Friday Feedback for February 17, 2017

Feb 17, 2017

Oh boy, this is a good one. Listener Dan had a reaction to Nan Graham’s commentary on language pet peeves: “I have never heard the word “forte” pronounced as "fort." This most likely has to do with my musical background. . . Although I realize that this may put me in the camp with the folks that pronounce nuclear as "nuke-u-lar," or library as "libary," I cannot follow you down the "forte is pronounced fort" road. Sorry.”

Well, bad news for Dan. Forte, meaning “something in which a person excels” is a from the French fort, meaning “strong” and is historically pronounced fort. It’s a different word from the musical term forte, which is spelled the same but comes from Italian. However — many people pronounce it one way and consider the other way incorrect. And vice versa. What to do?

The website English Language and Usage Stack Exchange has a lively discussion about this. Bryan Garner called words like this “skunked term” in his 1998 Dictionary of Modern American Usage: “The new use seems illiterate to Group 1; the old use seems odd to Group 2. The word has become “skunked.”

My favorite language site is A Word A Day. Here’s what it says: “The noun sense of the word was originally pronounced as a single syllable (fort), as in French, however the two-syllable pronunciation (FOHR-tay) has mostly supplanted it. The word is in that limbo state where no matter how you pronounce it, someone may fault you for it.” In other words, “skunked”.

And another comment:

I have to voice my concern with Nan’s recent commentary. While I fully understand the merits of her arguments, yes we should all aim for perfection in grammar, I find the timing and general subject matter superfluous and frankly petty. In comparison to Peggy Porter's perspective of Milo Yiannopoulos and his right to free speech, I found Mrs. Graham's voicing of a personal pet peeve outside the realm of HQR's typically responsible use of public air time. . . Respectfully, Molly

I’ll reply that few things seem to get public radio people as excited as talking about correct and incorrect language, so Nan’s comments are hardly out of bounds. In general, we ask our commentators to focus their reflections on personal experiences, especially local observations, and leave commentary about national politics to the national news broadcasts. It’s especially important in maintaining civility in these troubled times, and Nan stands for nothing if not civility.

Listener Christopher wrote on Monday:

I've heard a few brief news segments describing HB 69, the bill recently introduced in the NC house that would allow citizens to carry concealed handguns without applying and receiving a permit from their local sheriff’s office. During each segment the reporter mentioned that it would be illegal to carry a weapon into an establishment that serves alcoholic beverages. This is false. In April 2013 it became legal in NC [for individuals permitted to conceal a handgun] to carry a handgun in an establishment that serves alcohol as long as the establishment does not prohibit it by posting a sign. The new bill reads the same way. . .

Our story came from the Raleigh News and Observer. Its key sentence: “It also would be illegal to concealed carry a handgun in any place where alcoholic drinks are sold and consumed and where firearms are not allowed.” This sentence is ambiguous enough to be read two ways: 1) that both conditions must be met; or 2) offering an alternative condition. I agree, the phrasing could have been better, and I can’t guarantee that the second condition was always aired during Monday’s newscasts. It should have been.

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