Game of Thrones: English is not their forte

Fear not, no spoilers or even a review below, just one incredibly picky gripe.

Sunday night I watched the third episode of season 7 of Game of Thrones, and one of the main actors, as well as one of the showrunners in the post-episode making-of bit, managed to mispronounce the word forte in the context of the expression “That’s not [someone’s] forte.”

That usage of the fencing term forte is often confused with the Italian word forte, spelled the same way and used in music to mean “loud.” The Italian word is pronounced with two syllables, roughly “FOR-tay,” just as the people pronounced forte on Game of Thrones.

But it’s the wrong word. It’s like called the element lead “leed.” There is a word in English that’s spelled lead and pronounced “leed,” but it doesn’t mean the metal.

As Jaime Lannister would tell you, if I’m holding a sword and you want to knock it aside, it’s to your advantage to use the part of your sword blade nearest your hand to strike the part of mine closer to the tip. (Try it with pencils or chopsticks if you don’t immediately see why.) In fencing terminology, at least in English, the near, relatively strong part of one’s blade is called the forte (pronounced “fort”) and the weaker far part the foible, both words taken from a slightly archaic form of French. You would usually want to use the forte of your sword to attack the foible of mine.

By analogy, people also have their metaphorical fortes (strengths) and foibles (weaknesses). If we say something is “not our forte” we mean “not our strength” (or not our “strong suit” if we prefer to borrow terminology from the card game bridge). If we say “it’s not our forte” and pronounce it as in Italian, we’re basically saying it’s “not our loud,” which is just weird, or at least indicative of a foible.

(Updated 2017 August 2 and 10, as usual to fix typos and try to improve the wording.)

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailby feather

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments are moderated, which can take up to a day (rarely even two), so please be patient. I welcome agreement, disagreement, and corrections on anything from substance to spelling. I try to weed out spam and anything defamatory or pointlessly insulting (to anybody), unless of course I think it's really funny.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.