My last column on grammar brought out bouquets and brickbats, so I thought I would take another foray into the verbal jungle that includes “foray, foyer, fort, forte, and forte” among a plethora of other misused words, as well as some words whose pronunciation makes English so difficult to learn.
The first two, “foray and foyer” are not confused so much as they are misspelled. The former is an expedition, the latter, a hallway or vestibule. “Who took a foray into What’s vestibule.”
Fort, forte, and forte present stickier problems, at least the last two do. We all know what a fort is. It is a stronghold. Fort Ord; Fort Bliss (where the armies of ignorance are firmly entrenched). Forte, meaning someone’s strongpoint: the proper pronunciation of words is his forte is often pronounced as if it were “for-tay,” which is a musical term meaning “in a loud forceful manner.” However, the two-syllable mispronunciation is so widespread that it has become acceptable. The American Heritage Dictionary says that “speakers may wish to pronounce it as one syllable, but at the increasing risk of puzzling their listeners,” who sadly inhabit Fort Bliss.
Tortuous means crooked, or twisting. Torturous, causing pain. The tortuous rules of English grammar are torturous.
Stop at consensus. It means “general agreement.” You don’t need “of opinion” to follow it. It is the same for “unique.” It needs no modifiers. It is an absolute. Saying that Mr. Abbott’s baseball team is the most unique in history is an error on the speaker, and I don’t mean Tris.
“Perfect” also requires no modification. Saying something is absolutely perfect is perfectly erroneous. Please don’t tell me your reading of this column took total commitment. Commitment is total.
And here’s something else. “Verse” is a word with many meanings, only one of which is fully accurate, “one line of a poem.” It is often confused with “stanza,” which is a succession of lines (verses), bound together by rhyme or other pattern forming a series of similar groups that make a poem. “There once was a man from Nantucket,” is the first verse of a poem, which has five verses arranged in a single stanza.
A gentle reader reminded me of the misuse of “irregardless” when “regardless” is sufficient. It seems to be another word that is used so often it is becoming acceptable. The OED says it is probably a blend of regardless and irrespective and defines it as “characterized by disregard of particular persons, or conditions.” Abbot was going to put the players’ names on their jerseys irrespective of what Costello thought of them.
Another gentle reader reminded me of some notable mispronunciations, namely, ath-a-letes for ath-letes and prob-ly for probably. Here are some other words whose pronunciation would send an immigrant scurrying back to the Fatherland. Imagine someone trying to learn English running into a sentence containing these words: corpse, corps, horse and worse. Or daughter and laughter; how about lord, word, sword, and sward; or tomb, bomb, and comb; heave and heaven; science and conscience; mover, cover, clover; mint, pint, billet, ballet; verdict, indict; finally how about: though, through, threw, plough, dough, cough and enough. If pronunciation is you’re for-tay, you probly get the picture.