Forte and Forebearer: Let’s Get This Straight
Some time ago, I posted an article on homophones that begin with f. Among those were forebear, which we often confuse with the verb forbear, and forte. Both words have been the source of some controversy, so I thought I’d give them a little more attention. There’s also another set of homonyms that I failed to include: forgo and forego.
Forebear or Forebearer?
There’s some debate about the validity of forebearer as a word. Some argue that it is merely an ignorant mispronunciation of the noun forebear (they mean the same). But this mistake was first recorded in the mid-1800s and has been repeated so often since that that many dictionaries now recognize it. Some list forebearer “an uncommon variant of forebear.” To be safe, I’d stick with forebear, as in “One of my forebears was a Supreme Court justice.”
How to Pronounce Forte
Until recently, I always pronounced forte with two syllables: for-TAY. But, technically, that’s only the correct way to pronounce the musical term meaning “loud.” The everyday usage meaning “area of strength or expertise” is more correctly pronounced fort. Seriously. I’d always heard it pronounced for-TAY. Of course, because this mispronunciation has become so common, it is now listed as a secondary pronunciation in several dictionaries.
So, if you want to impress people with your knowledge (a.k.a., be obnoxious), feel free to pronounce it fort and then scoff when someone says, “I thought it was pronounced for-TAY.”
The correct pronunciation of obscure words is my forte.
Forgo and Forego
Thanks to Mark Nichol’s article on these words in his Daily Writing Tips blog.
Forgo means to go without. Forego means to go before. It’s easy to confuse these homophones, but the use of forego is quite rare. Much more common are its forms foregone (as in foregone conclusion) and foregoing. One almost never sees the past form forewent.
- On Fridays during Lent, many Catholics forgo meat.
- Pay attention to the foregoing statement.
And now, some alliterative nonsense for your enjoyment:
Far from Fargo, I foraged in the florid forbidden forest, then forged on to ford a fiord. Fluid formed on my forehead and forearms as I formed a formula. Faced with a foregone future, I forgot my fated fortune. Fed by fortitude, I forbore fun and fortune and fled to the fort to follow my forbears. Forensics was not my forte.
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