my forte is not my fortay, it's just my fort

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WE HEAR IT AND WE SAY IT . . . IN­COR­RECTLY! We usu­ally hear "for­tay" when peo­ple say "forte," an al­most uni­ver­sally mis­pro­nounced word! I can't say it's a part of everyone's daily vo­cab­u­lary, but if you read enough you'll come across it reg­u­larly. I'm writ­ing this be­cause it was used in a cou­ple of movies that we watched re­cently. Un­for­tu­nately, while the word and its mis­pro­nun­ci­a­tion in both films stuck in my head, the ti­tles of the two movies did not.

Forte ain't pro­nounced for­tay, just plain old fort. But say it cor­rectly and every­one will see walls with armed guards.

Be­fore we ad­dress the near uni­ver­sal mis­mouthing of forte, we need a de­f­i­n­i­tion of the word. In mod­ern us­age, forte is a noun mean­ing the "strong point of a per­son," or "that in which one ex­cels."

The word forte ap­par­ently orig­i­nated in the mid­dle 17th cen­tury, taken from the French fort, which means the "strong point of a sword blade." In fact, if you look forte up in many of today's dic­tio­nar­ies, the pri­mary de­f­i­n­i­tion still refers to swords. 1

The French de­rived their use from the Mid­dle French fort, which re­ferred to a strong­hold, or fortress. This early French use was ap­par­ently lifted from the Latin for­tis, which means "strong." 2

The now fa­mil­iar 'e' was added to the end of fort in the 18th cen­tury in im­i­ta­tion of the Ital­ian word forte, which also means "strong."

Fortay: this is a picture of the musical symbol for forte.

In clas­si­cal mu­sic no­ta­tion, forte is an in­struc­tion to play loudly. It is sym­bol­ized as a styl­ized 'f' writ­ten cur­sively (above) and is a two-syllable word pro­nounced FOR-TAY. This could be the source of the mis­pro­nun­ci­a­tion of the noun dis­cussed above. As no­ta­tion, 

A forte is not a fortay

Forte is al­most uni­ver­sally mis­pro­nounced: with a few ex­cep­tions, we all say "for­tay." For ex­am­ple:

Toranaga, who is usu­ally among pre­dictable peo­ple, craves the in­tel­lec­tual chal­lenge of un­pre­dictabil­ity. Un­pre­dictabil­ity is his FOR­TAY as a leader.”

We all say for­tay—but it's in­cor­rect. The sen­tence should be read so:

Toranaga, who is usu­ally among pre­dictable peo­ple, craves the in­tel­lec­tual chal­lenge of un­pre­dictabil­ity. Un­pre­dictabil­ity is his FORT as a leader.” 3

Forte is a sin­gle syl­la­ble word that is spo­ken ex­actly as the fort in Fort Apache and Fort Sumter. Now, dear read­ers, you know.

And, armed with this knowl­edge, here is my sug­ges­tion: for­get it. Go out into the world say­ing "Toranaga's for­tay" as a leader was his un­pre­dictabil­ity.

If you refer to "Toranaga's fort," every­one will think of a walled castle or en­camp­ment with armed guards keep­ing watch!

FEA­TURED IM­AGE: The top of this page is avail­able as wall­pa­per for your com­puter at Cool Wall­pa­pers. Un­for­tu­nately, the tal­ented artist is not named on that site. For my use on this page, I dark­ened the im­age and flipped it so that the ti­tle is more read­able.


1 Ac­cord­ing to Merriam-Webster, a fort is "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 Mid­dle French lasted from the 14th cen­tury AD to the early 17th cen­tury.

3 The two sen­tences refers to Yoshi Toranaga-noh-Minowara, Lord of the Eight Provinces, from James Clavell's novel Shogun, and is taken from James Clavell: A Crit­i­cal Com­pan­ion.

2 thoughts on “my forte is not my fortay, it's just my fort

  1. I'll stick to say­ing, "That's not my strong suit [re­fer­ring to cards]." That way I'll dodge the dilemma.

    Sneaky Pete

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