The Grammarphobia Blog

Forte knocks

Q: How is the word “forte,” meaning an area of expertise, properly pronounced. My mom says it should be like the “fort” that’s a military compound.

A: Mother is always right! The derivation of “forte” is French, and traditionally it should be pronounced like “Fort” Knox.

The other pronunciation, FOR-tay, is an Italian musical term meaning “loud.” (Perhaps we have musicians to blame for the Italian pronunciation of the nonmusical term?)

At any rate, the two-syllable mispronunciation has become so entrenched, doubtless because of the Italian influence, that it’s no longer condemned by usage experts.

Although both the FORT and FOR-tay pronunciations are now considered acceptable in American English, I still observe the traditional distinction and use the FORT version when I mean someone’s strong point.

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