Niche.

During Thanksgiving dinner (and I wish a happy Thanksgiving to all of my readers who celebrate it today), it somehow came up that three of the people at the table differentiated between the pronunciations of niche, using “nitch” for a recess in a wall and “neesh” for (in the words of Merriam-Webster) “a place, employment, status, or activity for which a person or thing is best fitted.” I myself use “nitch” in all senses; I was aware that a lot of people said “neesh,” but was astonished to find this bifurcated use, and am curious to know if others among you do the same thing (or differentiate them otherwise).

It also turned out that two of the three distinguished the two pronunciations of patronize, using the long a (pate-ronize) for “frequent (a store, theater, restaurant, or other establishment) as a customer” and the short a (pat-ronize) for “treat with an apparent kindness that betrays a feeling of superiority,” so if you differentiate those I would like to hear about it as well (and, in fact, any similar pairs that come to mind).

Comments

  1. Permit. Emphasis on the first syllable for a document, second syllable for the verb. But I’ve heard the latter form for the document sense too.

  2. UKian/Saffian:
    [niːʃ] in all senses. Interestingly the OED gives [nɪtʃ] as its first option; to me this sounds decidedly old-fashioned.

    [ˈpætrənaɪz] is my pronunciation in all senses though [ˈpeitrənaɪz] for your first sense is certainly not unusual. Perhaps the distinction is becoming more common via the influence of TV restaurant shows where the word [peitrən] is very often used to refer to customers.

    I would consider the two different pronunciations for ‘permit’ as a noun or a verb to be standard these days.

  3. I would say “neech” in both senses, but I bifurcate the two pronunciations of patronize. Another good one is “defense”. Lawyers offer a good “duh-fence” but football teams offer great “dee-fence”. And likewise offense, which has a stress on the first syllable in the sports context, but a stress on the second syllable in the legal sense of “this is your second offense so you’ll be going to jail.”

    I have to imagine there are many similar bifurcations when context differs – surely it is always “Root” 66 even if you otherwise drive on a “rout”?

  4. A nitch is a nitch is a nitch. I do differentiate patronize — I think — but exactly in reverse of your tablemates. Pate-ronize is to condescend, while pat-ronize is to go shopping.

  5. I do differentiate patronize — I think — but exactly in reverse of your tablemates. Pate-ronize is to condescend, while pat-ronize is to go shopping.

    I share your instincts; if I were to differentiate them, that is how I would do it. (I’m pretty sure I use the long vowel in all contexts, though I suspect I may occasionally throw in the short-a version for unknown reasons.)

  6. I do differentiate patronize — I think — but exactly in reverse of your tablemates. Pate-ronize is to condescend, while pat-ronize is to go shopping.

    No! Because obviously to pat-ronize is akin to patting someone on the head, while to pate-ronize is just being a patron to someone. No one is a pat-ron (is one? anywhere?).

    Having said that, I say peitronize for both, because obvs.

  7. I say nitch and neesh and I was not conscious of it until now.

  8. Lawyers offer a good “duh-fence” but football teams offer great “dee-fence”.

    Huh, that’s interesting. Do you happen to know anything about the history of this distinction? Because (from my position outside the US) I’ve always assumed that the sports “dee-fence” was a regionalism or other dialect feature that other speakers used as a stylistic flourish or affectation — it never occurred to me that it might be a genuine distinction.

  9. I pronounce niche as “niche” in both sense. I usually pronounce patronize with a long vowel in the first syllable (“pate-ronize”) in both senses as well, but I think (although I’m not certain about this) that when I do use the other pronuncation (“pat-ronize”) I only use it for the second sense, denoting condescension.

  10. Matt – sound change by analogy is common. It is common in English for nouns to see stress on the first syllable and verbs on the second when they could be confused (see “permit” or “repeat”). Perhaps the frequent sports usage of “defensive”, “offensive”, or even the verb “defensed” (to bat down a pass in basketball or football), all of which see stress on the second syllable, led to the shift? I don’t know precisely, however.

    (And it is certainly not a regionalism – I would be surprised to hear any sports fan in the US pronounce “offense” and “defense” without stress on the first syllable)

  11. I do distinguish the two senses of patronize in that way, though it’s a distinction that I learned explicitly as a teenager rather than one I absorbed naturally. Until then I’d pronounced them both as “PATE-ronize”.

    Niche I’ve never been sure of; I used to pronounce it “nitch”, but then I encountered the “neesh” pronunciation, which left me feeling insecure about it. I think that I still pronounce “ecological niche” or “evolutionary niche” with the “nitch” pronunciation, and that I simply avoid uses like “niche market” where I might be tempted to pronounce it “neesh”.

  12. [nɪtʃ] for recess in a wall; [niyʃ] for the other one. In ‘patronize’ it seems I use [ey] in rapid speech but when I have a second to think about it I use the one with [æ].

  13. So the model is, in a sociolinguistic context where the nouns “defense” and “offense” were commonly used in close proximity to related words like “defensive”, “defensed” etc., they eventually succumbed to the “perMIT”/”PERmit” pattern? That makes sense.

    How about the military, another field where you might expect people to talk a lot about defending things? Would anyone say “National DE-fense”, or is “DE-fense” strictly limited to sport?

    Incidentally, regarding the nouns “permit” and “repeat,” I only have first-syllable stress for the former, although I do recognize “RE-peat” (it sounds strongly USian to me).

  14. I always say “neesh”. I ran into a nitcher the old day, and it seemed very odd to me. I do differentiate “patronize”, although I didn’t become conscious of it until I read this discussion.

    Ilya y: There are quite a few words that are accented differently depending on whether they are used as a noun or a verb. “Recess” is another example. I could come up with lots more if I thought about it for a while.

    The only time I heard per-MIT used as a noun is in an old WC Fields movie: “Have you a per-MIT to make applejack?”

  15. I say /nɪʃ/ (“nish”) in both senses, a hybrid pronunciation apparently peculiar to me; at least, no one has admitted to it and no dictionary I know of lists it. I always use “paytronize”, but have no settled pronunciation for patronage; however, I do remember this dialogue:

    Paytronage, pattronage, as you please.”

    “You seldom get one without the other.”

  16. When I (very unhelpfully) said that I pronounce niche as “niche”, what I meant was that I pronounce it as “neesh”.

  17. (Oh, I forgot to answer the question about my pronuniciation – “neesh” for both senses, “patronize” to rhyme with “cat denies” for both senses. Level them all; Grice will know his own.)

  18. I think of “pat-ronize” as British, so it would make sense that people would have that pronunciation for condescending. Because British people seem to do that more than others 😛

    I think I use “nitch” for the ecological kind and “neesh” when it’s an adjective. Otherwise, I probably mix the two.

    I’ve never thought about DEfense vs deFENSE, but apparently I distinguish them. I would say that the folks from the DeFENSE Department offered a good DEfense when attacked. A good deFENSE is something lawyers might provide. But ofFENSE is only something you take when slighted, everything else is OFfense.

    “Route” is another interesting one. It’s usually a “root” when I’m rock climbing, but always a “rout” in computer contexts (because root is a different thing there.) Otherwise, again, I mix them.

  19. “Neesh” for both meanings, but open to “nitch” as an old-fashioned variant for the recess in a wall. I associate niches in walls (while they’re found in modern buildings too) with the monumental walls of castles and gothic / baroque churches, city walls, and the like; so in turn associate them with the practice, perceived now as old-fashioned, of drastically anglicising the pronunciation of foreign words. Cf the “English pronunciation” of Latin, the southern French city pronounced as Mar-SAYLZ, etc. Or vel sim.

  20. George Gibbard says:

    US (Michigan) speaker here: yes, “DE-fense” is limited to sports (which we do not call “sport”).

    I would be surprised to hear any sports fan in the US pronounce “offense” and “defense” without stress on the first syllable

    Right. “The best [dəˈfɛns] is a good [əˈfəns]” just doesn’t make sense. Or can it? I’ve tried to come up with a joke using this but failed. It would seem to have to be about the law/courts.

  21. “The best [dəˈfɛns] is a good [əˈfɛns]” just doesn’t make sense. Or can it?

    Hmm, even I would put the stress on DE- and O- for that one, but I’d consider that a case of intentional stress-shifting of a piece with “UN-American? More like FUN-American” and the like.

  22. I use neesh in both senses. I think I use pat-ronise in both senses, but pate-ronise doesn’t sound wrong in either. In patronising, though, I believe I have a preference for pate-, but I’m really not sure.

    I’ve never heard REpeat, it’s rePEAT as both noun and verb round these parts.

    kb and Matt: My story about DE-fence and OF-fence would be not so much proximity to defensive and offensive etc., but proximity to each other, and the resulting need to distinguish. On the basis of no research whatsoever and about one minute’s thought, offence is an antonym of defence mainly in American sports (or even only in American football? – don’t know): in law it’s defence – prosecution, in soccer (I think) you have the defence (or defenders) and attackers. In military terms, defence-attack seems a more natural opposition, (though you’ve got “put up a stout defence” vs “launch an offensive”). So the idea is, outside American sports, offence only means insult or transgression, and so confusion between defence and offence doesn’t threaten, hence no need for fossilised contrastive stress.

  23. “nitch” for everything except perfumes (“neesh”), where there’s a designer/niche dichotomy (or a designer/niche/indie trichotomy, from the Greek word for hair-splitting) (a ‘niche’ house’s main product is fragrances)

  24. George Gibbard says:

    trichotomy, from the Greek word for hair-splitting

    hee hee hee!

  25. “neesh” always. “pat-ronise” always.
    I pronounce cache as “cash” always, but one of my work collegues pronounces cache as “caysh” when used in a programming context, which sounds American to me..

  26. Eli Nelson says:

    Always “nitch” (which I somewhat consciously have chosen as my preferred pronunciation) and “pate-tronize.” Permit is split based on stress between the noun and the verb.

  27. I use “neesh” and “pay-tronize” for all senses – my impression until now was that those are simply cases of transatlantic divergence. But if I had to distinguish two pronunciations for each, I think I would more intuitively align with Hat’s tablemates than with the reverse. One word where I do draw such a distinction, though, is “patent”: I use “pattent” for the intellectual property thing (both noun and verb), but “paytent”in the sense of “obvious”, as in “patently untrue”.

    For “défense” and “éffense” – yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if they started out as regionalisms, but nowadays they’re truly the standard pronunciations in a sporting context. It would sound really weird if someone talked about the “defénse” and “offénse” in an American football game.

  28. David Eddyshaw says:

    Neesh and paytronise, in all senses.

    My family all say pattronise in all senses and mock my usage. How glad I am to find I am not alone! (Well, in the usage, I mean. Perhaps not so much the mockery.)

  29. I say “neesh”, the French way (isn’t it a French word ? une niche).

  30. William Safire did DEfense & OFFense in his Sunday NY Times column about thirty years ago. I’ve forgotten his conclusion, but my own theory is that sports commentators & a few others started emphasising the first syllable to better distinguish which fence they were discussing.

    My theory with patronise is that the pronunciation changed according to changes in Latin pronunciation. As a very young child I always pay-tronised everyone, but later our Latin master insisted on a ‘pat’ for pater.

    Ee-conomic (adj) and echo-nomics (n) are another pair.

  31. CALD says “UK /niːʃ/ US /nɪtʃ/”, which conforms to my prejudices. I use only /niːʃ/, but then for me a recess is a “nook” not a “niche”. Are there speakers who Frenchify “homage” in the “artistic hat-tip” sense but not in the “bend the knee” sense?

    separatedbyacommonlanguage on “patroni[zs]e”. I have hat’s pronunciation distinction; hoever, I think I mainly restrict myself to the ‘talk down to’ sense and would use another wording for the ‘customer’ sense. Perhaps I don’t trust a listener to choose the correct sense based on my pronunciation; perhaps I am aware not everyone makes the same distinction. Perhaps.

    My research on OFFense/DEfence replicates Breffni’s results. RE-peat is the basis of three-peat, which is to my mind one of the most American words imaginable, alongside “cheesesteak”.

    Wikipedia list of noun-verb stress pairs

  32. “caysh”

    That’s not American, that’s Idiosyncratic.

  33. neesh and paytronize almosr always .o0{ I may accomodate }. Perhaps DEEfence arose as a repetitive group chant by the fans (fanatics) to encourage the defending team. That and there actually are two teams per patron, called offence and defence, that switch back and forth during the game. The professional teams have a third sub-team for special plays.

  34. Polish & polish.

  35. Only ‘neesh.’ Might be a Canadian thing. Patronize: Short ‘a’ if condescending, long if favoring a particular store, restaurant, etc. Many petrolheads, of course, know of Le Patron.

    Route: It’s ‘Root 66’ for me, but usually a delivery ‘rowt’. This came up at the Hattery a year or so ago.

  36. Jeffry House says:

    “But my own theory is that sports commentators & a few others started emphasising the first syllable to better distinguish which fence they were discussing.”

    I think it might be a crowd thing. When your team is back on its haunches defending the goal line, crowds chant “DE-fence, DE-fence” to make it emphatic. In my limited experience (though I WAS raised in Green Bay, Wisconsin) the crowds began it before the announcers took it up.

  37. col. squiffy von bladet (ret.) says:

    I say “scone”.

  38. 1. “Patronise” is pat-ronise in both senses.

    2. I think I once used nitch for all senses but at some stage picked up neesh for markets, etc. I’m not sure I’d talk about nitches in walls very much and I’d probably find myself confused — nitch sounds comically uncultured but neesh sounds wrong.

    Incidentally, I’m curious to know how people say ‘sachet’. I say satchett, but most people I know say sashay, which sounds affected to me.

  39. Definitely “sashay” for me – I’ve never heard the other one. Likewise, I say “cache” as “cash”, and have never heard the version that Prufrax mentions.

    One word that flummoxes me is “cadre” – before I learned that it wasn’t Spanish I pronounced /ˈkɑːdɹeɪ/ (which, to be fair, I’ve heard even from professors), but now I don’t know if it should be /ˈkædrǝ/, /ˈkɑːdrǝ/, /ˈkædri/, /ˈkɑːdri/, /ˈkɑːdǝr/, /ˈkeɪdǝr/ or God knows what else.

  40. /niːʃ/, /ˈpætrənaɪz/, /dɪˈfɛns/ in all contexts.

    /ˈdɪfɛns/ sounds to me as marked as /ˈpɵ.liːs/.

  41. the practice, perceived now as old-fashioned, of drastically anglicising the pronunciation of foreign words. Cf the “English pronunciation” of Latin, the southern French city pronounced as Mar-SAYLZ, etc. Or vel sim.

    You’re only seeing one side of the picture; because you personally pronounce it the Frenchy way, you lump the anglicized way in with Mar-SAYLZ. To those of us who say nitch, the people who say neesh sound like they’re saying Pa-RREEE instead of Paris. English has words both anglicized and un-, and you can’t just arbitrarily assign the former to the “old-fashioned” category.

    One word that flummoxes me is “cadre” – before I learned that it wasn’t Spanish I pronounced /ˈkɑːdɹeɪ/ (which, to be fair, I’ve heard even from professors), but now I don’t know if it should be /ˈkædrǝ/, /ˈkɑːdrǝ/, /ˈkædri/, /ˈkɑːdri/, /ˈkɑːdǝr/, /ˈkeɪdǝr/ or God knows what else.

    An excellent addition to the thread! I say /ˈkædri/; I have certainly heard /ˈkɑːdɹeɪ/, but to me it sounds hyperforeignized (like BeiZHing for Beijing).

  42. /ˈdɪfɛns/ sounds to me as marked as /ˈpɵ.liːs/.

    You mean /ˈdi:fɛns/; I’m pretty sure nobody on earth says /ˈdɪfɛns/.

  43. trichotomy, from the Greek word for hair-splitting

    آفرين! Brava, bravissima!

    I say neesh in the metaphorical sense and don’t use the literal sense. I say /’kædər/ for cadre, treating both as recent French loans—I’m open to correction as to whether they actually are.

  44. (like BeiZHing for Beijing).

    I had a (white American) boss who insisted on saying Balazhi for Balaji on the grounds that even if Balaji himself didn’t pronounce it that way, it was only out of not understanding how exotic his name was. I have heard newscasters do Razhiv Gandhi too.

  45. I say /niːʃ/ for all senses of the word, and wasn’t aware of the phonetic disambiguation.

  46. I say “nitch” everywhere. “Cadre” is universally “caddry” in the US Army (or was in 1969-71), and I’m always annoyed when people (e.g. Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now) rhyme it with “padre.”

  47. “Cadre” is universally “caddry” in the US Army (or was in 1969-71)

    I believe that kahdray was a shibboleth for anti-war activists of the Marxist or semi-Marxist persuasion during that time.

  48. Ah, that may be why it makes me itch.

  49. The etymology of cadre is curious. It first landed, as far as the OED knows, in 1832, in the work of Sir Walter Scott of all places, where it is used in the sense of ‘scheme, framework’. It is indeed French (from Italian quadro), and in that language means ‘picture frame’, but also ‘the skeleton of a regiment, to be filled up (as a frame is filled with a picture) by recruitment as needed’. This latter sense lands in English in 1851; note that it refers to a group, not to an individual member of it. The application of it to workers (and by implication political agents) doesn’t appear until 1930, and at that point may (I conjecture) be a reborrowing of Russian ка́дры. Two-thirds of the AHD’s Usage Panel had adopted the “kahdray” pronunciation by 1996. Various dictionaries also give “kaddry”, “kadder”, “kaddri”, and other pronunciations.

  50. I try not to say “niche” any more than I have to; both pronunciations embarrass me a little.

    Long A in patronize for me. Short A sounds OK in the condescension sense, but in the other sense it would startle me and sound British.

  51. Sashura and marie-lucie did a good job of explaining cadres back in 2010.

  52. Patronise could be a Brit/Am thing. I (a Brit) say pat- in both senses. But somehow pate- for the customer-of sense seems less grating. Probably influence from patron.

    Bonny Raitt singing ‘I can’t make you love me’ always gives me goose-bumps until she gets to that word … then I gag. I have to listen to Brit singers’ covers. (Plug for Mary Coughlan’s version – Irish.)

  53. Wiktionary reckons cache is “caysh” in Australian, apparently: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/cache
    (Still doesn’t explain where my non-australian colleague picked it up from!)

  54. Yeah, I’m Australian and when I first heard the “cash” pronunciation I thought my interlocutor was actually saying “cash” and it was some IT jargon I hadn’t learned yet.

  55. Could DE-fense be an “announcer’s voice” adaptation from the early days of radio? I find I say du-fense for both Department of Defense and defense lawyer; however that first vowel has almost vanished – it’s closer to d’fense.

  56. LH: You’re only seeing one side of the picture; because you personally pronounce it the Frenchy way, you lump the anglicized way in with Mar-SAYLZ. To those of us who say nitch, the people who say neesh sound like they’re saying Pa-RREEE instead of Paris. English has words both anglicized and un-, and you can’t just arbitrarily assign the former to the “old-fashioned” category.

    I totally agree – I could have been clearer that my chain of associations (“nitch” -> designates thing from bygone era -> uses pronunciation tradition from bygone era) was purely personal, and I wasn’t invoking the “others use subjective impressions, I use hard facts” principle.

  57. vrai.cabecou says:

    UM-brella and IN-surance when I’m in the South, um-BRELL-a and in-SUR-ance when I’m in the North 🙂

  58. According to the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary:

    For “niche”, the main British pronunciation is niːʃ, with nɪtʃ also used; only nɪtʃ is used in American pronunciation. According to a 1998 poll panel for British English, the preference was 95% niːʃ and 5% nɪtʃ.

    For “patronise/patronize”, the British pronunciation is ˈpætr ə naɪz, and the American pronunciation is ˈpeɪtr ə naɪz with ˈpætr- also used. According to a 1993 poll panel for American English, the preference was 64% ˈpeɪtr- and 36% ˈpætr-; according to a 1998 poll panel for British English, the preference was 97% ˈpætr- and 3% ˈpeɪtr-.

    Flipping through this dictionary at random, I found some interesting pronunciation distinctions by meaning:

    Some speakers may distinguish “contemplative” with stress on the second syllable (with reference to monks and nuns) and on the first syllable in the sense of “pensive”.
    As the plural of “opus”, “opera” is sometimes pronounced with ˈoʊ-.
    “Pension” gets a pseudo-French pronunciation for the meaning “boarding-house”.
    For “slough”, some Americans distinguish sluː in the literal sense and slaʊ in the figurative sense.

    And for your entertainment, there is this bit on Late Night with Seth Meyers on the pronunciation of “homage” (for the record, the LPD only recognizes ˈhɒm ɪdʒ/ˈhɑːm-).

  59. La Horde Listener says:

    Insurance. I pronounce this “in-SHOOR-ince”. Of course we all know the proper way to say it is to step back, dramatically extend the right arm straight out, flourish thumb and forefinger in pincer stance, swoop the right hand over the nose (the left arm held steadily aloft as though to ward away assailants), kneel slightly, pinch both nostrils closed firmly, grimace dramatically and honk “INNNNN N N N-shoor-ince”. Heck yeah. [Fade up Battle Hymn of the Republic.]

  60. Bathrobe, I say “sa-SHAY” — although I would actually usually say “packet” or sonething because I do feel a bit silly saying “Can you pass the sa-SHAY of Tandoori powder” etc.

    How do you say “cachet”?

  61. My bugbear is hegemony. I always stumble over how to pronounce this is English and often find myself defaulting to a French or, even worse, Greek, pronunciation and appearing a pretentious idiot.

  62. Huh. I was going to say that I don’t know where to stress it, but the first dictionary I looked at listed both options I had in mind. I guess it’s like “antimony.”

  63. As the plural of “opus”, “opera” is sometimes pronounced with ˈoʊ-.

    A dusty voice in my head is squeaking “False quantity! False quantity!” And another voice is muttering “No, you’re thinking of Operah Winifrey.”

  64. Does anyone else use /ʒ/ in equation except when it means “act of equating”, when it’s /ʃ/? But where did the /ʒ/ come from in the first place? It’s not equasion.

  65. Yes, I do that too.

  66. Greg Pandatshang says:

    Funny you mention that: I was thinking about “niche” recently. I have [nɪtʃ] always for the noun if it refers to a physical place; and [niːʃ] always for the adjective; but for the noun in its figurative sense, usually [nɪtʃ] but sometimes [niːʃ]. I sometimes feel annoyed by other people’s use of [niːʃ] even I use it myself at other times.

  67. I use /ʒ/ in equation under all circumstances.

  68. As a Canadian, I always pronounce niche as if it were a French word.

    On the Anglicization of French words, I long ago read an anecdote about Oscar Wilde: In London salons, the English thought his French quite dreadful; in Paris society, it received nothing but praise.

  69. “I think of “pat-ronize” as British, so it would make sense that people would have that pronunciation for condescending. Because British people seem to do that more than others” … Any chance, E, of losing the casual nastiness? It doesn’t make it okay to put a smiley face at the end. Try substituting some other group and see how it sounds.

  70. David Marjanović says:

    But where did the /ʒ/ come from in the first place? It’s not equasion.

    I have long been wondering.

  71. Yes, that’s a good question now that it’s called to my attention.

  72. I had no idea there were any English speakers in the world who still use the “recess in a wall” meaning at all…

  73. Adrian Morgan – our shower has a “niche” like this one:
    http://www.tileredi.com/redi-niche-recessed-shower-shelves?gclid=CKSz5qvTtMkCFYIaHwoduZcEug

    although not as pretty. And I call it the “nitch.”

    But I say neesh to describe the ecological place of a species in the environment.

  74. Architects, at least those in the United States, use niche to mean a recess in a wall. As far as I know, all but one of them say ‘neesh’.

  75. > As the plural of “opus”, “opera” is sometimes pronounced with ˈoʊ-.

    A dusty voice in my head is squeaking “False quantity! False quantity!” And another voice is muttering “No, you’re thinking of Operah Winifrey.”

    Well, the traditional pronunciation of Latin words in English uses long vowels for stressed penultimate open syllables regardless of the original quantity in Latin, so ŏpus usually gets ˈoʊ- in English (though for British English, the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary gives ˈɒ- as an alternative possibility). Stressed antepenultimate open syllables usually get a short vowel in English, hence the usual ˈɒ- for “opera”.

    So the usual pronunciations of “opus” and “opera”, where the stressed vowel is long in the former and short in the latter, are entirely regular (also see “genus” and “genera”). But such cases of quantity-shifting plurals being rare in English, it is understandable that speakers who are conscious of using “opera” as a plural for “opus” would use the long vowel for the singular as well. This is probably the same reason that “codices” is more often pronounced with a long vowel, just as in “codex” (the original vowel actually is long in Latin in this case, but as I said, the original Latin vowel quantity is disregarded in traditional English pronunciation).

  76. Like JC, I say ‘nish’ in both cases and have no idea where I got it.

    Speaking of cadre, since when has ‘troop’ been singular? In my English it has always been collective, like ‘troupe’.

    Google’m.

  77. Googl’em?

  78. Googl’em?

  79. Who doubled dat? I didn’t.

  80. I say ‘neesh’, just as I say ‘kleek’ for clique, because I’d read the words before I ever heard them spoken.

  81. For me, “troop” can be either a collective (as in a troop of clowns) or a plurale tantum: I can call a group of soldiers troops, but I wouldn’t call an individual soldier a troop.

  82. It’s been a thing for a while now. The count noun troop at Language Log a decade ago.

  83. >since when has ‘troop’ been singular?

    I remember being confused as a child by hearing that 50,000 American troops (or some large number) were in Vietnam, and wondered why they mentioned the number of troops (groups) instead of soldiers. That would have been about 1968.

  84. David Marjanović says:

    The count noun troop at Language Log a decade ago.

    I’m very surprised that “people in the Navy, Marines, and Air Force (probably also Reservists, though I haven’t actually seen this) object to soldiers as a cover term for members of the U.S. Armed Services, since they see the word as referring only to the Army”. What else are they? “Warriors”?

  85. Alon Lischinsky says:

    @David Marjanović: I believe serviceman (or serviceperson, if gender neutrality is desired) is the cover term of choice

  86. I’d say that “service members” (or the wordier “servicemen and women”) is the go-to form, with some occasional poetic use of “warriors”, as in the Wounded Warriors Program. It’s pretty well established here that soldiers are exclusive to the Army – regular people might refer to a Marine as a soldier (though they’re liable to be corrected for it), but it largely wouldn’t even occur to them to describe sailors or airmen as soldiers.

  87. I’ve also seen “warfighters”, but that seems to be confined to Defense Department jargon, with no currency in general usage.

  88. “Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor” has very deep roots (Congreve uses a version of it in 1695 in a way that makes it clear it was well-known then), and indeed, not all sailors are members of the Navy: some belong to the merchant service. But in either case they are not soldiers.

  89. Warfighter at the Log. I too dislike it, but it isn’t going away.

  90. Could native speakers of any other European language debate the correct way to read, or pronounce, their words? This total lack of rules is amazing, almost incomprehensible to someone like me–how can people not be sure how they should read their own words? Isn’t this a problem solved for life after the second grade? How can there be two correct ways to read or say a word? But then again this is English for you, flexible to a paranoid extent. Oh well, better for me, if everything goes, why should I bother?

  91. Hat: There are things that are important beyond all this fiddle. Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in it after all a place for the genuine.

    Ariadne: Not only is English an intensely polycentric language (that is, there is no socially dominant pronunciation), but for the vast majority of words that educated people learn (namely from books), pronunciation is not readily determined from the spelling, which surely explains why I say niche to rhyme with wish.

  92. David Marjanović says:

    Airmen. Huh.

    I thought sailor was a rank in the Navy, presumably the lowest one.

    Could native speakers of any other European language debate the correct way to read, or pronounce, their words?

    In German to a much smaller extent, and in French with proper names. I think that’s pretty much it.

  93. No, the lowest rank in English-speaking navies is seaman.

  94. Twelve years ago the US Army decreed that Soldier must be capitalized. The reason, of course, was 9/11:

    “The change gives Soldiers the respect and importance they’ve always deserved, especially now in their fight against global terrorism,” stated an October directive from Office of the Chief of Public Affairs, Department of the Army.

    http://www.military.com/NewContent/0,13190,122303_Soldier,00.html

  95. Ariadne, may I introduce you to Norwegian, which has two official written versions, two unofficial written versions, twenty recognized dialects, and no standardized pronunciation? This in a language spoken by 5 million people.

  96. On ‘sachet’, it looks like me against 500 million or so.

    I’ve always felt that ‘sachet’ goes with things like ‘packet’, ‘pocket’, or ‘locket’, since they are similar in function.

    Cachet is, of course, cash-AY.

  97. As far as I’m concerned, sachet is sachet if it’s filled with ramen flavoring or cheese powder for macaroni and cheese, and sashay if it’s filled with lavender flowers or potpourri. But I’m pretty sure I say both nitch and neesh for most meanings of the word.

  98. I think most Americans wouldn’t use the word “sachet” with any pronunciation for something filled with ramen flavoring or cheese powder. That would be a packet. Some might use it for something filled with lavender or potpourri, but I’d say a lot of Americans don’t have it in their active vocabulary at all.

  99. I certainly don’t; in fact, I couldn’t have told you what it was, so I guess I don’t have it in my passive vocabulary either.

  100. What would you call a small paper or plastic packet filled with a single portion of salt, pepper, sugar, ketchup etc. ? The sort you would find at a food stall or fast-food restaurant. That’s the most common use of the word sachet [ˈsæʃeɪ] in the UK.

  101. I think knowledge of the word gender- and maybe age-linked; I know what a sachet is from hanging out with my mother and my wife for most of my life.

  102. @Alex: They’re just called “packets.” I know the word “sachet,” although I very seldom,if ever, use it. (It seems like decorator-speak,) I would never have thought of anything containing a foodstuff as a sachet.

  103. Of course on those rare occasions when an American uses the word it’s [sæˈʃeɪ] (same as sashay), not [ˈsæʃeɪ], showing the usual US-UK difference in stress in borrowings from French.

  104. The kind of sachets /sæˈʃeɪz/ I’m talking about are those kept in drawers to keep them smelling nice.

  105. That dredges up a faint memory… I think my mother may have used that term for that object, many years ago.

  106. *Adds to list*

    Sachet is an absolutely normal word for a small packet of condiment. I had no idea this was unknown over the pond. This explains past misunderstandings. I was thinking maybe I should have said ‘satchett’ but cowardly simply pointed instead.

  107. Alex, are there words where the US has /-eɪ/ and the US has /-ɛt/? Fillet (filet) goes the other way.

  108. Alex, are there words where the US has /-eɪ/ and the US has /-ɛt/? Fillet (filet) goes the other way.

    I think one of those should be UK but I’m not sure which.

    I’d say /ˈfɪlətə ˈfɪʃ/ but /fɪleɪ mɪnjɒn/.

  109. The ODO, which is a very handy resource for comparing BrE and AmE (within the constraints of a dictionary) gives /fɪˈleɪ/ as the only AmE pronunciation of filet, and /’fiːleɪ/ and /ˈfɪlɪt/ as alternative BrE pronunciations. The other spelling, fillet, is given as /ˈfɪlɪt/ in BrE, but either /fɪˈleɪ/ or /ˈfɪlət/ in AmE (the last would be /ˈfɪlɪt/ in AmE accents without the Weak Vowel Merger). So in practice you can say what you like:I myself say /fəˈleɪ/ for filet and /ˈfɪlət/ for fillet.

    Semantically there is no difference between the Englishes: fillet is a Middle English borrowing and is the general word, whereas filet is 19C and is pretty much confined to the names of dishes, plus another use I’ve never heard of, ‘a kind of net or lace with a square mesh’ < a different French filet ‘net’, originally (and more sensibly, I think) spelled filé.

  110. It’s funny how so many dictionaries are committed to the idea of weak-vowel-unmerged pronunciations being the norm in the US.

  111. Argh, yes, the first “US” was supposed to be “UK”. Another one that works like fil(l)et is valet.

  112. Conservatism, that’s all, like the whole idea of a “General American” accent, which hasn’t existed for half a century at least.

  113. JC: You may find this interesting then: A “filé” (φιλέ) is what women here call the net placed over hair rollers. According to my late father’s memories, it was also what football players had on their heads back in the day when men used brylcreem.

  114. AJP Crown says:

    Fillet welds, and fillet mouldings or spacings in the 5 Orders of classical architecture are, as far as I know, always spelt double-L & pronounced with the T in both the US & UK.

  115. La Horde Listener says:

    I use the term packet for common condiments (salt, pepper, ketchup, mayo, instant soup powder), chemicals (a couple of aspirin tablets) inedible dry goods items (Kleenex tissues), and reserve the term sachet for fancier substances (hand-mixed herbs, potpourri, flower petals, spices). A sachet always contains dry items. A packet always for liquids (ranch salad dressing) and some dry items (croutons, ground coffee beans). An American I roomed with briefly used to giggle when her English father said “Pass the jam pot” at the breakfast table. Lucky. That had a “Pinafore” cadence to it.

  116. Kate Bunting says:

    I (UK) say neesh for all senses. Because I know it as a French word, I also call the sleeveless jacket a zhee-lay, and corrected a friend who called hers a gillit, until I looked it up and found that both pronunciations were acceptable.
    I’ve never had occasion to say “cadre” but had always assumed that it also took the French pronunciation; a quick check of the dictionary tells me I was wrong.

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