Q: I was listening to NPR and heard an American general report that U.S. troops had found a “weapons cachet” in Fallujah. I’m sure he meant “cache,” but he pronounced it like “cachet.” Since he’s a general and it’s a standard military term, I can only assume that this pronunciation is not limited to him. Is it so widespread that it’s now acceptable?
A: The word “cache” is widely mispronounced both in and out of the military. It should rhyme with “sash,” not “sashay.” I once led off my monthly appearance on WNYC with a discussion of fractured French. When we adopt a “French” pronunciation, we often get it wrong or at best sound pretentious.
Is the mispronunciation of “cache” so widespread that it’s now acceptable? The answer is no! Both The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary say only one pronunciation is on the money: the one that sounds like “cash.”
Interestingly, both “cache” and “cachet” come from the same Old French verb, “cacher,” meaning to hide or to press. A “cache” is a hiding place while a “cachet” is a mark of distinction or a seal on a document. Where does the word “press” come in? We stamp an impression on an official document to give it our seal of approval. And we used to secure a letter or an envelope by pressing sealing wax on it.