Jay Nordlinger knows how to provoke a rapid response. Don’t make an argument on politics or religion — accuse people of mispronunciation. Nordlinger claims that the standard American pronunciation of forte should sound exactly like the fort in Fort Knox, not for-TAY, as most pronounce the word meaning a strength or specialty:
On the subject of words, someone wrote me the other day to say, “I’ve always pronounced the English word ‘forte’ — meaning strength or expertise — ‘fort.’ But people deride me for it.” That’s because they’re ignorant (and if they deride, mean, too). I have addressed this topic before, and it’s an evergreen one. “Forte” meaning strength or expertise is pronounced “fort.” “Forte” meaning loud in music is pronounced “fortay.” (The one word we borrow from French, the other from Italian.)
Allow me to stoke this controversy by vehemently (but politely) disagreeing. First, forte in Italian primarily means “strong”, even musically. Piano means “soft”, not quiet, and mezzo-forte means moderately strong, not primarily moderately loud. The terms relate to how the music is played by the musician more than the volume control, which is admittedly a subtle distinction. At least, that’s how I learned it when studying music in my childhood, and the Collier’s dictionary supports the interpretation of my music instructors.
The French Connection doesn’t work, either. Fort in French is a masculine noun, which means that its pronunciation matches the English for, not fort. The ‘t’ would only get pronounced in French if followed by an ‘e’, which does not happen in the noun version of the word, which is the application here. It only gets put in feminine form when used as an adjective modifying a feminine noun; otherwise, the word is fort and pronounced for. The spelling of the word forte comes from the Italian and not the French, and therefore the Italian pronunciation should follow.
Oh, and fort in French can also mean “loud”, in the exact same context as forte in Italian.
I eagerly await Nordlinger’s rebuttal. Forget tax policy — this could get much uglier.