I Promise You Won't Learn A Thing From This Blog

The official blog for author Ashley Chappell. Check back every week for a few laughs at my expense or, if you know the love-hate process that is writing, commiseration.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Swashbuckling Grammar Pirate

Grammar Ninja Today’s blog might be the most important blog I have ever written. I have decided, after yet another blunder today, that I must share the annoying information in my head or suffer blow after blow to my own sanity for the rest of my natural tenure on this world as a Grammar Nazi Avenger (yeah, I’d like to see Marvel take that one on, too).

The Set Up: All names and identifying references have been changed to protect the innocent. Though, mind you, they were NOT innocent of committing accidental grammar-cide.

Person chatting in my office: “Oh, I always have someone else do that. Caulking isn’t really my forté.”
Me, sitting in my chair and cringing: “Um, you know, that word actually... oh, nevermind.”

Anatomy of a sword
The Anatomy of a Sword
What you have just witnessed is a shortened version of a very complex mental train-wreck of thought. As I heard the last word in her sentence pronounced as the oh-so-common two syllables, what I wanted to say was this (picture me in a tweed professorial jacket as I speak deferentially of etymology and linguistics):

“You know, what you have stumbled upon is actually a very common and interesting mispronunciation of the word ‘forte.’ You see, it all stems from a misunderstanding of the obscure French origin of the word in this use in combination with the much more frequently seen Italian musical term of the same spelling. Indeed even more so due to the somewhat synonymous meaning of the words. When you intend to use the word as a description of your strengths you are actually invoking a French fencing reference that describes the strongest point of a sword: the ‘forte,’ (pronounced like ‘fort’). Weaknesses similarly are described using the word for the weakest point of the sword: the ‘foible.’ Therefore, fortes and foibles = strengths and weaknesses. The Italian version, pronounced ‘fortay,’ is the musical reference for playing loudly or strongly, thereby explaining the confusion especially among people with a musical background. It's really quite amusing, isn't it? I said isn't it?”

I’m sure it doesn’t take much imagination to envision the blank and/or glazed looks I would get had I actually let that come out of my mouth. Hence the abbreviated version that started with ‘Um’ and ended with ‘nevermind.’ And because this pronunciation of the word is so very common, if I try to use the term correctly people give me that smug look that is tantamount to pointing fingers and laughing that the grammar nazi got something wrong. Either they try to correct me, at which point I have to go into the long explanation given above and the glaze goes over the eyes, or they just sit there looking smug, at which point I FEEL like I have to go into the long explanation given above and the glaze goes over the eyes.

So, over time, I have just made myself avoid using this term at all and even make myself choke back the lofty correction I so yearn to deliver. The phase “Blank is/is not my forte’ has been forever lost to my conversational repertoire, and sometimes I do lament its passing while cursing the English teacher who pointed this out to me in high school. Perhaps this is one case where ignorance might have been bliss.

The First Fist Pump
The First Fist Pump Ever.

The Solution:

And this is where I decide that constantly ignoring this abuse of language is just as bad as condoning it (not to mention that I selfishly just want to be able to use this phrase again without entering into the above conflict). To kick off this campaign which I shall code name "May The 'Forte' Be With You", I have shared this knowledge with you, my lovely readers and fellow writers and language lovers, in the hope that you will all go forth and spread the word, educating the masses and freeing me from my vocabulary paralysis.

If we put our minds to it, together WE CAN TAKE BACK THE FORTE!!!!!!!!

Until then, my friends, May The 'Forte' Be With You.'


  1. I'm sitting at my desk holding in the laughs as much as possible. This is fantastic. Where do I sign up at?

    (Ending sentences with prepositions is my own personal 'forte'. Only I do it on purpose from time to time in hopes of finding another like-minded person but have yet to succeed.)

  2. Jen – that is one of the hang-ups I also have! I go to huge pains to avoid it in writing, but when you’re speaking do you ever notice that you let more of them through just because conversationally the ‘through which’ or ‘by which’, etc, sound unnatural and pompous? Sometimes it’s hard to find a way to phrase things in which they don’t sound to surreal.

    One of my other HUGE hang-ups is typos. This is the first blog I typed fully on my Nook and now I’m learning the evils of a touch screen in combination with auto-correct. I am at my desk now and just re-read my blog. Holy crap. I think I fixed all of the typos now, but I my favorite one was where the sentence that was supposed to read ‘looking smug’ became ‘looking smut.’ Second to that would be the substitution of ‘wear’ for ‘where’, but nowhere near the giggle value.

    Thanks for coming by!

  3. Oh man I have totally used that expression!!! Ha ha ha ha ha ha...oh this is too perfect though. I can just imagine. I hate when people use words like that when they are so damn wrong. For my next blog post though, I might just use that word forte for the sheer morbid fun of it. Hehe.

  4. When I'm not using it incorrectly on purpose I make sure to use it properly in speech just so I can look like that pompous moron. I'm super popular, dontchaknow. Honestly though I don't think most people even notice either way.

    I also hate typos. I really should have been an editor. And kudos to you for typing on a Nook - I want to throw my Kindle across the room most of the time because I hate that darn touchscreen.

    I'll never forget when a co-worker actually put in an email that 'so-and-so PASSED WAY'. As in they died. It was not a typo. Fantastic stuff.

    How about 'a whole nother'? It takes so much for me to not say 'Come on. You seriously just said NOTHER.' It's not even a word.

    And don't even get me started on 'irregardless'.

    Wow. I have some deep-seeded grammar issues it seems.

  5. Haha, Nicole! I think you should include 'forte' as one of the words in your writing prompts. It's too bad there isn't a live reading for those :-) One of my favorite wrong words is 'pacifically' when people mean 'specifically.' Can you believe how often that one occurs?

    And Jen - It is SO funny that you mention 'whole nother' I had to post about that one a while back! Check out this one - http://ashleychappell.blogspot.com/2012/02/why-you-should-send-hate-mail-to.html

  6. I turned forte five this year! LOL

    Good one, Ashley. I shall spread thy word. :D

  7. Awesome, Diane! My first avowed disciple! This is the way in which super villain armies are made ;-)

  8. LOL. I don't think I've ever used 'forte' in one of my manuscripts, but now you have me wondering. Hmm...

  9. Write it away! If this phrase were only used in writing my teeth wouldn't be constantly set to grinding. If I see it in writing, I read it with the correct pronunciation regardless of what the writer meant. At least this frustration of mine is just a phonetic one :-)

  10. I don't like how people use "cement" to describe a floor. "So and so fell dead on the cement floor." What they really mean is concrete. Cement is an ingredient in concrete and requires other things to induce a chemical reaction creating the substance floors are made of.

  11. Guilty! But I will never, ever do it again. I completely feel your pain. For me, the use of "drug" as the past tense for drag has me wanting to stick hot pokers in my eyes. I don't care if TV pundits getting the big bucks to know better say it. IT'S WRONG! THE PAST TENSE FOR DRAG IS D-R-A-G-G-E-D! DRAGGED! Oh, my. So sorry about that. As you can see, even speaking about it is upsetting. So I'll take on forte if you'll be the drag/dragged nazi. ;)

  12. Hi, my name is Elizabeth and I have been using forte wrong for 30 some years.

    (you realize, I use it correctly and people will think I am building myself a structure to hide in thereby feeding rumors that I'm off my rocker?)

  13. Michael - that is a good one! Although I have to admit it's one that I was guilty of until we had to buy about 400 lbs of the stuff when we set the posts for the fence. The memory still makes my muscles burn...

    Jayne - I will happily carry the drag/dragged torch for you! I'd love to include any statement using the past tense which uses the word 'done' though... (ie, "We done tried that")

  14. @Jen Chatfield...are you really ending them in a preposition...or is that preposition being used as an adverb?

  15. Elizabeth - you just nailed the reason why I've refused to use the word for so long! This might be a small revolution, but hopefully our movement will inspire grammar guerrillas all over the country :-)

  16. Anonymous11:16 AM

    This is hysterical. :D One of my last classes in college was "The History of the English Language," and we had dozens of classes with such faux pas. It was quite hilarious. I shall never use the word "forte" again without thinking of this.... :D

  17. Great post. I used to (ok, still do) drive myself nuts with stuff like this. Like you, it seems, language itself interests me but knowledge = not bliss. So, I make myself feel better by reminding myself that the language is a live beast and ever-evolving...

  18. Veronika, thanks for stopping by! I think a class like that would give me all kinds of new language fails to irritate me. It’s like a hole in your tooth - it doesn’t bother you until you know it’s there, then you can’t keep your tongue out of it. Wait... is that how I really wanted that to sound?

    Jessica – it’s nice to meet you! And right you that knowledge is not bliss. On the evolution of language - Someone recently gave me this thought to chew over (though admittedly I wanted to spit it out): Once a grammatical error is common enough it begins a two-step process. 1) It receives entry into the dictionary as informal and 2) it will then, legitimized through this acceptance of poor usage, eventually usurp the correct usage entirely. His attitude was ‘Why fight it?’

    No sir, I will not accept defeat so easily as that. This is also something that left me broken and dejected recently, resulting in this post: Why You Should Send Hate Mail To Dictionary Editors

    Thanks so much to all for the feedback!! This has been a fun conversation full of great points :-)

  19. I am ashamed to say I have this problem! Great post. I too have my own grammatical pet peeves. I wrote a ranting post once about incorrect uses of the word "literally" in prose. No, your heart did not "literally" fly out of your chest. Gross. haha. Have a great weekend!

  20. Hi Amanda, and welcome to the grammar resistance! :-)

    And YES that one is always so annoying. I mean, like, it LITERALLY kills me when I see that! ;-)

  21. So is it okay to tell the kids they can build a "fortay" in the back yard?

    Dang it!

    ;-) A.

  22. Ashley said it's a "hangup" with her - it ought not to be! I take umbrage at all those mispronunciations I hear, the misspellings I see, the incorrect and sloppy usage that is rampant.

    It's hard not to bite one's tongue when these things come up.

    People need to make it their forte to learn how to speak and think and write (etc.) properly!

    I'm right there with you,

  23. Love your last line. Hilarious! There are so many grammatical things that drive me crazy and make me want to correct the person. Good for you - take back the forte!

  24. Anna - I think you should totally do it! Then paint musical symbols all over the sides of it... best visual pun ever :-)

    George - I think later this week I'm going to have to write a post about WHY I'm such a logophile and why I get so aggravated by the steady decay of proper English. It's time I write a positive grammar-related post for a change :-)

    Missy - I've been reading through your site - great stuff! I want every parent I know to see it. There is far too little thinking in parenting today, and this comes on the heels of the viral video of the parents shoving their child into a front loading LOCKING washing machine for fun at a laundromat. Thanks for coming by and following!!


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