Coming soon, to a cubiclé near you

« previous post | next post »

According to Dan Neil, "Selling coffee becomes diacritical for McDonald's", LA Times, 5/4/2009:

McDonald's — never known for a delicate marketing touch — is about to drop the mother of all campaigns on you, an everywhere-you-look, invade-your-dreams ad campaign in support of its McCafé specialty coffee drinks that will be not so much viral as bubonic. An estimated $100-million mega-buy across TV, Web, radio, print, outdoor and social media, the McCafé push beginning today will be, according to the company, its biggest "menu initiative" since it began serving breakfast in the 1970s.

Neil feels that the acute accent is a problem:

This campaign has a bit of a language problem, doesn't it? "McCafé" is hard to say — having three stressed syllables — and American audiences have almost no experience with diacritical marks, so the acute accent mark on the final é is going to leave some fast-fooders bewildered.

But in fact the company see the unfamiliar diacritic as an oppportunity:

… the campaign's general-audience TV spot (DDB Chicago) features ordinary people's daily drudgery being transformed by a McCafé drink, so that "commute," becomes "commuté" and cubicle becomes "cubiclé."

Neil quips: "That seems somewhat lamé." Maybe so. But will a country that bought into modish macrons and heavy-metal umlauts be fazed by a few exoticizing acutes? I don't think so.

[Update: one of the commercials, courtesy of YouTube:

]



77 Comments

  1. John McFerran said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 10:36 am

    I'm sure that they are not acutes, they're McCutes

  2. JRH said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 10:47 am

    Is it really that much harder to pronounce than "Nescafé" (which has been in the US for more than 50 years)? I don't think Americans are as unfamiliar with an acute accent as Neil believes, at least not when it appears over the 'e' in café.

  3. Jonathan Jo said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 10:50 am

    But McCafé doesn't have three stressed syllables, does it? It has one: in the middle, if you say 'CAFé' the way we do in the UK, or at the end, if you take the acute accent as an indication of stress. How long you take over the first syllable depends on what you want to do with the third letter, but nothing you do will make it into a stressed syllable.

  4. outeast said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 10:57 am

    Three stressed syllables? Really?

  5. Ellen said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 11:12 am

    I'd say two stressed syllables, the first and 3rd. But, whether or not the Mc is considered stressed, surely only one of the two syllables of café is.

    [(myl) The usual American pronunciation of café has final-syllable main stress. But the first syllable also has a full vowel — the one in cat — and according to some ways of describing English pronunciation, including the one that goes back through Chomsky and Halle to Trager and Smith, would therefore also be stressed. ]

  6. Faldone said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 11:15 am

    I wouldn't even bet on the first syllable being stressed. It's kind of hard stressing a syllable that doesn't have a vowel in it.
    [(myl) In names like McAdoo and McAvoy (i.e. starting with Mc/Mac, ending with an intrinsically strong syllable), the first syllable is generally the main stress of the word, regardless of whether it's written with a vowel or without. ]

  7. Matt Heath said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 11:19 am

    Is the problem that the syllable after "Mc" in family names tends to be stressed? Something is making my brain try to stress both syllables of "café".

  8. Arnold Zwicky said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 11:22 am

    To Faldone: oh dear. It's vowel sounds that are stressed (or not), not vowel letters. The first syllable of McCafé certainly has a vowel in it, though there's no "vowel letter" in the spelling.

  9. Stephen Jones said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 11:28 am

    The first syllable of McCafé certainly has a vowel in it, though there's no "vowel letter" in the spelling.

    True; but Muckcafé somehow doesn't sound that appetizing.

    [(amz) This is silly. Nobody suggested respelling the word.]

  10. Arnold Zwicky said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 11:30 am

    To Ellen and outeast: "stressed" doesn't mean 'bearing primary stress'. English has at least two levels of stressed syllables (three in some analyses). The second syllable of McCafé has a lower level of stress than the first and the third, but it is nevertheless stressed, as is evidenced by the unreduced vowel æ in it.

  11. Mark Liberman said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 11:38 am

    To the extent that there's any real awkwardness in the pronunciation of McCafé — as opposed to uncertainty about where to put the stress and so on — I think that it's the geminate-like repetition of [k] between the end of Mc and the start of Café.

  12. Karen said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 11:43 am

    I doubt that Americans are as unfamiliar with the acute accent as Neil thinks. And those who don't know what it is will ignore it. However, the commercials are certainly pounded the end-stress home (sprinkle? sprin-KLAY!) and both café and (as JRH noted) Nescafé are fairly familiar words. McCafé might be a bit hard to say, not because of syllable stress but the the two separate K's one after another) but the McDonald's's (?) Mc- has been successfully prefixed onto quite a few words by now.

  13. Victoria Martin said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 11:43 am

    In British and Scots English the vowel in the Mc of both McCafe and McDonald's is a schwa. I take it's different across the pond?

  14. Karen said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 11:43 am

    poundING. Dang.

  15. John Cowan said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 11:44 am

    myl: That's because McAdoo, McAvoy, etc. are derived from Goidelic languages, where a strong stress accent on the first syllable is practically universal. There have been some deviations: the name Mahon(e)y (< O Mathghamhna, so the /ma/ is part of the root here) usually has penultimate stress in the U.S., whereas in Ireland it had and has initial stress.

         –Eoghan mac Eoghain

    [(myl) Actually, I think that this is more about English stress than Gaelic. There are also many Mc/Mac names with non-initial stress (in English) — e.g. McDonald, McMannis, MacCallum, McCoy, etc. etc. — and when you compare the lists according to where the stress ends up, the pattern is just the same as in areas of English vocabulary derived from other sources. See for example the discussion in Mark Liberman and Alan Prince, "On stress and linguistic rhythm", Linguistic Inquiry 8(2):249-336, 1977.]

  16. David Eddyshaw said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 12:06 pm

    @John Cowan:

    You'd expect the stress to be on the syllable following the Mac- from the Gaelic point of view, of course, as these names are noun+noun phrases, not single words in Gaelic.

    There are Scots names, not just Irish ones, with the stress on the Mac-element (the Macklewraiths/MacIlwraiths from whom I am descended are an example).

    I wonder if it has something to do with the second element being vowel-initial? Wouldn't explain your name though, a mhic Eoghain.

  17. Faldone said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 12:14 pm

    Oh, OK, there's a vowel in there, but it's not much of a vowel. Also, as near as I can tell every other McDish served up by McFoods has the primary stress on the vowel following the Mc, so this McNewName strains the McBranding guidelines.

  18. Ginger Yellow said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 12:16 pm

    "McCafé" is hard to say — having three stressed syllables — and American audiences have almost no experience with diacritical marks, so the acute accent mark on the final é is going to leave some fast-fooders bewildered."

    Really? I mean, it's just "Mc" and "cafe", surely. How dim does Neil think Americans are?

  19. Sarah J said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 12:34 pm

    I doubt if Americans will have trouble with the French accented E a the end. Everybody calls Target Tarzhay, after all.

  20. David Eddyshaw said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 12:37 pm

    "Bigbooté! Té!"

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0086856/

    I'm sorry, I just couldn't help it.

  21. Graham said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 12:41 pm

    McKay, MacCallum, McCoy may have two plosive-representing letters in succession, but, in British English at least, they are not geminated. So likewise, there's no problem with McCafé – [məkæfeı] (stress either the second or third syllable as you please).

  22. Mr Punch said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 12:46 pm

    McAfee, the well-known provider of security software, seems to be doing fine with their name, and they haven't spent hundreds of millions of dollars telling us how to say it. Same except "ay" instead of "ee." Americans (unlike Brits with their "caff") can handle that accent, although the one sloped the other way gives them some trouble.

  23. Coby Lubliner said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 1:20 pm

    John Cowan: Isn't Costello another Irish surname where the stress moved from initial to penultimate?

  24. Simon Cauchi said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 1:24 pm

    As a schoolmaster teaching French in a small New Zealand town in the 1960s, I used to walk past a hairdresser's that had the word "coiffüré" in its window. These are simply diacriticals added because they are thought to look classy. I guess the same is true of McCafé, but it seems to me there's nothing wrong with an acute accent there. The French for "coffee" is, after all, "café".

  25. Alex Gajic said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 1:35 pm

    It all reminds me of American fantasy author Anne McCaffrey.

  26. rpsms said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 2:01 pm

    Neil's objection really boils down to a misapprehension that McDonoughs customers are stupit.

    I think the campaign is funny, as intended.

  27. Mark F. said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 2:26 pm

    There definitely is something that feels wrong to me about McCafé as an English word. I think it's that normally in Mc names, the principal stress is on one of the first two syllables, and here it's on the last. Several people have said that Americans would have no trouble getting how it's supposed to be pronounced, which I think is true. But it's still "hard to say" in that it doesn't fit well into the natural rhythms of English speech.

    Does the 'Mc' really have secondary stress in that word, though? I tend to hear it as unstressed. I guess if I pronounced it "mookafay", with the first syllable rhyming with "look", then the "mook" syllable would clearly have secondary stress. But "Mc" is such a short syllable it's hard for me to see it as having any level of stress. Is there any basis for my intuition?

    Graham said that the two /k/s in, say, "McCallum" weren't geminated. I think that in American English, or at least my idiolect, they are. I certainly don't say [məkæfeı] for "McCafé". It's closer to [məkkæfeı], with the initial schwa very reduced.

    I don't know how other people are getting IPA symbols into their comments. If there were an easy way to do it, I'd give it a go, but the only way I got "[məkæfeı]" was by cutting and pasting from Graham's post.

  28. David Eddyshaw said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 2:39 pm

    @John Cowan, Coby Lubliner:

    I believe that Modern Irish (at least some dialects) does not now invariably have primary stress on initial syllables:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_phonology#General_facts_of_stress_placement

    Besides this, I think uninstructed Anglophones are likely to hear a word like cailín ("colleen") as having primary stress on the syllable with the long vowel even when in reality the primary stress is on the first syllable.

    Still trying to come up with a Grand Unified Theory of why McAvoy, McAfee, McAdoo, McEnroe, McIlwraith, McIntyre deviate from the usual stress pattern … can't just be the initial vowel, because of McGuinness, that son of Angus, Cowan,the offspring of Ian ..

    Some of these have the article "an" after "mac",come to think of it,which would naturally not have primary stress:

    mac an-tSaoir "MacIntyre"

    Aha, Googling reveals that I am the proud descendant of a

    Mac Gille Riabhaich "son of a brindled lad" (brindled?my family?) which would explain the stress pattern; the Gaelic phrase would have had primary stress on the -Ria- and my English-speaking closer relatives would have reinterpreted the stress pattern by making the secondary stress on the initial syllable the primary stress, just as with McIntyre etc
    .

  29. Alan said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 2:47 pm

    My principal objection to this is that it will produce yet more instances of café being ignorantly respelled cafe'. I try to control my word rage, I really do, but punctuation rage is perhaps even fiercer…

    Seriously, (American) English has shown itself increasingly unwilling for, oh, the last half-century or so to support diacritics, and their absence from computer keyboards has more or less nailed the coffin shut. However people wind up pronouncing it (məkkæfeı, məkæfeı, "that new café thing at McDonald's"), they'll most likely spell it just McCafe, with or without that damnable, hideous apostrophe.

  30. JRH said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 4:46 pm

    @Alan:

    That's among the issues that keeps me from switching from Mac OS X to Linux full-time: Macs have always (at least since System 7) made it super easy to type diacritics and various symbols with the standard American keyboard layout, and every other OS has made it a huge pain.

  31. JRH said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 4:48 pm

    Bah, s/keeps/keep/. (Occasionally I do, in fact, check subject-verb agreement, but apparently not today…)

  32. kyle gorman said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 6:15 pm

    lamé is already a word, a variety of garish fabric most common in women's tights: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamé_(fabric)

  33. Nigel Greenwood said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 6:17 pm

    I seem to remember that some years ago the New Yorker had fun with a newspaper reference to "Judas McCabee": was he, they wondered, the Wandering Scot?

  34. Theodore said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 6:20 pm

    I see no problem with McCafé for most Americans, though some IT types might confuse it with antivirus monger McAfee.

    I am bothered (as an American who studied French) by the acutes on those other words. "cubiclé" and "commuté" sound like past participles, as in "J'ai cubiclé, pendant que ma femme a commutée."

  35. Mark F. said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 7:44 pm

    I may have been deceiving myself about "McCallum". But the different accent pattern of McCafé changes things, it seems to me.

  36. dr pepper said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 9:44 pm

    Personally, i'd like to see all those marks eliminated, to simplify the character set.

  37. Deborah said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 10:45 pm

    I would have called it Cafe McDonald.

  38. Aviatrix said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 10:59 pm

    Reading the comments, I'm beginning to suspect that some Americans pronounce café c'FAY the way I do, but others pronounce it just like coffee but changing the first vowel to the one in cat.

    I can't see that shoving a Mc on the front of either pronunciation would cause anyone any grief. McDonald's in Québec has had McCafé stores for a while, and those don't seem to be a linguistic problem for anglophones. Americans will learn from the ads how McDonald's wants them to pronounce it, and in the end they'll just order "one of those new coffees" anyway.

  39. marc said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 11:43 pm

    In the same vein as modish macrons and heavy-metal umlauts, I bring you Swork and Samboo! Maybe this is an example of modish umlauts?

    Swork is a coffee chain here in the LA area. Samboo is an anthropomorphic marshmallow.

    Note the text under samboo's picure: see. swork. go. You could parse it along similar lines to: see spot run. Or, it could be a series of three commands like: innovate. connect. achieve.

  40. marc said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 11:46 pm

    Apologies! The image links I tried to use didn't go through. Swork has an umlaut over the w, and Samboo has one over the m. Follow the links and you'll see.

  41. Craig said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 11:47 pm

    @Mark F.: My McCallum friend (from out west) geminates the "k" in his surname.

  42. Stephen said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 12:09 am

    Maybe McDonald's in Scotland or Ireland will take it to the next level: "Mac Chaffeidh", anyone?

  43. Adam said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 4:36 am

    @Simon Cauchi
    > a hairdresser's that had the word "coiffüré" in its window. These
    > are simply diacriticals added because they are thought to look classy.

    That reminds me (tangentially) of an excerpt from _Dharma & Greg_:

    Why would they call it French toast if it wasn't invented in France?

    Because "French" makes it sound classy. Like with fries. Or sticking your tongue down
    someone's throat.

  44. egaliede said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 6:33 am

    @ Aviatrix:

    As an anglophone in Québec, I must admit that the pronunciation of McCafé does cause me some grief, though for me it´s different from what has been described for Americans.

    Maybe it´s the French influence (I´ve been exposed to French all my life and speak it fluently) but my gut feeling is to say the first two syllables with equal stress and accent the last. It´s the two c´s that cause me problems – they end up geminated, as Liberman mentioned above.

    Also, I was embarrassingly shocked to find out that American speakers pronounce the Mc- with a schwa! Up here I believe it´s usually [mık].

  45. Matthew Stuckwisch said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 8:02 am

    This (Southern) American English speaker definitely pronounces the Mc with a short i and not a schwa. And also pronounces café with a short and long a respectively.

    As a previous commenter pointed out, we already have Nescafé, which has the same stress pattern and is as far as I know a moderately successful brand. Given how prominent the Mc- prefix is and the stand-alone word café, I definitely feel that gemination will play a role. [ˈmɪˌk:ʰæˈfeɪ] is how I've been saying it ever since I first saw them a year or two ago.

  46. Dan T. said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 8:28 am

    And then there's singer/actress Raven-Symoné, with an accent on a silent e.

  47. Toma said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 9:02 am

    Good grief. Whatever happened to being able to just order a cuppa Joe?

  48. Wordoch said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 9:33 am

    I like McCafé. Reanalysing and splicing affixes and words from different languages has a long and proud history in English. Such common words as automobile, liposuction and television are the barbarous (according to some language whiners) marriage of Greek and Latin roots, and we've wilfully forgotten the origin of McD's main product, the hamburger, and given burger (German Bürger 'citizen', although also 'burger bar') a whole new life in English – alone and with its prefixes cheese-, veggie-, beef- and the rest.

    I'll certainly be visiting Son of Coffee shop soon, though only to smirk quietly at the one of the more prominent 'vagaries' committed against Our Great Language in the name of making absolutely vast amounts of cash.

  49. Nigel Greenwood said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 11:54 am

    @ egaliede & Aviatrix: There's another problem with saying McCafé in French: it sounds perilously close to ma café — a puzzlingly elementary mistake in gender.

  50. William F Dowling said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 1:22 pm

    I imagine McDs has a lot more Spanish-speaking and -reading customers here in the US, than French (or Gaelic) — for whom Café will look just fine.

  51. scratchdaddy said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 1:37 pm

    In the South some people pronounce "cafe " with the accent on the first syllable. As for a vowel sound following the "mc", I know some McAuleys with the stress on the second. I also know some McCaffeys with stress on the second and an "ee" sound on the end, which is how I shall pronounce "McCafe". If I ever do.

  52. Ken Brown said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 2:21 pm

    Aviatrix said: "… I'm beginning to suspect that some Americans pronounce café c'FAY the way I do, but others pronounce it just like coffee but changing the first vowel to the one in cat."

    Just like us Brits then!

    Actually increasingly many of us seem to say KAFFay with an "ay" on the end rather than an "ee" (I don't know how to put IPA here either :-( ) but in my childhood "cafe" definately rhymed with "daffy" and "taffy". Stress always on the first syllable. Stress on the last syllable sounds Frenchified and affected.

    "Mc/Mac" has an "a" or a schwa depending on stress and what follows. Almost always a schwa in "McDonalds"

    So for me the natural way to say "McCafe" is pretty much the same as the way I'd say the name McAffee.

    There is I think no gemination. Just one little "k"

  53. Simon Cauchi said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 3:27 pm

    @Matthew Stuckwisch: This (Southern) American English speaker definitely pronounces the Mc with a short i and not a schwa. And also pronounces café with a short and long a respectively.

    No! no! no! Short a is [a], as is "pass", long a is [a:] as in "far". The second syllable of "café" as you pronounce it doesn't have any kind of a but is instead a diphthong, [eɪ].

  54. Stephen Jones said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 3:49 pm

    (amz) This is silly. Nobody suggested respelling the word.

    I'm not suggesting respelling the word, merely pointing out that this is how it will sound in many people's pronunciation, where the vowel in 'Mc' is a schwa.

  55. Sili said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 3:52 pm

    I'm mildly surprised that McAfee hasn't brought a Mclawsuit yet.

    Off topic, but why does 'English' have /ɛɪ/ for <é> (and <-et> for that matter – "/bʊ'kɛɪː/ residence; lady of the house speaking.")?

  56. Sili said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 3:55 pm

    Simon Cauchi,

    I'm not a native speaker, but "pass" and "parse" are homophones to me (both long).

  57. Simon Cauchi said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 6:21 pm

    @Sili: Sorry, I got it wrong. The vowel of "pass" is of course long, [pa:s], the same vowel as that in "far". The vowels of "pass" and "parse" are indeed the same, but not the final consonants. In "parse", it's the voiced [z].

    I don't think the short a is used in English. I can find it only in phonetic transcriptions of foreign words, e.g. the New Zealand place name Parihaka, ['parihaka].

  58. Sili said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 6:39 pm

    Ah. I see. I'm Danish. [s] and [z] are essentially allophones for me. I've never noticed that difference in voicing.

    Thank you.

  59. dr pepper said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 8:46 pm

    Wait what? The short a is one of the most common vowel sounds in English.

  60. Matthew Stuckwisch said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 9:17 pm

    Simon, when I said short a and long a I was refering to the traditional description of English vowels as those of us who were taught with a phonetic-based approach in school learned (though I can understand your confusion as I've found as an ESL teacher it's almost never taught to foreigners).
    ă = [æ], ā = [eɪ]
    ĕ = [ɛ], ē = [iː]
    ĭ = [ɪ], ī = [ɑi]
    ŏ = [ɑ], ō = [oʊ]
    ŭ = [ʌ], ū = [juː]
    So a word like "cat" with a short ‹a› becomes "cate" with a long ‹a› when you add the ‹e›. I put the final transcription in IPA to be more clear about what I meant, but I wasn't using IPA for anything outside of brackets. That is, I didn't mean short a as in a shortened [a] sound, or [aˑ], rather the short ‹a› or [æ]. What you're describing as an [a] is traditionally known as a ŏ, or short o. I hope that helps clear things up.
    BTW, parse does not have a voiced fricative: [pʰaɹs]. The vowels will change depending on dialect, in mine, pass is [pʰæs].
    English probably uses the long a, or IPA [eɪ], with é because most of the languages we tend to import words from use that sound. Consider Pokémon, résumé (okay, the first one is a short e), café, ballet, olé, etc.

  61. Stephen Jones said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 9:55 pm

    Sitting eating a hamburger at Herfey's a couple of other thoughts occurred to me.

    Firstly why did I almost immediately associate the Mc in McCafe with the Muck sound, but have never done so with the 'Mc' in McDonald's.

    I think the answer is that the word brings up memories of old Macdonald and the Scottish clan which is spelt with an 'a', and indeed I so often pronounce the phoneme as a short 'a' that I regularly have to look up the spelling.

    Secondly didn't it occur to McDonald's PR people that the prefix 'Mc' is highly productive in English, with the meaning of mass produced and tatty, as in Mcmansion, Mcjob, Mcuniversity, and Mcliterature. Perhaps the PR men were under the impression that they had destroyed the phenomenon by dint of lawyers letters to dictionary writers et al, or that those familiar with the usage are not amongst their target market.

  62. Aaron Davies said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 3:47 am

    @Toma: at one point fairly recently, burger king was offering coffee under precise that name ("joe", available, irrc, in "small", "medium", and "large"), presumably in response to perceived starbucks pretentiousness

  63. Richard Sabey said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 7:09 am

    @Arnold Zwicky: Perhaps Faldone thinks of the pronunciation of "Mc" having not a vowel and a [k] but a syllabic [k]. After all, the nucleus and coda of the final syllables of "prism", "prison" and "little" are sometimes analysed as a syllabic consonant rather than a schwa and a consonant, so why not also with "Mc"?

    One example of pronunciation symbols (though not IPA, unfortunately) in a corporate logo: the British recruitment agency Select Appointments. I tried to make a text link there. In case it didn't work, the agency's web site is at http://www.select.co.uk.

    In my experience in Britain, everyone pronounces "parse" with [z]. Some of us have rhotic accents, and others non-rhotic, so we don't all pronounce the "ar" the same way, but we all pronounce "parse" with [z].

  64. Andréa said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 7:57 am

    I can always hope that this advertising campaign will teach folks how to pronounce my name correctly. I've learned to answer to ANdrea, but continue to tell everyone it's pronounced anDRAYa . . . Thanks, McD's!

  65. Sili said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 10:29 am

    English probably uses the long a, or IPA [eɪ], with é because most of the languages we tend to import words from use that sound. Consider Pokémon, résumé (okay, the first one is a short e), café, ballet, olé, etc.

    But that doesn't explain anything. To my ears (French) [e] sounds nothing like [ɛɪ] or [ɛ]. [ɪ] seems to me to be far closer to cardinal [e]. (And I use [ɛ] in "Pokémon" and "olé" for some reason.)

  66. Ellen said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 1:51 pm

    Aviatrix wrote:

    Reading the comments, I'm beginning to suspect that some Americans pronounce café c'FAY the way I do, but others pronounce it just like coffee but changing the first vowel to the one in cat.

    Perhaps you are right that some Americans pronounce it each of those ways. But the most common pronunciation I believe (and the way I pronounce, and already referred to in the comments) is with the a as in cat [æ], and with the second syllable having stronger stress and pronounced fay. That is, like your first example, with a [æ] added in place of your apostrophe.

  67. McCaffeinated said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 4:07 pm

    McCafé outlets began opening in Singapore several years ago, and when they first did, I thought the name was rather 'clunky', and it never seemed clear which syllable was meant to bear primary stress. So I felt amused and somewhat vindicated to see that other people might have similar misgivings.

    When I first discovered that McCafé did not exist in the US (at the time), I thought perhaps the clunky name might be attributed to some marketing person(s) who were not native speakers of British or American English, and were thus operating on different phonological principles. In Singapore, the name is generally parsed into two prosodic words (mæk)(kæfe), with iambic stress in the second PWd. But now that McCafé is finally in the US, I don't know what excuse McDonalds has.

  68. marie-lucie said,

    May 10, 2009 @ 8:32 am

    NG: There's another problem with saying McCafé in French: it sounds perilously close to ma café — a puzzlingly elementary mistake in gender.

    Have you actually heard a French speaker pronouncing the word? My own version would not sound like [makafé] but have a geminate, [makkafé]. Also, even someone who pronounced [makafé] would not be understood to say ma café any more than the word maccabée "corpse" (a slang word taken from the name of the Macchabees in the Bible) is understood ma and "cabée". As a noun, McCafé would occur with a determiner (article, possessive, etc), a class of which only one member can precede a noun. Mon [makafé] would not seem any stranger than mon mari 'my husband'.

    Besides, apparently conflicting gender agreement in French is not always a mistake, as it could just mean that a word has been omitted. An example is the name of the Montreal hotel known as le Reine Elizabeth, in which the masculine article le agrees with the understood masculine noun hôtel, not with its feminine name Reine Elizabeth "Queen Elizabeth".

  69. Chris H said,

    May 10, 2009 @ 8:38 am

    Based on what I hear (I am a native of Maryland, US), this is going to be pronounced by people in the US as ['mɪk.kæ.'feɪ] or ['mæk.kæ.'feɪ], even as McDonald's starts with [mɪk] but some people say [mæk], as in Big Mac or "Old MacDonald Had A Farm". McDonald's is easy to say, and café is common and easy to say ([kæ.'feɪ]), not just in Nescafé but as in a café, a place to eat usually serving coffee.

    @Stephen Jones: McDonald's PR people can't acknowledge the negative connotations of McMansion et al.,as those derive from McDonald's. Are you suggesting they change the name of their company?

  70. Andrew said,

    May 10, 2009 @ 5:22 pm

    Mr Punch: 'caff' is by no means universal in Britain. I once heard the following exchange between a barrister and his client in court:

    Barrister. What is the name of the cafAY where you met your friends?

    Client. Manor Caff.

    Barrister. Manor CafAY.

    (This was not uttered in a tone of reproof: he was just repeating it to make sure the judge and jury registered it, but in his own style of speaking.)

  71. Ginger Yellow said,

    May 11, 2009 @ 7:47 am

    "the vowels of "pass" and "parse" are indeed the same"

    Not in the north of England they aren't.

  72. Nigel Greenwood said,

    May 11, 2009 @ 2:47 pm

    @ marie-lucie: Have you actually heard a French speaker pronouncing the word? My own version would not sound like [makafé] but have a geminate, [makkafé].

    No, I've never heard anyone (English speaker or French speaker) pronounce the word. The closest I've come is hearing Macdo.

  73. Pardon my mock French « Arnold Zwicky’s Blog said,

    May 22, 2009 @ 12:42 pm

    […] on television, there was some question as to how McCafé should be pronounced, and commenters on Language Log canvassed the possibilities. Now the evidence is in about what McDonald's thinks the […]

  74. Andréa said,

    May 23, 2009 @ 3:51 pm

    Today (5/23) I passed a sign on a building: Dental Centré . . . NO IDEA what that was supposed to mean 'Centre' as in British Center, but with a French twist? To think that 1) someone PAID to have this sign made; and 2) someone MADE this sign and probably charged extra for the acute accent.

  75. Mathias said,

    July 13, 2009 @ 9:39 am

    The way Americans tend to pronounce "é" as "ay" makes me cringe. And the "ie" in "lingerie" is even worse.

  76. Stieg Hedlund said,

    July 14, 2009 @ 2:33 pm

    There's a new McD's commercial with a linguistical bent; this time featuring the eggcorn.

    The two characters in the spot are arguing over whether it is "hunger pangs" or "hunger pains".

  77. Bill Fanelli said,

    April 12, 2011 @ 3:22 pm

    A day late and a dollar short perhaps…

    FYI – The security manufacturer, McAfee, is pronounced "MAC – a – fee" according to their in-house materials. See:
    http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid65694806001?bctid=45365945001&iframe=true&width=700&height=410

RSS feed for comments on this post