Yesterday, had a little language note, particularly on "forte," meaning strong point or expertise. It is pronounced "fort" (not "fortay," which we reserve for the musical marking). That provoked a lot of mail, as you might imagine, and one of our readers said that he had stopped using the correct pronunciation altogether. The reason? He was sick of being corrected incorrectly (or of being thought incorrect).Hmmm. I plead guilty on all four counts — though I'll note that my c. 1980 desk dictionary provides multiple pronunciations for "err" and "short-lived," so those, at least, have been commonly accepted in their "incorrect" forms for at least several decades now. But what strikes me as odd is that I've never heard any of these four words pronounced the way Nordlinger (and the dictionary) says they should be. Like a lot of heavy book readers, I'm keenly sensitive to the risk of mispronouncing words that I've seen only in print, so whenever I hear a word being pronounced in what seems like an odd way I make a point of looking it up. But these four? Not once have I hear err pronounced ur; coup de grâce as koo duh grawss; or forte as fort. (I have, however, heard short-lived pronounced with both a long and a short i.) And then there's this:
Yes, this is a problem — you have it on "short-lived" and "err," too. Pronounce these words correctly, and you are apt to be thought incorrect, or strange. Pronounce "coup de grâce" correctly, and people will look at you funny. (Because people have taken to saying "coup de gras," as in "foie.")
Inevitably, incorrect pronunciation will swamp correct pronunciation — so the incorrect will become the correct. Take "err." For another generation or two, people will be saying "air," and voilà: That will be correct.
(By the way, you know what one of the most mispronounced words in the English language is? "Mispronunciation" — which we tend to want to say "mispronounce-iation" (which would make sense).)I've never heard anyone pronounce mispronunciation that way. Have you? Is this really very common?
Anyway, I've have grammar and usage threads here every once in a while, but I've never had a pronunciation thread before. So go to it. This is your chance to vent about your favorite common errors.