WORDMALL.

Another language-related blog has come to my attention: Michael Sheehan’s Wordmall. Sheehan is a retired English professor who has a radio show called “Words to the Wise,” which “covers the joys and vicissitudes of the English language,” and he covers similar material in his blog. His latest post, Bruschetta, not only covers the etymology (“The name comes from an Italian word that meant ‘to roast over coals.’ In turn, that came from a 13th century verb that meant ‘to pass a flame over the keel of a boat in order to melt the pitch and improve waterproofing’”), it has a mouth-watering picture and links to some recipes from Mario Batali. The only thing it doesn’t address is the pronunciation; I have had to force myself to get used to the near-universal American broo-SHET-uh, since my awareness of the Italian broo-SKET-tah causes me to cringe when I hear it.
A previous post, That’ll Be Three Bucks, Please, discusses the history of buck ‘dollar’ and adduces the Journal of Conrad Weiser, Esq., whose entry for September 17, 1748, after talking about sending down “Skins by the Traders to buy Rum,” says “Whiskey shall be sold to You for 5 Bucks in your Town” and mentions a man who “has been robbed of the value of 300 Bucks.” I would want to see a reasonably clear link between this use as ‘medium of trade’ and the much later ‘dollar’ sense, but it’s certainly suggestive. (By the way, the OED has eleven separate noun entries for buck; I wonder what the record is?)

Comments

  1. Sometimes our Germanic pronunciation instincts are just too overwhelming, even when Romance words are involved.

  2. Yes, it’s going the way of “maraschino cherry” (for which I’m amazed that Merriam-Webster’s has the pronunciation with /sk/ listed first).
    But I was shocked to hear an ad for Applebee’s recently in which “bruschetta burger” was pronounced with /sk/. Maybe all is not lost.

  3. The one that makes me roll my eyes is “Parmesan”. This word, Anglicized from the Italian “Parmiggiano”, has (or used to have, at least in England where I grew up) a perfectly regular pronunciation: something like
    /ˈpɑ(r)mɪzən/
    However, I hear more and more people say
    /pɑrmɪˈʒɑ:n/
    a poor approximation of the Italian pronunciation, even when the word is written “Parmesan”. My wife says it this way: fortunately we agree on most other things.

  4. It looks like the record is butt with 14 homographs; next are post, quad and rack with 12, then buck, cob, jack, kit, mull, nap and ray with 11. Including these, 21 entries have 10 or more homographs.
    On preview: looky, I’m not using the Oxford comma.

  5. I have had to force myself to get used to the near-universal American broo-SHET-uh
    No, no, no! Don’t give in on this. It’s not yet near universal, and there’s still time to stop it. I think most Italian-Americans can agree on this. It really grates.
    On the other hand I say pɑrmɪˈʒɑ:n, and everyone in the Italian-American side of my family also says it that way, so as far as I’m concerned that’s correct.
    The word that gives most Americans fits is “gnocchi”. There’s probably no hope for that.

  6. /ʒ/ may be a “poor approximation” of the orthographic ‘gg’ in Parmiggiano, but technically we can say it’s closer to /dʒ/ than /z/ is. ;)

  7. “Parmesan”… Anglicized from the Italian “Parmiggiano”
    No, it’s the French equivalent.
    It looks like the record is butt with 14 homographs…
    Thanks, colleague!
    On preview: looky, I’m not using the Oxford comma.
    They won’t hear it from me.

  8. No, no, no! Don’t give in on this. It’s not yet near universal, and there’s still time to stop it. I think most Italian-Americans can agree on this. It really grates.
    I fear my confidence in Italian-America as a language authority has been somewhat shaken by the singular experience of sitting in a tiny cafe in a Italian fortress town and hearing the Jersey-bred pack-a-dayer announce to her waitress that she wanted some of the Mutz-a-RELL.
    I find that tension very interesting though, between homegrown Italianness and the actual Italian language. And last week my grandfather asked me if I liked work, but the yiddish word he used was the very American גלייך.

  9. I love both the taste and sound of “broo-SKET-tah”, and would never say “broo-SHET-uh”. I am however, both surprised and amused to see that even among linguists, prescriptivism is alive and well, at least when it comes to the aesthetics of pronunciation. Reading this thread immediately after the thread on National Grammar Day could give one the idea that while there’s no thing as “correctness” in English gammar, there definitely is when it comes to pronouncing imported words. Or is it just that usage is NOT king when it comes to the “proper” pronunciation of such foreign loanwords? ;-)

  10. I’m not sure what you mean. There is not a trace of prescriptivism in my comment; I did not say the common pronunciation was “wrong” or “incorrect” or “bad” or anything of the sort. I said I have had to force myself to get used to it because of my awareness of the Italian pronunciation. Being a descriptivist is not the same as being a robot.

  11. The smiley was added to indicate that no malice was intended. Also, the comment was not a direct response to your post itself, more to some of the impassioned replies. I’m as guilty as anybody else who’s replied, I normally avoid saying “parmesan” altogether and insist on “Parmigiano-Reggiano” instead. I simply perceived a difference in tone between the sentiments in the “spogg” thread and this one, and the fact that I agreed with the sentiments in both struck me as amusing in a “hoist on one’s one petard” kind of way.

  12. Well I’m not a linguist, I’m just a guy with an ethnic grievance so I feel free telling people what to do.
    Supporting BrusKetta over BruSHetta isn’t necessarily linguistic prescriptivism – it’s also a marker of basic expertise, in this case competence in Italian cuisine. The latter pronunciation indicates that you may be unfamiliar with the basics of Italian cooking. I would be suspicious of a restaurant where the wait staff uses the Americanized pronunciation – it reminds me of an Olive Garden.

  13. David Marjanović says:

    No, it’s the French equivalent.

    Ah, that’s where the German version comes from! <lightbulb above head>
    (It’s also Parmesan — [paˑmɛˈsaːn], or [pʰaˑmɵˈzaːn] for northerners.)

  14. I fear my confidence in Italian-America as a language authority has been somewhat shaken by the singular experience of sitting in a tiny cafe in a Italian fortress town and hearing the Jersey-bred pack-a-dayer announce to her waitress that she wanted some of the Mutz-a-RELL.
    I find that tension very interesting though, between homegrown Italianness and the actual Italian language.

    “Italian-Americans” did not generally bring with them standardized Italian, but dialects; you’ll find many Italian-Americans have words in their families with which a dictionary might agree but which are or were perfectly standard in a form of Sicilian or Neopolitan or what-have-you.

  15. sorry- with which a dictionary might not agree. And turned the italics off too soon…

  16. komfo,amonan says:

    I always assumed ‘Mutz-a-RELL’ was a Neapolitan or some other southern pronunciation. One often hears Italian-Americans say ‘ma-ni-GOTT’ for ‘manicotti’, and I generally made the same assumption about that. This because, I imagine, >75% of Italian-Americans have their roots in the south. So how much of this am I wrong about?

  17. I think you’re right about both.

  18. In Nnapulitano it’s called “muzzarrella”. Common Italian-American words and phrases are clearly of southern origin. The big difference is often the loss of the final vowel – “muzzarell(a)”, “vaffangul(u)”, “‘shtu gazz(u)”. I’m not sure if that’s an American innovation or typical of an actual Italian dialect, as far as I know Neapolitan, Sicilian, and the Calabrian dialects all still preserve final vowels in Italy. And my grandmother’s family was from the Marches, a completely different dialectical region, and she would also drop final vowels, or sometimes even final syllables – “pan” never “pane”,”marchigian” instead of “marchigano/a”, “passaté” for “passatelli”.

  19. zadalia says:

    It’s weird that the bruschetta argument shows up here, what with me trying to say it correctly. I learned several years ago that the ‘ch’ in Italian is apparently pronounced as a hard K. And what’s funny is that my husband is of Italian descent, and kept disagreeing with me, until I asked him why he pronounced chiani with a K and not a ‘CH’ (imagine that). He finally gets it.
    It’s my same gripe with people pronouncing Iran and Iraq like Eye-rak…god, that drives me crazy! Why don’t we just call Italy and India ‘Eye-taly’ and Eyendya” ???

  20. My father, who was no ethnocentric, said Eye-talian to the end of his days (1904-1993).

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