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7 Comments

  • If it’s any consolation, there are at least three different Italian spellings for the word “tea”, that is: “tè”, “the” and “thè” – with the first one being the “preferred” option according to dictionaries.

    Anyway, to get back to your “espresso”, this could sound like some sort of linguistic nemesis but, whereas in English you can easily turn this loan word into a plural by adding an “–s” (“espressos” or “expressos”), things aren’t as straightforward in Italian. Some sources would class “espresso” as invariable, hence “2 espresso” whereas others would see it as a noun and decline it accordingly, hence “2 espressi”. In the convivial context of the Italian bar culture, this dilemma has however been effectively bypassed: customers would ask the barista for “caffè” as opposed to “espresso”, given that there’s no need to specify.

    In Italian, “espresso” recalls the idea of something “fast”, most likely from the express postal delivery and the express train service, called “espresso” in Italian too. So the “press out a liquid” meaning has somehow gone lost in this metaphor, much more than in English. As a non-native speaker of English, I’ve always found the collocation “expressing breast milk” puzzling, as we wouldn’t share it in Italian.

    Curiously, when looking up “espresso” in Italian dictionaries, most definitions make reference to “a coffee expressly prepared”, with “expressly” having the meaning of “by the customer’s specific request”.

    So, isn’t it amazing that “espresso” simultaneously carries out the meanings of “pressed out”, “quickly” and “specifically”?

    A word like this definitely deserves more than one spelling.

  • Thanks for your very interesting comment, Geraldina. It’s great to get an insight into these conventions. And I can’t help but agree with your conclusion. So many nuances and connotations add up to a surprisingly complex word: let’s allow it some orthographic variation.

  • Somewhere – perhaps here – there’s a thread about ‘latte’, which presents a similar problem.

    The purists seem to me completely wrong here. Once a word is adopted into the language it must be allowed to settle down into the sound range of English.

    This is a particularly egregious example of purism being a form of snobbery.

  • I agree, Bev. It seems especially common with foodstuffs (including coffee types), because of the great range of words imported from that domain. Articles on ‘food words you’re pronouncing wrong’ are a popular form of clickbait but seem to me just a way for some people to look down on others because they aren’t in the know about a word’s pronunciation in its original language. I’m glad to see that Macmillan’s entry for quinoa, for example, has a common anglicised pronunciation alongside the pedantically preferred form.

  • Bev, Stan: These are really interesting comments about varying prounciations, and which should be given in dictionaries. We quite often add foreign borrowings to the dictionary – most recently, words from Philippine English – and it can be quite tricky deciding which pronunciations to give and how far to try and approximate the original prounciation. I’m glad we got ‘quinoa’ right.

  • Thanks, Liz. I’m all for including as many valid options as seems appropriate! People take their cue from authorities like dictionaries (no matter how lexicographers feel about that), so when those authorities record multiple ways of saying a word, users are less likely to succumb to the One Right Way fallacy.