filet, fillet and the pronunciation of other French borrowings

Looking through my long list of topic requests, I've found a duplicate--so that surely deserves to be treated first. Mrs Redboots recently emailed to say:
I was watching an on-line video, yesterday, of a chef preparing fish, and instead of saying he was filleting it (with a hard "t") as I should have done, he said he was "filay-ing" it, as though it were a French word. And later on, I saw it written as "filet", where I would have used "fillet". Which is the original - for me "filet" is the French term, and I hadn't realised it was also used in America.
And Laura, a New Yorker in Cambridge, wrote 10 months ago (sorry, Laura) with:
My British husband and I find endless entertainment emailing your blog entries to each other. What a great resource. I have searched past entries and cannot find anything pertaining to our longest running argument - on the pronunciation of "fillet." He says "filliT," and I would say "fillay" (like ballet, right?), although I refrain from doing so here for fear that butchers won't understand me. I thought British English would be the version more influenced by French...then again, I pronounce the er in foyer whereas he would say "foyay." What is going on with the influence of French in American and British English?
I'll have to preface this by saying that I can't possibly discuss all such differences in the pronunciation of words from French here--there are lots of them. And let's not get into the pronunciation of words from other languages just yet (I have posts-in-process on some of them). To start with Mrs R's question about which is original, well, in a sense, the question doesn't really work, since the word was borrowed at a time before spelling was standardi{s/z}ed in English. And it may not have been standardi{s/z}ed in French, either (do we have an expert out there?). Modern French spelling is based (according to what the internets tell me) on medi(a)eval pronunciation, which would mean that at the time it was first borrowed into English, the 't' would have been pronounced in the original French word.

Looking at the OED, we can see the word in English back to 1327--though that is in the sense of 'a ribbon used as a headband' . The first quotation for the 'cut of meat' meaning in English comes from around 1420, in the plural filetes (remember, though, that the word would have been borrowed earlier than this and used in speech and in writing that hasn't survived the centuries). The 1327 quote uses filet, but in all of its senses, the spellings vary for the first few centuries. In the 'cut of meat' uses, we also see Fylettes (c 1430), Phillets (1658), Filets (1725). From the 1741 quotation, fillets rules until the first American quotation in 1858 (filets). So, judging from the dates, it could be that it was imported to the Americas at a time when its spelling had not yet settled down and the influence of French settlers headed it toward(s) the more modern French spelling and pronunciation. According to the Dictionary of American Regional English, in Maine people working in the fisheries say fillit on the job (their citation is from 1975, so may not be true now), though in lay use, it's filet, as in the rest of the US. For the McDonald's Filet-o-Fish, there is some question about how it should be pronounced in the UK, but the official McDonald's answer is '“Filet-o-Fish” can be pronounced any way you wish. Most people say “Filay”.'

Similarly, Americans tend to pronounce valet as 'valay', while it is more common to pronounce the 't' in BrE. As I've mentioned before gillet/gilet show a similar spelling difference--but that difference isn't strictly on national lines--I see both gillet and gilet in England and rarely either in the US. It's usually pronounced in the French way, but then it was imported from French more recently--in the 19th century.

Across both dialects, it's a general rule that the longer the word has been in English, the more likely it is to be pronounced as it is spelled/spelt. So, claret (a wine name rarely heard in the US, where it would tend to be called Bordeaux), which has been in English since at least the middle ages, is pronounced with the 't', but Cabernet, which came to us in the 19th century, isn't. But still, there are a lot of differences. Let's divide them into types: consonant differences, vowel differences and stress differences--though where there are stress differences there are often also C and V differences. From here I'm going to do less history and more listing.

Among the consonant differences we have the already-discussed herb ('h' versus no 'h'). Then there's the French 'ch'. Chassis usually has a hard 'ch' in AmE, but usually a soft one ('sh') in BrE. (Both usually don't pronounce the final 's'.) According to the OED, preferences for the pronunciation of niche are reversed in BrE and AmE, with rhymes-with-itch dominating in AmE and rhymes-with-leash dominating in BrE. Myself, I've always pronounced it to rhyme with leash wherever I've been--but the pronunciation was only 'Frenchified' in English during the 20th century. So, nitch-sayers can consider themselves to be a certain kind of authentic, and niche-sayers can consider themselves to be another kind of authentic. And then there's schedule, which begins with a 'sh' in BrE, and a 'sk' in AmE--though one does hear the AmE pronunciation in BrE now (and BrE speakers often say timetable where AmE speakers would say schedule).

On the vowels, I've been mocked in England for my AmE pronunciation of France (rhymes with ants but without the 't'). Yes, the standard, southern BrE pronunciation is more like the French pronunciation, but it's also part of a more general pattern of AmE having the [ae] sound (as in cat) and standard, southern BrE having a long [a:] in these places--cf. dance, lance, chance and answer. And the southern BrE pronunciation of these things in these ways is due to a modern change in pronunciation (see this discussion of the TRAP-BATH split). So, I'm not convinced that BrE speakers say Frahnce (or Fraunce, if you prefer) because they are being authentic in a French way--they are being true to the rules of their own dialect.

A more irregular difference is in clique, which is 'cleek' in BrE, but often 'click' in AmE. See the Eggcorn database for some discussion of the consequences.

And leisure is more French-ish in BrE, where it rhymes with pleasure, than in AmE where the first syllable is usually pronounced 'lee'.

The 'a' in apricot is like that in cap in [my dialect of] AmE and in cape in BrE. I'm sure there are people in each dialect who would argue that theirs is closer to the French, but the fact that both dialects pronounce the final 't' (and that neither uses a 'b' rather than a 'p') tells us that it's given up any preten{c/s}e of being French.

As you can see, this list is pretty random and I'm sure there are others that could be added. Here's one that has both consonant and vowel differences: vase. The BrE pronunciation is more like the French with an 'ah' and a 'z', whereas the usual AmE pronunciation rhymes with place.

On to stress... Note that most of the following involve vowel changes as well, since unstressed vowels are reduced (which often includes making them more centrali{s/z}ed in the mouth).

AmE tends to keep the French stress pattern make recent loan words sound more 'foreign' by resisting the native urge to stress earlier in the word, whereas stress in BrE tends to gravitate to the front of the word. This means that ballet is BALay in BrE and balAY in AmE. The same pattern can be found in a number of two-syllable French borrowings.




(in this case, neither dialect preserves the French three-syllable pronunciation)
garage (with changes in the vowels and final consonant too, as mentioned here)
For three-syllable words, BrE often stresses the penultimate (second-to-last) syllable where AmE stresses the final one, with a secondary stress on the first syllable. Thus one stress pattern can seem as if it's turned inside-out if you're used to the other one. The sore-thumbiest one for me is Piaget:
(the Swiss psychologist): BrE pee-AH-ʒay vs. AmE PEE-uh-ʒAY
This is not to say that AmE always resists the urge to move the stress leftward or that BrE never does. Observe police, which has the accent on the last syllable in both standard dialects--though there is a non-standard (and sometimes jokingly used) first-syllable-stressing pronunciation in some dialects of AmE: PO-leese. Courgette in BrE retains the final stress.

And then there are the other examples that go the opposite way, with AmE having the stress more front-ward than BrE. This is typically for words that have been in the language longer and seem 'less French' to us than things like beret and escargot:

address (noun)
And then there is Renaissance, for which I quote from the American Heritage Book of English Usage:
This 19th-century borrowing from French, which literally means “rebirth,” is usually stressed on the first and third syllables in American English. In British English the word is usually stressed on the second syllable, which is pronounced with a long a sound [...]. The American English pronunciation is an approximation to the French pronunciation, while the British English pronunciation reflects the typical English (Germanic) tendency to put the main stress on the root part of a word.
So, I'm sure you'll come up with many more examples and counter-examples, but that's a smattering, at least. Special thanks to Better Half, for letting me (AmE) sleep in/(BrE) have a lie-in a few times during the past couple of weeks, so that I could work/blog into the wee hours. Having written all this, I find I've not/I haven't commented on Laura's mention of foyer, but since I don't want to abuse BH's kindness by sleeping the whole of tomorrow away, I'll just refer you to this nice little discussion on 'The Growlery'. I've concentrated on pronunciation here, rather than French-versus-English spelling, which we'll go into another time. If you can't wait, see here and here and here for some discussions where French and spelling intersect.


  1. Lynne, you say that "Courgette and aubergine in BrE retain the final stress". Yes to the former, but this Brit would definitely stress the first syllable of aubergine.

  2. (Yeah, I'd say OH-ber-ghine too.)

    You've reminded me of a great stand-up routine that British comedian Jack Dee did years ago about the "Filet O Fish". How absolutely stupid he felt ordering it because of the ridiculous name (which IIRC he pronounced filay-oh-fish). But a very quick search online didn't throw up a copy of this.

  3. SBCL will no doubt have previously discussed the different meanings of entree in French/BrE and AmE?

  4. My impression is that skedule is now the more common pronunciation in BrE, and those of us with the other form are drifting gravewards.

  5. I always wonder about the mismatched long/short 'a' in pasta! Perhaps if you do a post on Italian words you could touch on this as I always wonder why I hear even Southern Brits use a short 'a' and Americans a long one.

  6. But surely in French the stress is placed evenly across all syllables within a word, so your comments about AmE sometimes preserving the French stress pattern by placing stress on the final syllable of loan-words is based on a misapprehension?

    At school I was lucky to have an excellent French teacher who used to reinforce this point by making us slowly chant polysyllabic French words, heavily stressing each syllable; "MA-NI-FE-STA-TIONS" for some reason sticks in my mind as a particular favourite of hers. Perhaps because of this conditioning I've always assumed that the tendency for English speakers to stress the final syllable when pronouncing French words is a form of hypercorrection. English native speakers generally expect to hear stress early in a word, so when they hear words with even syllable-stress these *sound like* they are stressed at the end, because only the later syllables are more heavily stressed than expected. In other words, English speakers tend to gauge the syllable-stress in foreign words with by comparison to a pattern they are expecting to hear, rather than by assessing the relative stresses purely within the string of sounds they actually do hear.

    My own favourite example highlighting differences between AmE and BrE pronunciations of French words is 'croissant'. BrE speakers approximate this to something like 'kWAsson', whereas in AmE it comes out as 'krə-SANT', which to anyone with any degree of fluency in French sounds utterly hideous. I wonder if this is because to AmE speaker a croissant is a more exotic object than to BrE speakers, (who at least until recently) all spent significant parts of their formative years reciting sentences about croissants, Orangina and croque-monsieur.

  7. Great post, Lynne!

    Just don't get me started on the most common US pronunciations of "lingerie" and "parmesan"... I may have an attack of Word Rage!

  8. You forgot coupé, which (most? all?) Americans pronounce like chicken coop. (More than just the Beach Boys, anyway.)

    And Ambulant is quite right. It only appears to us Anglophones that it's the last syllable stressed. When you ask a Francophone to say it slowly you realise that it's quite even.

  9. Thanks, Ambulant, for this, it was a revelation to me when I was trying to determine which stress patterns were most 'French,' that my French/English dictionary had no stress patterns for French words. This runs so counter to my expectation that I initially berated my dictionary as inferior.

    I'd like to add that my Grandfather, whose native language was Polish, for the record, pronounced fillet like the young female horse, with the accent on the first syllable: 'FI-lly.' I don't know where he learned to say this, although his wife's side of the family had a fish shop in South-East Mass.

  10. "Apricot" varies regionally in the US. My FIL and I say "ape-ricot" -- we're from the upper South. For the rest of my husband's family, the first syllable rhymes with "cap."

  11. I'm surprised by how many of these words I (AmE) pronounce both ways. In some cases (foyer, vase, debris, moustache), it's a difference of register, typically (pretentiously?) using BrE pronunciations in higher registers. In other cases (niche, magazine) I have a semantic distinction. For some (foyer, clique, niche) I have 'corrected' an originally French pronunciation (learned or assumed as a kid) to the more common AmE one, some of the time. A couple (leisure, apricot) vary freely for no reason I can detect.

    Address always has final stress for the verb, but the noun goes either way--except for a strong bias toward final stress in computing contexts (my former occupation).

    According to Merriam-Webster Online, the \fi-ˈlā\ pronunciation is used only for the strip of meat or fish. This agrees with my idiolect, which also uses the filet spelling always and only for that meaning (but MWO does not specify so). I had thought, in fact, that filet (meat) and fillet (architectural term) were distinct words until I looked it up.

  12. I was interested to note that when we switched to the American voice on my satnav, it said we were "Off rowt", as we had thought that this pronunciation was computer-specific (my husband has had to learn to say "Rowter" instead of "Rooter" to his American colleagues when referring to a router), and that when it meant a road (as in Route 66), it was pronounced "Root".

    As for McDonald's, I actually thought it was spelt Fillet-o-fish over here, with two Ls, but I dare say that is what I expected to see! And that, again, clears up another Ruth Doan Macdougallism - I couldn't think why the heroine's mother, in her novel, would have referred to fish as a "filly of sole", not having realised that Americans didn't pronounce the word as we do!

  13. @Mrs Redboots: I'm under the impression that American pronunciations of route (also niche and vehicle) vary with register. I've heard Americans pronounce each of these both ways.

    And when I hired/rented a car in the MidWest I swear I heard the guy pronounce en route as "enn raut".

  14. I wouldn't have written, as Mrs. Redboots did, "as I should have done," but "as I would have done."
    I save "should" for situations like "I should have thought of that," or "I really shouldn't have done that."
    I don't think that "as I should have done" is used to express current practice/preference/habit in American English.

  15. On French stress, Wikipedia says:

    Word stress is not distinctive in French. This means that two words cannot be distinguished on the basis of stress placement alone. In fact, grammatical stress can only fall on the final full syllable of a French word (that is, the final syllable with a vowel other than schwa). ...

    The difference between stressed and unstressed syllables in French is less marked than in English. Vowels in unstressed syllables keep their full quality, giving rise to a syllable-timed rhythm (see Isochrony). Moreover, words lose their stress to varying degrees when pronounced in phrases and sentences. In general, only the last word in a phonological phrase retains its full grammatical stress (on its last syllable).

  16. I use fillet (FILL-it) as a verb and filet (fill-AY) as a noun, and that's what I've always been taught is correct, in a British-American family of foodies :)
    You fillet a fish to remove the bones, and when you're done you're left with a filet! Voilà!

    (And I agree with Jamie-- both pronunciations of apricot are acceptable and used (in the Midwestern US, at least) although most people tend towards one or the other. I personally pronounce it with an a like in cape.)

  17. I read that in the North US “AYpricot” is used, and farther South “APPricot” is more common.

  18. @Anne: I think this is now the preserve of upper and upper-middle class Englishmen but here goes - shall/should express determination so should be used routinely for 1st person and only in commands for 2nd and 3rd. Will/would express something beyond control so should be used resignedly in the 1st person but routinely when describing 2nd and 3rd persons.

    Thus: A swimmer in distress cries, "I shall drown; no one will save me!" A suicide puts it the other way: "I will drown; no one shall save me!"

  19. Thanks for the many comments.

    @Simon K--you're right. Didn't have BH around to test it on when I was writing. I'll dump the 'aubergine' now.

    @Jessica--pasta has been discussed several times in the comments on the blog--which makes the discussions hard to search. It's on my list, but the more it comes up in the comments, the less I feel like doing it!

    @ambulent: I can't now find the source that I used that said 'more like the French', and I'll bow to your and later comments' better grasp of French and make a change in the post.
    On croissant: I wonder if you're being misled by the American thing known as the 'crescent roll', which is marketed as such. (It's a ready-made dough thing that one buys in a tube.) I grew up with these, but when we started seeing more proper croissants in bakeries, we learned to say 'kwasson(t)'. You can see better renditions of the American pronunciation at Merriam-Webster.

    @Nick: Coupé is coupe in AmE--we don't spell it with the accent mark, reflecting the pronunciation.

    @Mrs R: I discussed the pronunciation of route a bit back here.

    @John: I wonder if you got the north/south backward(s) there, since I'm northern and only say/hear 'app' and we've had southern and midwestern (which can pattern like the south in some cases) cases of 'ape' further up in the comments.

    Keep 'em coming...

  20. which means "goblet" in French.

  21. Interesting. I expect some factor on pronunciation would be when the language was exposed to/borrowed from French; British English has had longer to mutate the way things're said.

  22. I've heard some Scottish family members use a pronunciation of "PO-liss" for the noun, so I wouldn't say that the accent on the second syllable is universal. (However, this may fall under the heading of "pronunciations used in Glasgow and nowhere else in the English-speaking world", as with so many other things.)

    @John: I'm not sure about the north/south distinction about "apricot." I'm from Texas and the standard here is "AY-pri-cot", which also brings up another variation beyond the vowel — our P is attached to the second syllable, but I'd say that "ape" or "app" are more common first syllables.

  23. Sophie Sofasaurus29 August, 2009 20:12

    Talking of US/UK differences in pronounciation of French... I had genuine difficulty understanding a recent advert for the Peugeot 308 Verve** recently. It took me a while to realise that the salesman is saying "noir" at the end; his "noARRRR" is so different from my "nwah" (or something like that).

    ** Advert can be seen at

  24. @Lynne
    No, I definitely meant the iconic French breakfast food! The first of the suggested pronunciations in your M-W link was what I was trying to get at with my ham-fisted pseudo-phonetics. Admittedly though it's over a decade and a half since I first noticed this pronunciation and the one you suggest may well have had greater currency in the US even then. If you listen to the M-W sound samples though, even the version which is much closer to the French still carries a stress on the last syllable: 'kwa-SON'.

  25. I never heard the words gorgette or aubergine growing up. Not until surrounded by foodies at work did I finally work out what they were. (AmE) of the poor-Detroit-kid level thought *eggplant* was pretty exotic.

    So the relative status of the words, when they were introduced, and if used in advertising, all no doubt influence how they are pronounced. High status item words used around French speakers in high status areas, would probably have a more modern French sound. Low status words where it would seem hoity-toity to say in a 'foreign' way, and with no local French speakers, would, I'm guessing, be more likely to sound like the local dialect norm. Or, not, just to make them sound more 'correct'. (Filay-o-fish.)

    Words that wander innocently into English (Br or Am) are just going to get mugged.

  26. My BrE two-pennorth FWIW. 1. "Americans tend to pronounce valet as 'VALay', while it is more common to pronounce the 't' in BrE." I doubt this, the final t sounds pretty dated and aristocratic (at least, in the noun, though it's necessary in the verb to do with cleaning car interiors). 2. Apricot often has /æ/ in Scotland, where incidentally it's not "to have a lie-in" but "to have a long lie". 3. To be pedantic, frontier has two syllables in French not three! 4. Yes, PO-liss (spelled polis) is a common jocular or working-class pronunciation of police in Scotland, and can refer to a police offer as well as the police.
    Keep up the good work!

  27. I use "filay" for both verb and noun.

    For me, niche rhymes with fish and neither with itch nor with leash. Dr. Seuss, a native American of German descent, probably didn't make it rhyme with itch either. In On Beyond Zebra, we hear of the Nutches, who live in Nitches, which clearly are niches, but why bother with that spelling if you pronounce niche as "nitch" already?

    The story of apricot is just amazing. Here's the OED, with some abbreviations expanded:

    Originally from Portuguese albricoque or Spanish albaricoque, but subsequently assimilated to the cognate French abricot (t mute). Compare also It. albercocca, albicocca, OSp. albarcoque, from Spanish Arabic al-borcoque(P. de Alcala) for Arab. al-burqûq, -birqûq, i.e. al 'the' + birqûq, from Greek πραικοκιον (Dioscorides, about 100; later Greek πρεκοκκια and plural βερικοκκια), probably from Latin præcoquum, variant of præcox, plural præcocia, ‘early-ripe, ripe in summer,’ an epithet and, in later writers, appellation of this fruit, orig. called prûnum or mâlum Armeniacum. Thus Palladius (about 350): ‘armenia vel præcoqua.’ The change in Eng. from abr- to apr- was perhaps due to false etymology; Minsheu 1617 explained the name, quasi, 'in aprîco coctus' ripened in a sunny place: cf. the spelling abricoct.

  28. Oh yes. PO-liss was used in Irish English as well as Scottish English, and may still be in Ulster English: in the republic, the Irish word garda, plural gardaí is now used.

  29. Well that was a can of worms :)

    Lynne, I have to ask- how can you possibly put the stress on the last syllable of pastel?

    Re: Valet- I'm sure I've never heard anyone use the 't' unless it is proceded by an 'ing' or 'ed'.

    @Picky: I think you've got it right about skedule. I realised when I read it that I have heard shedule from time to time, but I wouldn't have thought to use it were I to write a phonetic rendition.

    @vp: I know you said don't get you started...But how are they pronounced?

    @Sophie Sofasaurus: I know right?

    This probably isn't the place [Sorry Lynne!] but when I was in Michigan my English friends and I found it hilarious how none of our American hosts, from all states, could pronounce the yod, so poor old Stuart spent the week being called variants on 'Stoort' and 'Sturd'. They in turn thought it was ridiculous that we rendered his name with "a whole bunch of extra vowels you don't even need."

    There must be a post on here somewhere about collective terms, I may seek it and belatedly rant about 'bunch'. So many kinds of wrong.

  30. Re: Valet with a 't': I meant 'more often than in AmE'. Sorry.

    @Solo: I think you want this post.

  31. Oh, what bliss to find this blog! I was born in the US, and went to live in the UK at the age of seven. Arriving in the UK at an impressionable age, I did my best to completely lose my American accent and vocabulary, just to survive at school. I eventually returned to the US 33 years later, in 2002 (I have dual nationality).I have therefore spent much time as a source of amusement and consternation to my friends and colleagues in both countries. I'm now married to an American who is fascinated by language and dialect- we often pore over the OED for fun. So it's nice to find others who are similarly fascinated.
    Having learned to say GARR-idge, I'm now relearning ga-RAHJ. Perfume is another word where the stress changes. Sigh.
    I'm also relearning falcon, lilac, wrath- all the words I was teased for in England when I first arrived. The other day I said "The Grapes of Roth" to my husband and he fell about!

  32. @Solo >how can you possibly put the stress on the last syllable of pastel?<

  33. Laura in Cambridge30 August, 2009 10:53

    Lynne, this is fantastic!! Thank you so much. To be honest, I had never even heard of the Trap/Bath split, but it makes perfect sense that the pronunciations of those who left for America in the mid 1600s would be preserved and spread from there on, whereas the language in the UK would keep evolving in its own ways and taking on other words as well.

    Were you really taught to say 'kwasson' for croissant? That is definitely one of the words I have to force myself to anglify (or frenchify, ha) in order to be understood...or at least not snickered at. I love this blog.

  34. @Ambulant

    In New England I grew up with the pronunciation suggested by Lynn ( though my mother the former French teacher wouldn't even let me get away with that). Here in Chicago though many people do say 'krə-SANT' including my baking and pastry who taught me to make them.

    It seems like way fewer people here have ever taken any french at all. That's not a value judgment, Spanish is about a million times more practical here than French. I doubt you'll catch many Chicagoans pronouncing paella pie-ella as people seem to in the UK.

  35. Lynne, I followed your links to previous entries on 'garage' to see if anyone had mentioned that middle-class Brits say GARR-arjh, regarding 'garridge' as rather down-market. (So I would just like to say that I saw a notice for a 'back-garden bootsale' at a neighbour's house, which brings us full circle with yard/car boot/ garage sales). Anyway, this snobbery doesn't really make sense when other fully-assimilated French words align with carriage - such as marriage, message, homage, postage, damage, package.
    More recent acquisitions retain some French flavour - massage, montage, or homage (when used by film critics!) and we buy fromage frais without needing a translation. I did have a few qualms when I heard a woman thnking a phone caller for her 'messarjh' - was she being flippant, or is this also used?

    There are some biomedical usages of French words that retain the French vowels - lavage and passage (in cell culture) spring to mind. And 'absence' in epilepsy is actually the French word. Then Canadian canoeists use 'portage' to get from one stretch of water to the next.

    I'm too delicate/ignorant to speculate on whether 'frottage' is recent or specialist, but I have only heard that in the French style.

  36. Being Scottish, where there's much less of a split in the way we pronounce "a" (we pronounce the vowel in "bath" and "trap" the same way - short), and would pronounce "France" the same way as you. But, since I've lived and worked in France, I have real problems trying to pronounce French words the way they're spelt!

  37. I've never heard anybody pronounce the 't' in 'valet', though dictionaries give it so somebody must. How would Americans pronounce the past of the verb, 'valeted'.

    'Police' is monosyllabic for a large number of speakers of British English.

  38. In the film Gosford Park the characters do sound the t in valet. I gather it was (is?) a U / non-U thing, the people who were or had valets pronounced it one way those who didn't another.

  39. The verb for what a valet does is "park", so the past tense would be "parked". (Without further elaboration, the default meaning of valet in most AmE contexts is only "a person who parks cars at a restaurant, museum, or the like".)

    I'm not sure that "valet" is available as a verb in my AmE idiolect, so its past tense is rather moot. If I did have it as a verb, it would be something like "val-aid", with only two syllables.

  40. @biochemist, Re "homage" (HOMMidge) and homage (om-AZH), surely there's no law against re-borrowing a French word with a more specific sense, if we feel like it? For me the fact that the stress is final very much shows the word is felt to be (as it were) in italics, unlike massage and montage (BrE initial stress) which though recognisably French in origin are now accepted English words. Same with auteur, to mention another high-brow word beloved of film critics, or restaura[n]teur with or without its intrusive n.

    Incidentally, an important member of the "address (noun), magazine, m(o)ustache" list (BrE final/AmE initial stress) is of course cigarette.

    @Valerie, How do Americans pronounce lilac?

  41. Not Valerie, but "lilac" is approximately "LIE-luk" in AmE. (That "u" should be a schwa, but I'm having trouble finding a coding that will work in the preview.)

    "Cigarette" most commonly has the emphasis on the last syllable in AmE. I would take emphasis on the first syllable as a regional or class dialect pronunciation rather than standard AmE.

  42. Re: lilac.
    When I was living in the UK, I was teased for saying LY-LAC (pretty well even stress on both syllables), instead of the UK English LY-luk. So my experience is different from yours, Doug.

  43. @Solo:

    "lingerie" is often /lɑnʒəˈreɪ/ (lahn-zhə-RAY)

    "parmesan" is often /pɑrməˈʒɑn/ (par-mə-ZHAHN)

    What is remarkable is that in both cases the spelling offers useful guidance which is ignored.

    For the final syllable of "lingerie", I can't think of a single word in either English or French where "ie" corresponds to an /eɪ/ or (in French) /e/ sound. For "parmesan" I'm not aware of any other word in either language where "s" before "a" is anything other than a /s/ or /z/ sound.

    These pronunciations are presumably due to attempts to sound "foreign" or sophisticated. For "parmesan", maybe there is some confusion with Italian "parmiggiana".

  44. Fair enough. I've certainly heard that vowel in lilac. For that matter, I might have used it; memory is a fickle thing.


    I'm pretty sure my default pronunciation uses a schwa in the last syllable, though.

  45. I agree that in BrE pronouncing the t or not in the noun valet is a class thing. The verb (in my BrE experience) relates not to manservanting or parking, but to cleaning a car, and here I always hear the t pronounced.

  46. I find (now that I am thinking of it) that I use both APE-ricot and APP-ricot, but in differnet situations.

    I would call the fruit itself an APE-ricot, but I would say APP-ricot Jam.

    Just another fun linguistic monkeywrench.

  47. I like this topic!

    Thanks Richard. The example was about four minutes into the clip, which suggests to me either you know the film very well, or tyou have an incredibly dilligent approach to exemplifying. Either way, I am humbled (and also corrected. I thought of Past-ELL, but thought 'surely not')

    @vp: In my experience, think most BrE speakers say lahn-zhə-RAY too... Though now I think about it it is kind of silly.

    To pitch in on the garage debate- when I was in my formative years the musical genre UK Garage had a massive resurgence and was only ever to be pronounced GARR-idge, consequently the place where you park your car was often adjusted to Gar-AHGE far more often by the more regionally identified among us (SE England Estuary incidentally). However the place you take your car to fill up with BrE/AmE Petrol/Gas or to get it fixed, could go either way fairly indiscriminately.

    And Mess-ARGE has to be a joke I think.

    I have a Canadian friend living in the UK who wants to become one of us, so on his arriving in Blightly he sought our help to cultivate a 'British' accent ( by which he meant, of course, an RP English accent). N ow and again he came out eith hypercorrections which sounded utterly hilarious to our uncouth young ears. My personal favourite is "PLAR-stic" because there's just nowhere he would hve eard anyone say that.

  48. When the guy at my local McDonalds in England says it the emphasis changes to the opposite syllable, it becomes "FILL-ay" not "fil-LAY" like an American would say.

  49. the musical genre ... was only ever to be pronounced GARR-idge ... the place where you park your car was often adjusted to Gar-AHGE

    Without wanting to put words into his mouth, I'm pretty sure Solo is using caps for contrast rather than syllable stress here, so agrage and "Mess-ARGE" are still stressed on the first syllable. If I'm wrong I apologise (and respectfully disagree!)

  50. @Solo

    I've never heard anyone say "plastic" as "plahstic", but I think I've seen it listed as a possible pronunciation. Perhaps it was current in the earlier 20th century.

  51. Great topic, Lynne!

    I've noticed different pronounciations for certain titles of nobility, e.g. Marquis (BrE: MAR-kwis; AmE: mar-KEE) and Viscount (BrE: VIS-cownt; AmE: VIE-cownt) and of course the well-known splits around certain military ranks, e.g. Lieutanant/Leftenant. I had always assumed the AmE versions dated back to the American Revolution when the French were our friends.

    And for the record, I grew up in California and ate APE-ricots and PEE-conns; my Texas-born wife also eats APE-ricots, but pronounces the nut pe-CAN.

  52. Actually, I've heard VY-count in BrE generally, but I agree with you about MAR-kwis.

  53. "PLAR-stic" no of course not, "PLAHS-tic" yes of course! But I don't think there's such a pronunciation as viSScount -- the s is silent in AmE according to the dictionaries. They also give the "MARKwiss" pronunciation ahead of "marKEE" -- is the latter often used in AmE with reference to English-speaking contexts I wonder, or (as BrE does) just French ones like the Marquis de Sade?

  54. There are no marquis-es in the UK, only marquesses (and marchionesses).

    If you meet a marquis in the UK he'd have to be a Frenchman on holidays, in which case his title probably would be pronounced frenchily.

  55. BTW I object to the claim that the AmE pronunciation of "renaissance" is closer to the French.

    The French pronunciation is something like [ʁənɛsʌ~s], with even stress

    The AmE is /ˈrɛnəsɑns/

    The BrE is /rəˈneɪsɒns/

    For the first vowel, the BrE is closer to the French
    For the second vowel, BrE and AmE are about equidistant from the French
    For the third vowel, the AmE is marginally closer as it is unrounded.

    I make that at best a tie, and possibly a win for BrE.

  56. @ darcherd: and, of course, I imagine most people know that Lieutenant is pronounced more or less as spelt in the USA, but in the UK it is pronounced "Lef-TEN-ant".

    As for pecans, when I first came across the word, in writing, I mentally pronounced it "PECK-ans", which is the logical British pronunciation; I know gather I should say "peck-AHNS" or even "peek-AHNS".

  57. LEFTenant in the British Army, and Flight LEFTenant in the RAF, but there are still those who pronounce the Royal Navy rank as L'tenant, I think.

  58. No, RAF ranks are based on the Royal Navy, thus it's Flight L'tenant. Not Loo-tenant, just one of those indefinable vowels loved by linguists!

  59. Sorry, biochemist, didn't know that was still the case.

  60. Although that should be COMMISSIONED ranks are based on the RN, of course. Non-commissioned are more Armyish

  61. Regarding parmesan, the word ultimately comes from Italian. So it's not so strange for American pronunication to be influenced by the G in the Italian word, Parmigiano.

  62. "AmE tends to keep the French stress pattern make recent loan words sound more 'foreign' by resisting the native urge to stress earlier in the word, whereas stress in BrE tends to gravitate to the front of the word. "

    I found this quite funny, because when I call Americans with "foreign" names for my job, they're almost always Americanised. If I pronounce them as I would expect them to be pronounced in French or German, say (I speak to a lot of French and German people for work as well, so the "original" pronunciation is my default), I'm often met with confusion or a laugh.

  63. Ginger Yellow's comment reminds me of a funny incident at my wife's office in London when a secretary called a company in the US and was heard to ask "can I speak to Jesus please?". Apparently, she should have pronounced it Hey-Zoos.

  64. Ginger-Yellow,
    I don't know how well known this phenomenon is to non-American's, but at one time, when immigrants were welcomed into the US, many people's names were changed, and "Americanized."

    I wish I could think of a good example of this, but I am pretty sure that the practice is pretty well known to most Americans.

    That would be generally why the names are not pronounced in their "original" way.

  65. I can think of an example, Bill! In my father's home town in Illinois, almost totally German originally, there is a family with the surname Freitag, pronounced Friday!

    Actually, I know that most often the spelling was also changed to something easier for Anglophones to pronounce. Our last name survived unscathed, but my great-grandmother's last name (Polish) was mangled to the extent that it now seems impossible to trace our ancestors in that line.

  66. Bill - the phenomenon is well known to me (then again, I am an American, but in Britain). My point was more that because of the nature of my work, I can't be certain when I ring someone with an ostensibly foreign name in America whether they're actually foreign or not. Anyway, what was funny was the irony of American English "foreignising" loan words, given my experience with names.

  67. We've lost phone and internet at home, so 'hello' from a cafe...we'll see when I can blog next...

    But to reply to a few points that have come up:

    I CAN'T buh-LIEVE I left massage off the list!! That's one that comes up a lot for me (not that I have time to go for massages anymore...). I know this shows a bias, but to me the AmE pronunciation (with the softer final consonant) sounds much more relaxing than its BrE alternative, which makes me think more of (AmE)physical therapy/(BrE) physiotherapy.

    @biochemist: your messarjh woman was being flippant, I'd think.

    @Stephen Jones: vaLAYd is the past tense of valet. Interesting how American respondents assume 'valet' is about parking rather than the earlier meaning (which I've heard more in BrE) of being a personal attendant.

    @various: I think a separate post on aristocratic ranks is needed at some point.

    And while there may not have been the quasi-systematic anglifying of 'foreign' names in the UK that there has been at some points in US immigration, there are certainly plenty of examples of name-anglification on a personal basis here.

    I am not at all surprised that this post has gathered so many comments!

  68. Sorry to come late to the party. I very much enjoyed this post and its comments, and was wondering about the word Reveille, as in the bugle call played (or not, but that's another story) on Remembrance Day an ting. I think it's quite well established that the correct Br-Franglicized version is something like "ruhVALLey" and this is the advice I give. (There's clearly a lot of insecurity about this in early November judging from hits on my blog!) But I was wondering if there's a Am-Franglicized variant, or do Americans just pronounce it correctly in French (which in the UK would be very weird indeed), or what? I could of course ask an American trumpet player this question, but I'm very interested in what people might say here...

  69. My immediate reaction was that the AmE pronunciation is more like REVully. You can hear it pronounced on the Merriam-Webster site.

  70. Mrs Redboots: Pronouncing route as if it were rout rather than root is dialectal in the U.S.; the reason it's spread throughout the computer industry is that that dialect was widely spoken by the pioneers, in the same sort of way that American pilots often sound like they're from Nashville even when they were born in Quebec. :-)

    There are four standard pronunciations of pecan: the final vowel can be either TRAP or LOT (which most Americans pronounce like PALM), and the stress can be on either syllable. But the vowel in the first syllable is always FLEECE: using the DRESS vowel instead would be what I would expect if the word were spelled peccan.

    Strawberryyog: it is indeed "rev-uh-lee", and the tune is different, too. You can see the tune (if you can read music) and read the (highly unofficial) lyrics on Wikipedia.

  71. Sorry, this is so late, but just a remark on the pronunctiation of wines. Claret was introduced to the British when they owned Burgundy, and I could easily be wrong, but have never heard the word in France.

  72. Thanks Lynne and John both for those very interesting comments on pronouncing Reveille. I was fascinated to realize that the AmE pronunciation differs from the BrE but isn't French either! It's these wonderful differences that make the world go round. On the tune, yes thanks John I am sadly all too familiar with Wikipedia's articles on bugle calls. Of course you're right that the US tune Reveille differs from the UK tune of the same name ... and then (dramatic chord!) we have the further complication that mostly when in the UK we say Reveille we really mean Rouse, but we try not to go on about it in case it frightens the horses or the civilians, or indeed both. An exception is when the Navy or Marines play Reveille (as, wonderfully, they did at Henry Allingham's funeral, for example) and then (a) they really do play Reveille and (b) it's their own special one, which is different yet again, and rather a good tune to boot. (Yes, I probably ought to Get A Life(tm). But hey.)

    There's a tiny bit more on this here: but I fear for the mental health of its author...

  73. I've just found another one - nougat, which Wikpedia tells me Americans pronounce differently. As far as I know, in BrE one says noo-gah, with a slight emphasis on the first syllable. Unless you are, or rather were, my grandmother who said "Nugget", to tease... but then, she also pronounced the "l" in almond and gave it a short "a" - again, as a tease. She knew the "correct" pronunciation, i.e. the one expected of women of her era and class (she said "orff" and "gorn" and "plarstic" and so on), but liked to pretend she didn't.

  74. what is orff, gorn, and plarstic?

  75. Mrs Redboots, are you quite sure these were meant to be jokes as opposed to idiosyncrasies? "Nugget" is an established alternative pronunciation, and think "æl-mond" may be too. I don't see any reason to think of them as stigmatised pronunciations.

  76. @anonymous - obsolete British pronunciation of "off", "gone" and "plastic".

    @Harry Campbell - yes, I know some people say it like that but trust me, with my grandmother, it was for a tease.

  77. @Anonymous:

    This is a reference to an old-fashioned (perhaps now obsolete) version of the prestige accent of England.

    "orff" = the word "off", pronounced to rhyme with "AWFul" rather than "OFFice".

    "gorn" = the word "gone", pronounced to rhyme with "fawn" rather than with "John".

    "plarstic" = the word "plastic", pronounced so that the first vowel rhymes with "bra" rather than with "gas".

    In each case, virtually everyone in England today uses the second pronunciation given. If you're from North America, there is a good chance that you may pronounce words such as "cot" and "caught" identically, in which case the first two examples may not make much sense. But (almost) everyone in England pronounces these words differently.

    It remains to explain why we write "orff" rather than, say, "awff". This is because most accents of English are non-rhotic -- in other words, "R" is pronounced only when it precedes a vowel sound. So words such as "porn" and "pawn" are pronounced identically.

  78. I see, I'm a rhotic American and I do pronounce "cot" and "caught" the same so her phonetic spellings didn't make much sense to me. Thanks for clearing it all up.

  79. Regarding "Reveille", you can hear the American pronunciation of the word in the song "The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B" by The Andrews Sisters or Bette Midler. If it was pronounced the British way it wouldn't scan properly in the song!

  80. When the French say France, they don't pronounce the N and there's no /t/ in it as there is in (at least BrE) English. In French, the stress in Piaget is on the first syllable and the written I functions more as a /j/ than an /i/. Putting the stress on the second syllable may be to make it sound even more French than it actually is. You get this also with Calais which foreigners love exotically to pronounce with the stress on the second syllable even though the French don't. The same happens with Poirot in the detective-series. The BBC's pronunciation-unit must have given a seminar on how to say Mr Eric Cantona's surname when he came upon the British football/soccer scene. I expect they didn't want the sheepskin-jacketed sports-commentators to put the stress on the middle syllable so that it rhymed with tromboner, a word I just made up as a synonym for trombonist. I imagine the Beeb's phoneticians will have tried to explain how stress in French was spread more evenly around words, but it didn't work. The trilby-hatted pundits made it rhyme with Grobbelaar. Just as the I in Piaget is more /j/ than /i/, so an I after a C in Italian is silent and actually indicates that the C is a /tʃ/ rather than a /k/. Foreigners like to pronounce such Is to make the Italian sound that bit more Italian, so that Ciampino airport, Rome, has four syllables. Elsewhere I've ranted on how Americans, in the pursuit of making foreign words sound even more foreign, change a perfectly respectable /a/ to an /ɑ/ as in latte which, by the way, perversely translates as coffee. Then there are the stylists who render the CH in Munich as /χ/ even though the Germans don't say the word anything like that. Same for the folks who put a /χ/ on the end of Zurich but still pronounce the Z as /z/. The other day I saw smorgasboard which I suppose is the public body responsible for supplying energy to the greater Stockholm area. BTW, whenever you submit a comment on this marvel(l)ous blog, the host-computer generates a string of characters which you must type in. Most folks think these are made-up words, but they are actually real words from real languages. Here are some I had to type in earlier:

    samin - upper class English, fish
    poread - Cockney, book kept in lavatory
    dalig - Norwegian, domestic cleaning worker
    quakshe - intoxicated English, earth-tremors
    sultri - Finnish, steamingly attractive
    bedoveme - poetic English, bathtime request for application of toilet soap to inaccessible body-parts
    tzedaffe - Libyan, colonel
    hanting - upper class English, mounted pursuit of prey with hounds

  81. @Paul Danon:

    * Not all British English speakers (e.g. me) have a "t" in France
    * In defen(s/c)e of Americans, their /ɑ/ (as in "fAther") is considerably closer to the original Italian /a/ than their /æ/ (as in "trAp"). The same is true of some, but not all, British accents. And British are just as likely to do this sort of things as Americans -- in fact more so in Spanish words like "macho".

  82. @Paul Danon I don't think you'd get far among phneticians with the idea that "in French, the stress in Piaget is on the first syllable" -- or indeed any other syllable!

    I'd also be curious to see any evidence for vp's idea that Italian /a/ is closer to American /ɑ/ than British /æ/ -- but that's by the bye.

  83. @Harry Campbell:

    My "idea" was is that American /ɑ/ is closer to Italian /a/ than _American_ /æ/ is. As I said, there may also be some British (primarily RP-type) accents of which this could be true.

  84. Sorry I'm late, but I'm interested in vp's saying that he says France without a /t/. Does that mean that he finds himself voicing the final alveolar fricative? Sitting here alone with my wizened hand cupped to my cauliflower-ear, I find that, if I leave the /t/ out, I say /frɑnz/. Crazy or what?

  85. @Paul Danon:

    I say /frɑːns/

  86. Remarkable. I've tried to but I can't pronounce that. I can't help but say /frɑːnts/. You couldn't record it, could you?

  87. @Paul Danon:

    Well, to say [ns] one has to do the following simultaneouly.

    1. close the soft palate
    2. lower the tongue slightly
    3. turn off voicing

    The fact that you can say [frɑnz] rather than [frɑndz] means that you are already doing 1. and 2. simultaneously.

    I think I may turn off voicing slightly prematurely, so that the latter part of the [n] is devoiced: [frɑnn̥s]. I would suggest starting from your [frɑnz] and devoicing the entire [nz], then trying to restore voicing to at least the first part of the [n]. Hope that helps.

  88. If there were ever any doubt about the U.S. pronunciation of "filet," check out the spelling of the restaurant chain offering white-meat alternatives to burgers and tacos: Chick-Fil-A.

    They actually have a clever marketing campaign with lots of black and white cows painting signs (with crooked and backwards lettering) saying EAT MOR CHIKIN.

  89. If there were ever any doubt about the U.S. pronunciation of "filet," check out the spelling of the restaurant chain offering white-meat alternatives to burgers and tacos: Chick-Fil-A.

    They actually have a clever marketing campaign with lots of black and white cows painting signs (with crooked and backwards lettering) saying EAT MOR CHIKIN.

  90. A belated reply to the Anonymous who mentioned claret - Since I learned the old French song "Quand je bois du vin clairet", I've assumed that the English word must have been derived long ago from the French word "clairet"

    Kate (Derby, UK)

  91. In Los Angles, locals pronounce Wilshire Blvd as wil-SHIRE blvd. This truly drives me nuts, as it's a major road and you hear it mentioned often. As a Brit, i feel it could only be pronounced as WIL-sher blvd! Also French Fries in British is said with short emphasis on the syllables, but in American the syllables are dragged out, so you kind of get Freeench Friiiies.

  92. The reason Americans would say Wilshire wilSHIRE is because we are taught that the silent e at the end would make the I say its name (eye)

  93. I'm sorry to revive an old old post, but I can't let this go without correction.

    NO ONE in LA calls it will-SHIRE. If someone told you that, they were joking. It's WILSH-err or WILL-sure.

    Link to website that has people pronouncing it properly in my name.

  94. Note the British rhyme

    Trumpeter, what are you sounding now?
    (Is it the call I'm seeking?)
    "You'll know the call," said the Trumpeter tall,
    "When my trumpet goes a-speakin'.
    I'm rousin' 'em up;
    I'm wakin' 'em up,
    The tents are astir in the valley,
    And there's no more sleep with the sun's first peep,
    For I'm soundin' the old 'Reveille!'"

    ... and the American

    Someday I'm going to murder the bugler
    Someday they're going to find him dead
    I'll amputate his reveille and stomp upon it heavily
    And spend the rest of my life in bed!

  95. I love how people who are "one" person of a nation of 320 million say "we" ... and others within a nation of 50 odd million say "we" as well.

    Not "we" ... "you".

    "You" in America say "croy-sont".

    "WE" here in Britain say "Shed-ule."

    It makes more sense to speak for your own intonation, not mine.

  96. I object to anybody saying "we say it like this", or, "you say it like that", or creating any fictional categories to represent fictional groups rather than speaking only for ones self and ones own intonations.

    I routinely make up words, pronunciations and stresses ... haggling over pronunciation is the self-diddling exercise of choice for the obnoxious.

    That being said, it's fil-ay, not filet. A hard T sounds absurd on a French word ... I have no clue why Australians and Brits pretend they don't know the T is silent just like in Ballet.

  97. Except that Americans most certainly do not say "croy-sant".

  98. This comment has been removed by the author.


  99. That being said, it's fil-ay, not filet. A hard T sounds absurd on a French word

    It may have escaped your notice, but as Lynne has said in the original post, in the UK it is not spelt "filet", but "FILLET", which is quite different. It is used as a verb, too - one fillets a steak, goodness knows what one does with it in the USA.

  100. MrBleu

    I have no clue why Australians and Brits pretend they don't know the T is silent just like in Ballet.

    That's easily explained. Some words from other languages were initially learned by reading. But ballet was learned initially by people with upper-class and cosmopolitan artistic tastes who absorbed the French pronunciation along (presumably) with the spelling. By the time the written word appeared on English-language playbills, it was pretty widespread in speech.

    A fillet is something that you can buy in any butcher or fishmonger. Since there's no obvious non-French synonym, I presume that the word filled a niche when new techniques of preparing food carcasses reached us. But there can't have been a critical mass of upper-class cosmopolitan gourmets to establish a pronunciation analogous to ballet. Moreover, the written word could appear in texts that people of moderate literacy would use: cook books, bills of fayre, price lists etc.

    (Having written this, I looked up fillet in the OED. The word wasn't taken from French butchery, but already existed in English in the sense of 'headband, strip' etc. The earliest recorded uses are 14th century. I suspect that when English first borrowed the word, the final T was still pronounced in French.)

    Scottish butchers and cooks named another cut by a French name: gigot, pronounced JIGGUT.

    Ironically, it's the spelling pronunciation that's more democratic, even though illiteracy and oral culture were concentrated in the lower orders.

    As for FEELAY, yes it's quite often heard at table. But at the butcher's you ask for FILLIT steak.

  101. @MrBleu:

    That being said, it's fil-ay, not filet. A hard T sounds absurd on a French word

    How do you pronounce "bassinet"? In the US, I've only ever heard it with a pronounced "T", yet it is a recent French loanword -- far more recent than "fillet" or indeed "ballet".

  102. . . .'You say tomahto, I say tomayto'. . . .

  103. Very informative, thank you. I was curious about your opinion on words ending in "BRE" which are pronounced as "BER" such as Fibre. I am having difficulties with both English and French speaking people to pronounce and read "Ambre" as Amber...

  104. I don't really deal in opinions--I try to describe facts, or at least profer hypotheses. :)

    -re is the spelling for various words in BrE that are -er in AmE (not just with -bre, but also centre, manoeuvre, etc.). These go back a long way, and were changed in AmE. Amber is not one of them--the -er spelling seems to have been dominant since the Middle Ages. So if people see a a new spelling Ambre (is this a proper name?) they pronounce it as it is spelled, since it's not one that they've learned as having a spelling that's different from its pronunciation. We sound out new-to-us words.

    If it is a personal name, then there aren't many precedents for an -er pronunciation for a -re spelling. Instead, people might think about a name like Andre, where the 'e' is pronounced.

  105. i say FILLAY and all my friends BULLY me for it

  106. For the english word bassinet pronounced with the t, it is quite logical since the french word is actually bassinette with the t sound therefore pronounced in all cases.

  107. Not to mention clarinet — French clarinette.


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