Coup de grace

Damien Hall halldj at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Fri May 28 14:17:30 UTC 2004

Someone (sorry;  I still can't link headers with sender information to messages
in the digest) mentioned *forte* and asked whether it was French or Italian.  I
had a look and o my surprise, it's actually both.

I was familiar myself with the Italian-derived usage meaning 'loud(ly)' in
music, or 'a strong point'.  Merriam-Webster prescribes /forte/ or /forteh/ for
that;  OED has /fo:ti/ or /fo:tej/.

But there's apparently also a word *forte* derived from the feminine of French
*fort* and meaning, among other things, the strongest part of a sword-blade.
On the pronunciation of that, M-W Online has the following excellent thing to

"Pronunciation: 'fOrt, 'fort; 2 is often 'for-"tA or for-'tA or 'for-tE
Function: noun
Etymology: French fort, from fort, adjective, strong
1 : the part of a sword or foil blade that is between the middle and the hilt
and that is the strongest part of the blade
2 : one's strong point
usage In forte we have a word derived from French that in its "strong point"
sense has no entirely satisfactory pronunciation. Usage writers have denigrated
\'for-"tA\ and \'for-tE\ because they reflect the influence of the
Italian-derived 2forte. Their recommended pronunciation \'fort\, however, does
not exactly reflect French either: the French would write the word le fort and
would rhyme it with English for. So you can take your choice, knowing that
someone somewhere will dislike whichever variant you choose. All are standard,
however. In British English \'fo-"tA\ and \'fot\ predominate; \'for-"tA\ and
\for-'tA\ are probably the most frequent pronunciations in American English."

OED simply prescribes /fo:ti/ or /fo:tej/.

So, the consensus seems to be that in the vast majority of uses these days
(assuming they're something to do with loudness and therefore come from
Italian), the final vowel in *forte* is legitimately pronounced and not an
instance of the 'coup de grace phenomenon'.

Damien Hall
University of Pennsylvania

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