Pronounce at Your Peril?

To hold fast to the pronunciation of certain words when most of the population has moved on to newer auditory configurations will be perceived by many listeners as showing off at best, snooty at worst. One of the best-known examples is forte, meaning “strength.” One of our countless French borrowings, forte ends with a silent and the t is barely pronounced. Yet confusion with the Italian word  forte (“strong, powerful, robust,” and an international musical term as well) has made the Italian for-TAY the norm. If you’re a stickler who holds out on principle, you’ll probably do yourself a favor if you forgo forte altogether and substitute strength or strong suit instead: “That’s her strength.”

Many other original pronunciations are also nearly extinct, if not already dead.The word lingerie was was lawn-juh-EE until the mid-twentieth century but now is more often voiced as lawn-juh-RAY. Dour, a synonym of gloomy thought to be of Irish origin, has gone from DOO-ur to DOW-ur. And the sharp first a in gala (GAY-luh) has dulled to GAL-uh.

Three more examples:

chaise longue (French for “long chair”) is pronounced shayz LONG, but the colloquial chaiz LOUNJ has prevailed in many English-speaking countries, including ours.

schism (SIZ-um), the original pronunciation of which is most often voiced by the Catholic clergy (look up the Great Schism if you like), pretty well went to the great beyond once SKIZ-um gained ground and overtook it.

flaccid was originally pronounced FLAK-sid. If you’re a die-hard who can’t abide the newer pronunciation of FLAS-sid, say limp instead – or, depending on just what you’re describing, soft.

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