2014 Kia Forte: What English Majors Fight Over
July 19, 2013
The word forte has two useful meanings: 1) something you're good at and 2) a musical instruction to play strong and loud. And I thought I knew how to pronounce it, too. For-tay, right?
But a couple of years ago I did something I'd never done before: I watched a season of Celebrity Apprentice. Penn Jillette was making his first appearance on one of the teams. His opponents named their team Forte to reflect their presumed skill and confidence, and they went around pronouncing it like I always had.
"It's pronounced fort," grumbled Penn more than once. He may have thrown a "morons" in there, too. I forget.
I thought this was just competitive grumbling, but then I went to the dictionary, another move I rarely make. He was right if the usage of forte referred to skill, competence and generally operating in one's wheelhouse. The dictionary crowd does begrudgingly concede that a secondary for-tay pronunciation exists, but they generally stand by fort as the more correct one.
American Heritage Dictionary: "The word forte, coming from the French fort, should properly be pronounced like the English word fort. Common usage, however, prefers the two-syllable pronunciation for-tay, which has been influenced by the music term forte borrowed from Italian. In a recent survey, a strong majority of the Usage Panel, 74 percent, preferred the two-syllable pronunciation. The result is a delicate situation; speakers who are aware of the origin of the word may wish to continue to pronounce it as one syllable but at increasing risk of puzzling their listeners."
Merriam-Webster: "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-tay because it reflects the influence of the Italian-derived forte. Their recommended pronunciation fort, however, does not exactly reflect French either: the French would write the word le fort and would rhyme it with the English for. So you can take your choice, knowing that someone somewhere will dislike whatever variant you choose."
The music one, on the other hand, is pronounced for-tay all the time.
I've never seen or heard a 2014 Kia Forte TV commercial, and I haven't heard a Kia staffer say the name out loud. If I had they'd probably go for the haughtier for-tay because its sounds Frenchier, even though it isn't.
I'm assuming of course, that they're using the "we really know what we're doing over here at Kia" version of the word. I'm pretty sure they don't want us to think the 2014 Kia Forte is an especially loud car. Besides, intra-squad rival Hyundai has laid claim to music-themed names with their Sonata.
Whatever the case, I feel empowered to cease and desist with the pseudo-French pronunciation. I'm going with fort from this day forward. Forts are cool. Larry Storch and Forrest Tucker deserve a little respect.
Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 2,308 miles