When the cognoscenti make a fracas

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019

I was listening to the audiobook version of The Everything Store, when the narrator (Pete Larkin) caught my attention by pronouncing cognoscenti in a more-or-less Italian manner — with a ny and a sh — which I had honestly never heard before.

Later, he pronounced fracas with a long first A, which I hadn’t heard either. In both cases, these are the supposedly preferred pronunciations. In both cases, the word comes from Italian. In the first case, the preferred pronunciation is roughly Italian, in the second, not so much.


  1. Graham says:

    This sort of thing is one’s admission ticket to the poseur elite [heh].

    Always pronounce foreign origin words in some way vaguely but not necessarily accurately like their language of origin, one sounds edumacated.

    Works for foreign place names, too. I gather from Mandarin speakers that hardly any westerners get Beijing right, pronouncing the B and j wrong [zh, like a French j, is wrong] and not using tones so really the whole thing is a mess. Barely better than Peking, which we also got wrong back in the day.But just try to say something closer to a hard j in certain circles in North America. When I listen to my favourite Mandarin speakers, it’s more like a hard j crossed with ch, and with a singsong rising tone on the second syllable.

    But I digress.

    It makes borrowing words into English hardly seem worth it if we have to keep using chichi foreign accents. But I don’t necessarily want to go back to Anglo-Saxon at this late date. What a dilemma.

  2. Graham says:

    For a not quite rhyme,

    “I was off to caucus, and feelin’ raucous, so I started a fracas.”

  3. Graham says:

    Op Ed subhead the next day: “The Raucus Caucus Fracas: Argle Bargle, or mere Foofaraw?”

  4. Quentin says:

    Hmm… I thought it was pronounced frah-CAH. Or maybe FRUH-cuss.

    I much prefer being a poseur in the French language by imitating Pepe le Pew in the Warner Bros. cartoons.

  5. Isegoria says:

    The French pronunciation of “fracas” is the preferred pronunciation in the UK, Wiktionary informs me.

  6. Graham says:

    If I’ve read the IPA key correctly, Wiktionary gives the long a and short a as acceptable US pronunciations, but the short a only for UK.

    So if nothing else, I conclude that the weird long a version is yet another American innovation in speech. Maybe something they came up with at Yale.

    I followed the link to the French Wiktionary, which has the audio of a male voice saying it with the short a and more or less silent s- “fracah”.

Leave a Reply