" and "APE-rih-cot," and alloy has two pronunciations "AH-loy" (with "ah" being the vowel in hat) and "uh-LOY"--these pronunciations taken from the "Variant Pronunciations" section in the introductory pages to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed.--it is extremely likely that someone makes the following distinction: They use the pronunciations "APP-rih-cot" and "uh-LOY."

    I don't think our discussions here are about if any one person on the planet makes a particular distinction. That information might be interesting but is hardly useful, in my opinion.

    I've made a sort of survey, a post to a couple of Usenet newsgroups in which English-usage is discussed. One example (besides my own) presumably would be sufficient to disprove your belief that no one makes the distinction being discussed. I'll report back on the results.

    I do not have the belief that no one makes the distinction being discussed, nor have I said that I did. It's clear that at least one person does. :) I was simply asking if there's any source that indicates this is a recommended distinction to make. Until your post, I had never heard of such a possibility, or that there might be a significant number of people who make this distinction by which syllable is accented.

    I'm interested in the results of your poll.
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    I don't think our discussions here are about if any one person on the planet makes a particular distinction. That information might be interesting but is hardly useful, in my opinion.



    I do not have the belief that no one makes the distinction being discussed, nor have I said that I did. It's clear that at least one person does. :) I was simply asking if there's any source that indicates this is a recommended distinction to make. Until your post, I had never heard of such a possibility, or that there might be a significant number of people who make this distinction by which syllable is accented.

    I'm interested in the results of your poll.

    Well, if it's simply a question of someone recommending that a distinction be made between the Italian-derived adverb and the French-derived noun by pronouncing the first "FOR-tay" and the second "for-TAY," not even I would make such a recommendation. I rarely recommend one standard usage over another unless there is a real danger of a misunderstanding or some other regrettable consequences. A simple example of that would be to tell a British speaker to avoid labeling a product as inflammable if he intends to send it to the US, since such a label would be contrary to US Federal law: Inflammable materials must be labeled flammable over here.

    But nothing of the sort is at stake in the distinction between the Italian-derived adverb forte and the French-derived noun forte. As I stated previously, context would disambiguate them.

    Here were the results of the survey: Of those who did express a preference in distinguishing between the Italian-derived word and the French-derived one, one person said he would pronounce the French-derived term as "fort" or "FOR-tay" "depending on who I'm talking to" and another person agreed that he would do the same. Two others said they would pronounce the Italian-derived term as "FOR-tay" and the French-derived term as "fort." A fifth person did not actually state his own preference, but he quoted a source which preferred "fort" for the French-derived noun, so presumably that represented his preference as well.

    Of the other six people who answered my question, many of which were speakers of British English, no pronunciation distinction was made between the two different terms. No one used "for-TAY" of "FOR-tee" for the French-derived noun and no one used "FOR-tee" for the Italian-derived adverb. (As I pointed out before, these were listed as standard variants for those respective terms in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate.)

    I did some further research on the matter today, looking up forte in etymological dictionaries and books on English usage. There is no real consensus among the etymologists about the treatment of the noun forte meaning "strong point" as being either French or Italian. The source which has the most extensive and interesting discussion on forte is Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, Merriam-Webster Inc., Springfield, Mass. (C) 1989. I learned in the entry for that word the term hyperforeignism, which is a term the book's editors use, in analogy to hypercorrection and hyperubanism, with the meaning "an unsuccessful attempt to give an authentic foreign pronunciation to a foreign-derived word being used in English context." They say that the French-derived forte pronounced like an Italian word or like a French word with an acute accent over the final e is an example of this phenomenon. However, while they say they would ordinarily recommend against using a hyperforeignism, in the case of the French-derived forte, they find it acceptable. One reason they give for doing so is that there are no etymologically respectable pronunciation for the word.

    Another point which I mentioned previously, the pronunciation of cache as "kash-AY," is dealt with in this book's article "hyperforeignism." The editors, referring to the sound files on which M-W dictionaries base their pronunciations, say "we have occasionally recorded educated speakers rendering cache as "ka-SHAY". (Note that this does not constitute a recognition that such a pronunciation is standard.)

    (I also found, either in that book or in an etymological dictionary, that the French-derived forte is sometimes spelled forté. This is useful in pointing out what ideas people might have about the word's history, but there's no question here of the spelling forté being recognized as standard.)


    For me, the best thing I got out of this subject was the term hyperforeignism. It is useful shorthand for describing such things as "coo duh GRAH" for coup de grâce and the "lon-juh-RAY" pronunciation of lingerie.
     

    Lester Hawkins

    New Member
    United States, English
    Hi, I've noticed a lot of posts on this subject, but none of them seem to address the original poster's actual question: "How was the French etymology established over the Italian?"

    Well Giulia, here's what I can tell you:

    Obviously both the French and Italian derive from the Latin "fortis" meaning "strong". The reason for the French etymology is as follows: The French conquered England in 1066; something the Italians never did. Their conquest had huge impact on the English language. Many French words were assimilated into various aspects of English life. Military vocabulary was altered, and so a "fort" ("forte" minus the "e") became a "military stronghold".
    Also, since the French have always represented the peak of European sophistication, phrases that sound sophisticated were adopted and adapted into English so that someone would now say "such and such is not my forte" instead of just saying "such and such is not my strength"

    However, in musical terms, "forte" the opposited of "piano" is of Italian derivation, because during the Renaissance the English borrowed many words from the Italians when it came to music, art, architecture and theatre because the Italians were originators and innovators in these fields.
    In general, English words don't tend to have Italian etymologies unless they are outright borrowings of artistic terms from the Renaissance.

    I hope this explanation is clear and helpful to you.
     

    lsp

    Senior Member
    NY
    US, English
    To tell you the truth, I wish it were as clear here. I'd rather have one word and one pronunciation rather than two. :)

    Maybe I should join a campaign for standardization on two syllables in AE.
    If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, eh, JamesM? The quote you bolded in a prior post says it all (So you can take your choice, knowing that someone somewhere will dislike whichever variant you choose).

    If you say it with 1 syllable, the 2-syllable people will correct you. When you explain it, they'll think you're a pedant and an intellectual snob, and go on being 2-syllable people. If you say it with 2 syllables, the 1-syllable people will correct you, and you won't be able to tell them you really knew it, but weren't sure they were 1-syllable people because they won't believe you and/or they'll be insulted.

    You can avoid the word, as was suggested or take a stand one way or the other. Or you can slightly over-exaggerate the TAY and leave those who know wondering if you are being sincere or sarcastic... ;)
     

    liliput

    Senior Member
    U.K. English
    Whatever it's origins and meanings, I've never heard "forte" pronounced any other way than "for-tay" in the UK. I for one will continue to pronounce it this way if only to avoid being corrected every time I use the word.
     

    davidahn

    New Member
    US/English
    Sorry to chime in so late: this has been frustrating me for years, but tonight I watched an episode of "Blue Bloods" where this was the subject of a $20 bet. Prior to now I had never researched, but always assumed the snootiness of "fort" pronuncers was unfounded due to the possibility of Italian or Latin (fortis, forte both Latin for strength) origin. Other than the matter of fact declarations of French etymology, I haven't seen any specific evidence.

    Still, I am now convinced the origin is indeed French, because the French noun "forte," the strong part of a sword, is a much closer match to its present use of "strong suit," noun, than is the Italian or Latin adjective, "forte," meaning "strong." Not as exact a definition, and not even the right part of a sentence.

    Still, that said, it is now an English word (albeit of French origin), and it's ridiculous for a handful of "fort" true believers to try to reverse the pronunciation predilection of 217 million Americans and 63 million Brits (I've seen stats that 70% of AE and all Brits say "for-tay". But if you enjoy fighting a losing battle, or banging your head on a wall, be my guest! :)
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I just looked up the current WR Dictionary (Collins Concise English Dictionary), and although I have no quarrel with the etymology information, the pronunciation (three versions are given) recommendations seem to go counter to what has been said here:
    forte /fɔːt; ˈfɔːteɪ/... Etymology: 17th Century: from French fort, from fort (adj) strong, from Latin fortis
    forte /ˈfɔːtɪ/...Etymology: 18th Century: from Italian, from Latin fortis strong

    I would recommend /ˈfɔːteɪ/ for both!
     

    Chasint

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I just looked up the current WR Dictionary (Collins Concise English Dictionary), and although I have no quarrel with the etymology information, the pronunciation (three versions are given) recommendations seem to go counter to what has been said here:

    I would recommend /ˈfɔːteɪ/ for both!
    I agree because:

    1. piano-forte (the musical instrument) is universally pronounced /ˈfɔːteɪ/ by musicians as far as I know and

    2. 'fort' in French is pronounced 'for' with a silent 't', not like English 'fort'.
     
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    JamesM

    Senior Member
    But "forte" in French is pronounced like the English "fort". There is no way to decide this one, I'm afraid. We need to start "The Society for The Tolerance of Pronunciation Variants". Our motto could be "Tolerance is our forte". :)
     

    Elwintee

    Senior Member
    England English
    Chambers English Dictionary says that for the meaning 'that at which one excels' the pronunciation is usually with two syllables. That is certainly the 'standard' pronunciation I am used to as a Londoner. I would be thrown if someone told me 'that is not my fort'.
     
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