“Forte” or “Fortë,” “Cache” or “Cachet”?
How many times have you heard people say something is not their “forte” and pronounce forte as /for tay/?
This mispronunciation has become so wide-spread that it’s on its way to establishing itself as an acceptable variation. The error has arisen from the fact that there are two “fortes” in English, each with a different pronunciation.
forte /for tay/
Adverb (or adjective) meaning “strong” or “loud.” This word comes into English from Italian and is used chiefly in a musical context. Ex. Play this measure forte /for-tay/.
Noun meaning “strong point,” “strength.” This word comes into English from French. Ex. Housekeeping is not my forte /fort/.
INTERESTING TRIVIA: The word forte /fort/ can refer to the strongest part of a sword blade, i.e., the part nearest the hilt. The weakest part of the blade, the part between the tip and the middle, is called the foible. Just as a forte is a person’s strong point, a foible is a (minor) weakness. Ex. His chief foible is buying every new electronic gadget as soon as it comes out.
Two other French words that give some speakers trouble are cache and cachet.
Not long ago I heard an NPR announcer speak of a “cache of weapons.” She pronounced cache as /ka shay/.
The word cache is pronounced /kash/. A cache is a hidden hoard. It’s probably from the French verb cacher, “to hide.” Early explorers would hide food and supplies for the return journey. The hidden supplies were called a cache. Among the many place names left by French explorers in the state of Arkansas is that of the Cache River.
cachet /ka shay/ is from the same French verb. As a noun cachet is literally a stamp or a seal. Figuratively it has come to mean “approval.” Ex. The plans for the new sewer system carry the Mayor’s cachet. Cachet can also mean “mark of distinction.” Ex. Driving a Rolls bestows a certain cachet.
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