• forte •
for-tay, fort • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. Something at which someone excels, their strong point. 2. The stronger part of a sword blade, from the hilt to the middle; antonym of foible, the part from the middle to the tip.
Notes: Today's word may be pronounced with one syllable, like the French word from which it is derived [fort]. It may also be pronounced with two syllables, [for-tay], like the adjective-adverb used in music, borrowed from Italian. Most Americans prefer the latter since it distinguishes this word from fort.
In Play: Anything can be your forte: "Commitment was never Phil Ander's forte; his forte was superficial chivalry." Again: "Maude Lynn Dresser's forte is building a wardrobe of outdated styles and accessories."
Word History: This word comes from Old French fort "strong" used as a noun meaning "a strength". French inherited this word from Latin fortis "strong, mighty" from Old Latin forctus. Latin inherited its word from the PIE root bhergh-/bhorg- "high, elevated", which also went into the making of German Berg "hill, mountain" and Burg "castle". The latter is kissing cousin to English borough and the combining form -burg, as in Lewisburg and thousands of others. English iceberg is a partial loan translation of German Eisberg, Dutch ijsberg, or Norwegian isberg "ice mountain". French bourg "market town" is another derivation via Late Latin burgus "fortress", borrowed from Old German. This French word went into the making of bourgeois. (Let's now thank Rebecca Fara, who shared an argument with her husband over the pronunciation of today's Good Word. I hope this treatment clarifies the long-standing dispute.)
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