Hyperforeignism and Italian Words You Think You Know

Hyperforeignism is a cool word. What is it? Well, it might occur when you think you know what French sounds like. “They drop all the endings,” you think to yourself—cleverly as it turns out, because you’ve actually seen some French movies and thus believe you’re pretty much an expert. So you pronounce “coup de grâce” as “coo de grah” when in reality it is more like cu de gras.

You have hypercorrected. You would have been ok just pronouncing the word like it looks in English. but you thought, Hmmm, this word seems to come from the land of the French Fry, so we’ll just pronounce it like the French Fry People in the movies pronounce it.

You would, of course, be wrong. You’d also be wrong about the fries, which are really Belgian, or so I’ve heard.

I was reminded of hyperforeignism by kottke.org: Hyperforeignism. He gives us an example:

The noun octopus is often made plural in English as octopi, originally from the mistaken belief that all Latin nouns ending in -us take -i to form their plural. However, this is only correct for Latin masculine nouns of the second declension.

Ok, let’s undeclensh a minute. Why don’t we ever do this for commonly babbled Italian words? We mangle them, not in ways that suggest we’re induced to hypercorrect them by our knowledge of Italian. No, we often just change the vowel sounds without regard for reality. Sometimes I think there’s a vast (or half-vast) conspiracy to make travelers to Italy look stupid and sound offensive when they order a cookie. But that was a Monty Python skit and nobody remembers them…or maybe Italian is just too darn beautiful—you’d just die if you heard its (true) lilting tones wash over you like the lapping waters of lusty love.

Anyway, it’s strange, isn’t it? Even well-regarded tee vee chefs in America say idiotic things like ree-cah-ta instead of pronouncing the word the way the vowels are pronounced in Italian (or English, btw): Ri-cO-ta. After all, it’s all coded into the way it’s written: ricotta. If it were ricatta it would be written that way, wouldn’t it? Well, it would in Italian. Probably.

I mean sheesh, I’ve heard Alton Brown bungle ricotta. My friends insist on saying it wrong, even knowing they’re screwing up. It’s some kind of badge of culinary courage or something to pronounce the damn word like no one in the universe would pronounce it except that everyone (American) does and that’s that.

And those cookies! Where do we get bis-caah-tee out of biscotti? Does everyone who has never set foot on the Italian continent think that the “o” character is written to be pronounced like an “ah!”. It’s like you can’t go into a fake Italian cafe and order a cookie any more. You pronounce biscotti correctly and some snot-nosed “barista” is correcting you: Beeeee-scAAAAH-teeee? You think you’re in the dentist’s office. “Say biscAAAAAHti” while we jab you in the back of your throat with something cheap, wooden and unpolished…

And don’t get me started on “bruschetta”. Really, before going to Italy, learn how to pronounce a few food words at least.

I gotta get outta here. The veins in my forehead are starting to pop. You know how that is.

Hyperforeignism and Italian Words You Think You Know originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com , updated: Dec 31, 2021 © .

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