The Pronunciation of Forte*

I don’t focus on pronunciation matters. In general, they don’t much interest me -- probably because they don’t frighten me. I know that pronunciation is dictated by usage -- we speakers are the ones who vote for our preferred pronunciations every time we speak. So it’s literally true that, if everyone else pronounces a certain word a certain way for long enough, I can, too.

But there are a few pronunciation matters I find interesting, mainly because they came on my radar before I realized how the rules get laid down.

The one that’s one my mind today is “forte,” as in “Working with computers is definitely your forte.” Everyone pronounces that “for-tay.” I thought nothing of doing so myself until I came across an old Mallard Fillmore comic strip shredding to bits anyone who pronounced it that way. It should be pronounced, the author insisted, just like “fort.”

Sound like hogwash? Of course it is. But don’t take it from me. Here’s the word on, which will pronounce it for you if you press the little audio button saying you can pronounce it either “fort” or “for-tay.” In keeping with their phonetics designations, however, they write the pronunciations differently than I did here, using instead a w and an r. So they write that first pronunciation as “fawrt,” which seems pretty apt considering the curmudgeonly cartoonist who insists that’s the only right way to say it.