Monday, November 23, 2015

Coup de Grâce

I get irritated by how people routinely mispronounce the phrase "coup de grâce". Most Americans, and most gamers to my knowledge pronounce it incorrectly. In short: the final "e" is silent, but not the "c" before it. In fact, here's the (incorrect) listing printed in the 3E D&D Player's Handbook (p. 276, © 2000):


Again, check out that supposed pronunciation:


I don't know how this could have ever gotten started, because it doesn't match any dictionary, either English or French. Some references, in each case pronouncing the final "s" sound:
  • Dictionary.com, including entries from the Random House Dictionary and others -- including an audio link at the top.
  • Wiktionary.org: "Some English speakers, aware that some final consonants are dropped in French, overcompensate by dropping the final /s/ sound in grâce, making this sound like French coup de gras ('strike of grease'). This mispronunciation is quickly becoming ubiquitous and is being popularized by the media (e.g., it occurs twice in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Volume 2)." Also includes an audio link.
  • Cambridge English Dictionary, with audio link.
  • Oxford Dictionary, with audio link.
  • Collins English Dictionary.
  • Merriam-Webster.
  • Google Translate, with audio link.
Let's get literate, people!

23 comments:

  1. Then there's Mardi Gras, which should be pronounced "grah," yet you'll hear a lot of people saw "graw." At least foie gras seems to be largely immune to the phenomenon.

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  2. As far as sociolects go, the majority gets to be right :) Another good example would be Italian words in areas like New Jersey, pronounced like no Italian would, but totally legit (and understandable) where they are used on a regular basis in certain social circles or areas ... Sort of like dialects do, just among circles of gamers/pop culture. Language changes like that sometimes, so time will tell.

    And jokes aside, you are right, of course.

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  3. Whats the difference between grah and graw? Honest question.

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    1. Do you not pronounce ah and aw differently? Like the doctor examining the inside of your throat telling you to "say ah" compared to "shock and awe," for example?

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    2. I don't pronounce them differently either.

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    3. Okay, looks like this falls under the auspices of the cot-caught merger. Weird; but then again, people who use three distinct pronunciations for merry, Mary, and marry probably think the same about me and my ilk.
      https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/cot-caught_merger

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  4. @ Delta:

    Man, I am totally with you on this one.

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  5. The one that drives me crazy is “quillon”.

    Although, I intentionally mispronounce “depot” & “lasagna”. I figure when you’re speaking English, it is justifiable to pronounce foreign terms Englishy. But I always like to know the correct pronunciation even when I don’t use it.

    And I can’t complain about things like the quality of vowels at all. That can vary so much between speakers of the same language.

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  6. Modern English dictionaries are descriptive not prescriptive (though a couple generations behind the times). I bet we live to see the new pronunciation in dictionaries.

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    1. I would take the other side of that bet, because the phrase is too obviously intended to be French in pronunciation (e.g., all the dictionary examples include the accent mark which isn't even an English symbol), and American usage isn't going to change the rules of French. If English writers started to modify the spelling (i.e., Anglicizing it in written works), then that would be a different story.

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    2. And (thinking again that spelling and intent is clearly French) the fact that the dictionary from the French Academy actually is prescriptive gives a phrase like this added "stickiness".

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    3. Maybe, but I doubt you'd be able to understand a fellow English speaker who pronounced every word that's come to English from a foreign language with its original, foreign pronunciation. Here's a link to a great book for learning more about English borrowing and pronunciation changes. https://books.google.com/books?id=IsYkilw7Q-oC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

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  7. What is even more baffling about the 3e PHB pronunciation guide is the instruction to pronounce "de" as "day". Uh, no. They got that one wrong on all fronts

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    1. Good catch. That might help explain why I'm always mispronouncing de.

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    2. Sounds like they are saying day on the Cambridge link.

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  8. My Drow suffered a melee Coup de Grâce while under a geas in a Gaol in Sigil

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  9. I like to think whoever responsible for the 3E printing just liked the idea of a Strike of Grease but couldn't get the feat into the book.

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  10. Usage determines pronunciation, not etymology. Anytime you start a grammar-/pronunciation-correction with "most people do this wrong" is a clue that there's a new right.

    I'd say that the "mispronunciation" is at least as correct anymore.

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    1. I might counter in this case by asking people who say it that way: "Are you pronouncing that the same as in French?" It seems pretty clear that they're intending and failing to say a non-English word (not a new English word).

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  11. The thing that trips me up is the increasing number of folks who don't know the difference between bring and take (same difference as the words coming and going). There's been more than one time I was told to "bring" something, so I went to where I was going and couldn't find the thing I was told to bring bring back with me. When I went back and said I couldn't find it, I was told "no its right here". Come on people. Its "take" out not bring out for pity's sake.

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  12. and I thought it was "Koo d'Graw"

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  13. It gets me whenever people pronounce "deities" as "dee-it-ees", instead of "day-ut-ees". Then it ends up being spelt "dieties".

    Also there's a guy I know (who teaches fighting at the medievel re-enactment society, and is really amazingly good at it), who pronounces the grace properly, but includes the p in coup. That always sounds a little weird to my ears.

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