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Saturday, November 21, 2015

No bull

If I were to ask you to name a sport or activity that is highly suitable for participation by amateurs, the first thing that would no doubt spring to mind would be...



And yet, when "aficionado" was first borrowed into English from Spanish just after 1800, "amateur bullfighter" was what it meant. It had had this meaning in Spanish since the mid 1600s, although the Spanish word had been around since the 1400s in a more general sense of "partisan, fan". 

Soon, this more general sense also came into English, and we promptly forgot about amateur bullfighters, no doubt because we have little need to speak of them in the English-speaking world (or maybe because the activity had a built-in obsolescence factor).


I was caused to investigate this word because this week I heard someone pronounce it "affectionado" (or maybe it was "afictionado"). The former pronunciation in fact has some etymological justification, because the word is derived from the Spanish verb aficionar (to become fond of), which in turn comes from the noun aficiĆ³n, which means, and is derived from the same Latin source as, "affection". 


There is a spelling issue with this word. It is commonly misspelled "afficionado" (indeed, I often have to look it up myself to double-check), but it has only one F, as in Spanish. The plural is "aficionados".


This brings us to the thorny question of its pronunciation. I am talking about its pronunciation IN ENGLISH, not in Spanish (even if you're a Spanish speaker). Once a word is borrowed from another language, the adoptive language can have its phonetic way with it. Thus, when we say "manoeuvre" as "muh NOO vur", no one takes it upon themselves to say, "That's not how it's pronounced in French!!! It should be 'man UH vruh'." Likewise, we English speakers have no right to tell Germans that they should stop pronouncing "fan" like "fen".

Having said that, here are the results from an informal Facebook survey I just did. As you can see, the permutations and combinations are almost infinite, but the clear "winner" in Canada is A fish yun AHD oh (that doesn't mean the others are "wrong"). 

My main interest was whether the penultimate syllable sounded like ADD or more like ODD (the way Canadians say "odd", which is like "AHD"). 

It would appear that only Canadians have ever used the "ADD" pronunciation in "aficionado". But it is a trend in Canadian English that we are shifting from the ADD vowel to the ODD vowel in words borrowed from other languages, and this was confirmed by this survey, where only older people (including me) said ADD, and younger people said AHD.  I was, however, surprised to see that the pronunciations with yods ("yun") or even full-fledged syllables ("fishy", "feesee", "fissy" etc.) were more common than the "fishun" option. It is nonetheless likely that the yod-less pronunciation will take over. 

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the survey!

Canada US UK
A-fith-ee-on-AHD-oh 2

A-fish-ee-on-AHD oh 2

A fish yun AHD oh 14 3

a-fee-see-on-AH-do 1

A fissy oh nAHD o 1

A fissy uh NAHD oh 1

a FISS yuhn AHD oh 3

A fish un AHD oh 4

a fish ee un AHD oh 2 1

A fee shee on ADD oh 1

A fish yuhn ADD oh 5

A fish un ADD oh 3

a fish ee un ADD oh 4

A fix see o NADD oh 1

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1 comment:

  1. >Once a word is borrowed from another language, the adoptive language can have its phonetic way with it.

    Indeed, and its morphological way.

    There was a thread not long ago about how "Louvre" was pronounced in a radio story, with some folks suggesting that it should be pronounced the way the French do. I tended toward the idea that there is a quasi-standard way to say this word among English speakers (which, needless to say, is not the French way), and it's neither right nor even helpful for a reporter to affect a French pronunciation. The question also comes up a lot w/r/t Spanish words in English.


About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.