Express Coffee

It has become more and more apparent to me how little people care about how they present themselves orally and through writing. Unsurprisingly, these things are the two biggest pillars for which I base my judgment of people on.  You can tell a lot about a person through conversation, and even more through their writing. One’s choice of words, how they piece their sentences together, and their general diction all paint a picture of  level of education and intellect. However, in speech, the finer points of the language can be ‘faked.’ By this I mostly mean grammar types of things: spelling, sentence structure, punctuation, etc.

The English language is a quirky beast. Because of its roots originating from a veritable smorgasbord of other languages, its rules of pronunciation are loose at best, and oftentimes downright contradictory. Even so, the alphabet exists to allow words to be sounded out reasonably well phonetically.  I can accept the notion of  “tomayto, tomahto” to a certain degree; at least either pronunciation makes sense phonetically. But society tends to have a habit of perpetuating things incorrectly, for whatever reason.

Allow me to share an anecdote. A friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, made a comment both in conversation and on Facebook about drinking an excessive amount of “expresso.” Of course he was talking about the coffee beverage “espresso,” a fact which I corrected subsequently on his post. He claimed it was from the auto-correct on his smartphone, the very same one I own. For fun, I started typing the word into my phone correctly. No such auto-correct occurred. It was only when you began typing ‘ex…’ that it offered up the word “express” as an alternative. Thus, the fault was not that of the phone, but of the individual because he mistakenly thought the second letter was ‘x’ and not ‘s.’

After pointing this out, his only response was, “I don’t really care that much.” Interesting how his blame goes from the phone to that of laziness. Either way, it was a lie, and this is how he felt the word was spelled, and consequently, pronounced. This much I had suspected after hearing him pronounce the word orally. And honestly, I can see why he, and many others might think his way. The combined first two syllables are remarkably close to the word ‘express,’ and it’s not a huge stretch to want to misinterpret it that way. Perhaps it originated from the idea on the individual’s part of some kind of  expressly served coffee at a coffee house. Who knows.

As humans, we see simalarities and try to make connections to other things we know. However, after effectively calling out the individual, both and he and another proceeded to snarkily jump down my throat about  “correcting people on Facebook”  and how I shouldn’t care about the fact that people are apathetic about their language. It wasn’t so much about the misspelling of the word for grammar’s sake as it was the fact that I knew he was saying and spelling the word incorrectly and made excuses as to why. I obviously offended him and the other person, and as a self-realized ‘grammar Nazi,’ it is something I have encountered time and time again.

But that is the thing that puzzles me. Why do people feel that they are being “called out” or embarrassed when someone corrects their diction? You don’t feel defensive when receiving golf lessons to improve your stroke or a suggestion of how to program more efficiently to save time. It is rare that I hear the response, “Oh, hey, thanks. I didn’t know that. I’ll be sure to say it that way from now on.” More often, people will expend so much energy on excuses or put-downs to try and save face rather than simply accept what is correct. Obviously, the majority of society does not value improving their speech as much as they do almost anything else.

Admittedly,  I was being a douche about something small, but the point remains that people would rather be complacent, comfortable, and wrong, rather than expend the little extra energy to mentally correct themselves in the future. I have come to terms with the fact that the Internet is notoriously not the most articulate of forums for the written word, and can even accept the abbreviations, acronyms, and lack of capitalization as a means of quick communication. However, the above was not a case of any of these (in fact, the misspelled version of the word was not any quicker to type). It was a case of one individual’s misconception on how a word was spelled and his defensiveness upon being corrected, and ultimately how little people care about how they present themselves through the English language.

I appreciate that ultimately any language is a means of communication, and if you got the message, it achieved its purpose. However, there is a margin of tolerance, and if no one obeyed any rules of diction, there would be no standard for which to understand one another. It is a slippery slope of laziness and apathy that starts with pronouncing one letter as another, or pronouncing letters that are not there, that leads to the degradation of a language.

Other words that irk me that are often mispronounced:

  • Shertbet: The fruit-flavored ice cream. Similar to sorbet, but with dairy. This is not pronounced “sure-burt,” but “sure-bet.” Take note that there is no ‘r’ before the ‘t’ at the end of the word.
  • Mayonaise: The white condiment used on sandwiches. I hear this pronounced “man-ays” a lot. Generally, the exclusion of syllables to create a pseudo contraction is okay with me. That is not the issue I have, and in fact often say “may-naise” myself. However, notice that the first syllable ends in a ‘y’ and not an ‘n’ and that its shortened colloquialism is “mayo” and not “mano.”
  • February: The month. This is “Feb-roo-ary” and not “Feb-you-ary.” The letter ‘r’  precedes the letter  ‘u.’
  • Jaguar: The large, ebony cat. This is “jag-warr” or, as the British prefer, “jag-yoo-arr.” I hear this said as “jag-wire” quite a bit which is… just plain wrong.

~ by Dux on January 8, 2010.

7 Responses to “Express Coffee”

  1. One I learned just recently was the pronunciation of the word “forte” like:

    English is my forte.

    It is pronounced “fort,” not “for-tay”. Very odd, but I feel enlightened.


  2. I’ve heard that before as well from English teacher Mom. I didn’t know that the musical term (pronounced “for-tei”) was actually Italian. Either way, I’m not sure how I feel about it. It is one of those words that if you said it “fort,” I think people might just look at you as if you were trying to be pretentious or out-right wrong…

  3. I knew forte was italian, but I just thought because they were spelled the same, they were to be pronounced the same. I assumed we had directly stolen it from Italian.

    What makes it any less pretentious to say fort than to say sherbet? EVERYONE says sherbert, so isn’t that just as pretentious?


  4. Yeah, you’re right. I’m not really sure why I feel that way. I think because saying ‘sure-burt’ is wrong phonetically whereas saying ‘for-tay’ makes sense (though so does the proper pronunciation).

  5. but in the ENGLISH language, pronouncing forte is just as phonetically incorrect as pronouncing sherbet wrong. I think it has to do with a commonality more so. There are a lot more people who understand that sherbet is supposed to be pronounced ‘sher-bet,’ whereas even I, a self-proclaimed English virtuoso (of sorts), didn’t know that forte was supposed to be pronounced ‘fort’.

  6. How do you say Envoi?

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