2.20.2013

A Cup of Grease for the Marquess!

In response to an article in today’s New York Times about the return of Robin Roberts  to “Good Morning America” a reader wrote “Does ABC keep jobs open for all of its employees for 6 months while they recuperate, or just marquis players?"

For a moment I thought the writer might be referring to TV nobility, but then I realized what was meant was “marquee.”

In Britain, “Marquis” has traditionally been pronounced “MAHR-qwiss” and often spelled “Marquess” to reflect this pronunciation. In the US, the most common pattern is to follow the French in pronouncing it “mahr-KEE” in names such as “the Marquis de Sade.”

The French-influenced American  “-ee” pronunciation also prevails in the US for the Mercury Grand Marquis, and even the British often use the US/French pronunciation when not referring to titled persons.

An exception to this pattern is the common American use of the British pronunciation when speaking of the Marquis of Queensberry rules of boxing.

Americans often prefer French-influenced to Anglicized pronunciations, such as in “herb” with a silent “H,” as well as a silent T in “valet” (“val-AY” instead of UK “VALL-it”) and “filet” (“fill-AY” instead of UK “FILL-it”). (We don’t get the vowels right, though, so our pronunciations don’t sound correct to a French speaker.)

There are no “Chick-fil-A” restaurants in Britain. (Lucky them!)

Americans are so conscious of not pronouncing French final consonants that we sometimes create phony French pronunciations for words that don’t deserve them, as when a waiter offers you “vish-ee-SWAH” (vichyssoise). When the last consonant in a French word is followed by an E, the consonant is not silent, but pronounced. It’s “vish-ee-SWOZ.”

Then there is the French expression coup de grace, properly pronounced  “coo duh GRAHSS,” is commonly mispronounced in the US as “coop duh GRAH” and misspelled coupe de gras. Here the   ending of coup is mistakenly sounded when it should be silent, and the ending of grace is mistakenly silent when it should be sounded.

A coup is a blow, but a coupe is a cup. (In both languages a coupé is a vehicle.)

Grace in this phrase is “mercy” but gras is “fat,”  as in foie gras; so theoretically a coupe de gras might be a cup of grease.

The sign over a theatre entrance is always a “marquee” (though there are several “Marquis Theatres” in the US). So a “marquee player” is an actor famous enough to be featured on the sign outside. Even if Sir Patrick Stewart appears at your theatre, don’t call him a “Marquis.”



1 comment:

frogprof said...

And there's my favorite: "ahm-wah" for the piece of furniture that substitutes for a closet in many bedrooms.

Oh, and don't get me started on people WRITING "wallah" when they mean "voilĂ " ... drives me around the bend.