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Pronunciation of "Absinthe"


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A few of us are working on the WikiGullet Project article on Absinthe, and a question has come up about the exact pronunciation of the word: not necessarily how was it originally pronounced, but today, in modern English usage, how do you personally pronounce the word? More like AB-sinth or more like AB-santh? Or something else entirely?

Chris Hennes
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chennes@egullet.org

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. . . . today, in modern English usage, how do you personally pronounce the word? More like AB-sinth or more like AB-santh? Or something else entirely?

I go with the former, although I know the latter is correct; this holds true for pretty much everyone I know who doesn't actually speak French. The people I know who do speak French (= fluently enough to have a phone conversation in the language) tend to go with the latter. Sometimes.

My impression is that to most people, the French pronunciation sounds pretentious from someone whose grasp of French is limited to a few words, but it seems natural from someone whom they've frequently heard holding conversations in French (this seems to extend to foreign language pronunciations ins general).

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
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Agree with MJX.

French is my first language, but I would never pronounce it in the French manner in an English language setting.

Anyone doing so comes across as somewhat pretentious. It is the sort of behaviour I would expect from supercilious waiting staff in bad French restaurants.

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Not quite sure I follow Mjx's point about people who do speak French using the "former" (i.e. English) pronunciation, but anyway what I've explained to Chris and Liuzhou is that I've been hearing about absinthe for, literally, about 40 years (it was an extremely uncommon word in US for the first 35 of those) and only ever heard the French pronunc. (in the US) most of that time, so I was basically innocent of other factors.

I also hang out with a lot of US food and wine enthusiasts and professionals and they, and local absinthe hobbyists, and two absinthe makers and several merchants and restaurant F&B people I've conversed with about it, all use the French form very naturally and, by the way, unaffectedly; I guess it's because like me, that's all they heard for years.

Some years ago on a New Orleans online food forum, I saw postings from people who saw others swirling wine in glasses, didn't know what it was about, and assumed (I think more technically the behavior word is projected) that it was some kind of affectation or pretense. I suppose there may actually be people who do it for that reason, but it's amazing to see someone interpret wine-swirling that way, if you like wine and regularly taste, and just want to get a good solid smell impression, which is why everyone I know swirls it in glasses.

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Not quite sure I follow Mjx's point about people who do speak French using the "former" (i.e. English) pronunciation, but anyway what I've explained to Chris and Liuzhou is that I've been hearing about absinthe for, literally, about 40 years (it was an extremely uncommon word in US for the first 35 of those) and only ever heard the French pronunc. (in the US) most of that time, so I was basically innocent of other factors.

That was my mistake: I meant 'latter'. But among those I know, the only ones who inevitably use the French pronunciation are, in fact French. A large part of this may be due to the fact that, among those I know, the word generally occurs in the sentence 'I've never tried absinthe.'

Among connoisseurs, I would not be surprised to find the situation otherwise.

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
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mscioscia@egstaff.org

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At least with absinthe the two pronunciations are relatively close to one another. I went to grad school with a guy who insisted on using the italian pronunciation of "biscotti": I never saw a clerk in the US understand him on the first try in the whole time I knew him! There are always subsets of people who insist on using the pronunciation from a word's original language out of some sort of idealogical purity: it seems at least with absinthe that's not really the case, it's just that historically the only people who talked about it spoke French! So perhaps as the word is further assimilated into English that usage will fall even further away.

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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. . . . I went to grad school with a guy who insisted on using the italian pronunciation of "biscotti": I never saw a clerk in the US understand him on the first try in the whole time I knew him! . . . .

How did he pronounce it?! The English pronunciation isn't that different from the Italian one, it's just... sort of sloppier.

I've e-mailed some people I know, who actually drink absinthe, since I'm curious as to their pronunciation; they may be more accurate in their pronunciation.

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
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mscioscia@egstaff.org

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Very interesting! I pronounce it (approximately)absant because, well the French speakers surrounding me growing up pronounced it that way. In French the th is pronounced like t. I don't think I'm a pretentious twit, but y'all have me reconsidering. :rolleyes: But I mean, none of you pronounce cognac like cog knack, right?

That said, I'd never use the French pronunciation of champagne unless I were drinking with French speakers.

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Is English the only language where it is seen as pretentious to use pronunciation that sounds "foreign"? I think it would be reasonable to list Anglicized and French pronunciation as correct.

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Gee, I'm wondering if I come off as pretentious. I try within my extremely limited ability to pronounce foreign words in their native language. So it's "CHEE-lay CONE CAR-ne", rather than "Chilly caan CAA-ney". Now I might not say that at the greasy spoon in mid-Maine, but here in Boston ... sure. At a Tex-Mex joint (not that I'd order it there), absolutely. I may be over the line on this one....

I do get lazy. I believe Cynar is pronounced properly in Italian CHEE-nar-aye, with a very soft long-a at the end. I usually skip that, unless I'm speaking with my friend from Italy who speaks somewhat broken English. The first time I ordered it at a nice Italian restaurant, the waitress was polite enough to not laugh at my "SIGH-nar" "fox pass".

I have another acquaintance from Argentina who insists on pronouncing Fernet as FER-nay. I've pointed out that it's Italian, to no avail. Spanish speaker mispronouncing an Italian word as a French word in an English discussion.

Why not honor the word, culture, and object of discussion by trying to pronounce it as a native would? Now to catch a flight to LOS AN-hell-ayes.

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Very interesting! I pronounce it (approximately)absant because, well the French speakers surrounding me growing up pronounced it that way. In French the th is pronounced like t. I don't think I'm a pretentious twit, but y'all have me reconsidering. :rolleyes: But I mean, none of you pronounce cognac like cog knack, right?. . . .

What?! 'cog-nak' is wrong..? :raz:

I think if the pronunciation of a foreign word is natural to someone, you can tell, and then it doesn't seem pretentious or affected. I speak four languages, with varying degrees of proficiency, and scraps of several others. Since I grew up speaking Italian, my Italian pronunciation is correct, but when I use Italian words while speaking English, the 'r's are anglicized, and the vowels become less crisp, so they don't 'stick out' from whatever I'm saying; it isn't a conscious effort. Similarly, my pronunciation of English words tends to be seriously violated when I'm speaking Italian or Danish. It has to do with the feel of a language, I think.

Perhaps, with words like 'absinthe', instead of thinking of this in terms of correctness, it's most accurate to note that[, among English speakers,] pronunciation varies, and more than one pronunciation is regarded as acceptable (after all, similar discussions could be had over English words, such as 'route' and 'greasy').

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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Modern English usage or modern American English usage? I'd make the observation that there is a significant difference between the two in terms of pronunciation.

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

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I pronounce it ab-sinth and I tend to Anglicize every foreign word I use in conversation. There is a long long tradition of doing this in English. On the other hand, I don't think its wrong to list both pronunciations. Linguistically, I prefer the descriptive over the prescriptive style.

This isn't to say I'm not punctilious about my pronunciation of foreign words. I want to have the right Anglicized pronunciation. And it does sound a bit like an affectation to use foreign pronunciations to me, but that's mainly because it sticks out like a sore thumb to my ear. And if you do use the foreign punctuation, it's got to be good. But I'm not against it on principle.

ETA: I should add that I've never actually heard anyone pronounce the word ab-santh. And if I did, I would want to hear an aspirated "t" there not a -th sound.

Edited by Alcuin (log)

nunc est bibendum...

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I have another acquaintance from Argentina who insists on pronouncing Fernet as FER-nay. I've pointed out that it's Italian, to no avail. Spanish speaker mispronouncing an Italian word as a French word in an English discussion.

Wasn't "Dr. Fernet" supposedly Swedish or Finnish? :wink:

It's almost never bad to feed someone.

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Interesting discussion. Out of respect to foreign languages I try to learn the correct pronunciation from the country of origin. I see this as polite rather than pretentious. Not sure I always get it right but appreciate being corrected when I don't.

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
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The first time I hear the word "absinthe" was in a punny joke/tongue-twister. Something about abstinence, absence and absinthe and it went right over my head since I had not a clue what it was. I still get it mixed up in my mouth (thank-you very much old college roommate) and couldn't even pretend to have known the correct pronunciation before this thread. Thanks.

And don't forget.. Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder!

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