my forte is not my “fortay”—it’s just my “fort”

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.

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.”

 

Forte symbol 150 1

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!

 


FOOTNOTES:

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.

 

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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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