Hoisting a couple of pints at Starbucks

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Michelle Rafferty at OUPblog has a post on "Why the Trenta?" (1/24/2011), which includes this interesting Google Chat exchange with her friend Gabe, who "specializes in buying and selling unroasted green coffee from all over the world and loves discussing anything and everything related to coffee":

Me: So you work in coffee. What do you think of this whole Trenta thing?
Gabe: Honestly, this is about McDonald’s. They are very successful with their iced coffee and Sbucks is trying to compete. […] They have already lost a lot of customers to McDonalds/ McCafe due to quality and price. McDonalds has better coffee.
Me: Whoa, really?
Gabe: Yeah, McDs has won numerous blind tasting competitions and they have cheaper prices.

So I think that this is an appropriate time to bring back a comment by Stefano Taschini on an earlier LL post about names for coffee sizes ("Latte Lingo: Raising a pint at Starbucks", 11/30/2004):

I believe there must have been a small mistype: technically, a warm liquid that you ingest in quantities exceeding half a liter is "stock" not "coffee".

That was in reference to the "venti" (591 ml.) size, which is a bit more than an (British Imperial) pint (568 ml.). The trenta will be used only for iced coffee and other cold drinks, and at 916 ml. is almost but not quite a (U.S. Customary) quart (946 ml.).

Nor can I resist reprinting Dave Barry's opinions on names for coffee sizes borrowed from Romance languages:

We begin today with a disturbing escalation in the trend of coffee retailers giving stupid names to cup sizes. As you know, this trend began several years ago when Starbucks (motto: "There's one opening right now in your basement") decided to call its cup sizes "Tall" (meaning "not tall," or "small"), "Grande" (meaning "medium") and "Venti" (meaning, for all we know, "weasel snot"). Unfortunately, we consumers, like moron sheep, started actually USING these names. Why? If Starbucks decided to call its toilets "AquaSwooshies," would we go along with THAT? Yes! Baaa!

Recently, at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and Death March, Mister Language Person noticed that a Starbuck's competitor, Seattle's Best Coffee (which also uses "Tall" for small and "Grande" for medium) is calling ITS large cup size — get ready — "Grande Supremo." Yes. And as Mister Language Person watched in horror, many customers — seemingly intelligent, briefcase-toting adults — actually used this term, as in, "I'll take a Grande Supremo."

Listen, people: You should never, ever have to utter the words "Grande Supremo" unless you are addressing a tribal warlord who is holding you captive and threatening to burn you at the stake. JUST SAY YOU WANT A LARGE COFFEE, PEOPLE. Because if we let the coffee people get away with this, they're not going to stop, and some day, just to get a lousy cup of coffee, you'll hear yourself saying, "I'll have a Mega Grandissimaximo Giganto de Humongo-Rama-Lama-Ding-Dong decaf." And then you will ask for the key to the AquaSwooshie. And when THAT happens, people, the terrorists will have won.

Note however that 7-Eleven has long since blazed a trail into the land of extraordinary drink sizes with the "Big Gulp" series, with a 32-oz. basic "Big Gulp", and other sizes as follows:

20 US fl oz (0.59 l) Gulp
44 US fl oz (1.3 l) or 1.2 l (41 US fl oz) (depending on region) Super Big Gulp
64 US fl oz (1.9 l) Double Gulp
128 US fl oz (3.8 l) Team Gulp

Note that except for "super" and "double", these are all Anglo-Saxon morphemes.

I haven't been able to find any recent information about McDonald's range of drink sizes, or their current size nomenclature — thus this page gives only one size per beverage type. But traditionally, they used small, medium, and large, with other names like "child" for something smaller than small, and "summer" for something larger than large.


  1. Brian said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 6:34 pm

    Don't forget 7-Eleven's other name for the "Big Gulp," namely the "Thirsty-Two Ouncer". Perhaps this would be a good alternate name for the Trenta?

  2. Jerry "Boom Boom" Friedman said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 6:37 pm

    Thanks for the reprints, especially Dave Barry.

    I realize this blog is no place for nitpicks, but double is from Latin and showed up in Middle English, according to the AHD.

    [(myl) Oops. Post in haste, repent at leisure. Fixed now.]

    "Cheaper prices"—I feel a peeve coming on. Colder temperatures, faster speeds… I'd better get back to work.

  3. SlideSF said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 6:44 pm

    And please note: if you are only selling two sizes, they should be called "small" and "large", not "medium" and "large", or "medium" and "extra-large". "Medium" implies the presence of a "small" and a "large", so if you don't have at least three sizes, please lay off the "medium".

    My solution, in order to avoid learning all the ridiculous nomenclature these places try to force upon one, is to simply state the number of ounces of a product I would like. That really throws them, since your average "barrista" has no clue as to the actual capacity of their (ugh!) cardboard cups.

  4. vic said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 6:48 pm

    One small (tall?) possible reason for Seattle's Best Coffee using some of the same names as Starbucks might be that SBC is owned by Starbucks.

  5. Rebecca said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 7:08 pm

    I believe (though I don't have proof to link to) that seattle coffeeshops used "tall" before the existence of starbucks, but it made sense because they also used "short". And they aren't sizes when used by non-starbucks places, they are the ratio of coffee to milk.

  6. Sili said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 7:09 pm

    128 US fl oz (3.8 l) Team Gulp

    I don't even have a thermos flask that big.

  7. Twitter Trackbacks for Language Log » Hoisting a couple of pints at Starbucks [upenn.edu] on Topsy.com said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 7:12 pm

    […] Language Log » Hoisting a couple of pints at Starbucks languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2925 – view page – cached Michelle Rafferty at OUPblog has a post on "Why the Trenta?" (1/24/2011), which includes this interesting Google Chat exchange with her friend Gabe, who "specializes in buying and selling unroasted green coffee from all over the world and loves discussing anything and everything related to coffee": Tags […]

  8. The Ridger said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 7:18 pm

    I must say that I have never had a barista not understand or serve me when I asked for a medium. And they gave me the middle one. Of course, in recent years I've had them put my coffee in my reusable cup, which removes the need to name the size…

  9. jfruh said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 7:26 pm

    I remember when Wendy's introduced their larger-than-large size, and I wondered at myself for routinely infantalizing myself by ordering a "Biggie" fries. I drew the line when they introduced the next size up, the "Great Biggie."

  10. Jon Hanna said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 7:27 pm

    I long considered a "tall" drink to be one which had a shot or two of liquor, much diluted with something non-alcoholic. Which is indeed a pleasant way to drink coffee.

  11. AlexK said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 7:34 pm

    I used to work at Second Cup, and when calling out the drinks to the Barista, we had to use Piccolo, Mezzo and Alto for the sizes. No such requirements on customers, though.

  12. HP said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 7:37 pm

    @AlexK: That makes me want to order a Spinto.

  13. A different Rebecca said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 7:39 pm

    If Dave Barry gets a reposting, so should Paul Rudd: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wic5Mf06SJ0

  14. Marcus said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 8:14 pm

    These same American coffee companies are exporting the stupid terminology abroad as well. In Tokyo in 2009, Tully's had the entire menu in Japanese (sensibly), except the cup sizes, where were given in English as "tall", "grande", and "venti". The employees had taped up slips of paper transliterating the English into katakana to accommodate the customers who couldn't read English.

  15. James said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 8:22 pm

    Rebecca, you can still get a short drink at Starbucks. I often order a short latte. They don't bat an eyelash.

  16. Mr Fnortner said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 8:44 pm

    I think there is something demeaning about having to use a supplier's cute names for ordinary things. Trademarks are of course very valuable when distinguishing one's products or service from the competition's, providing a word where one is not at hand in the local language (like Escalator), and establishing an enduring reputation. But coining special names for cup sizes is a bit over the top. In another life, I had a few rules for my staff on names for software systems. Among them was that the name could be spoken in adult mixed company without either sounding juvenile or offending anyone. Venti does not really break this rule, but it is silly. Worse yet are Biggie Fries, Rooty Tooty Fresh 'N Fruity, and Horsey Sauce.

  17. bodywallet said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 8:46 pm

    Language Log addresses Big Gulp / Double Gulp, awesome. Double Gulp cup is great if you need to borrow ice from a neighbor on a hot day.

  18. Shecky R. said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 8:57 pm

    always amazes me that people who say they love Starbucks coffee, will get their venti and then immediately spend 5 mins. dousing it with cream, sugar, cinnamon, and any other condiment within reach… thusly annihilating the taste of the coffee. I'll take McDonalds… black… any day over Starbucks ;-)

  19. mkehrt said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 9:23 pm

    I'd like to reiterate the point that every coffeeshop I ever went to in four years in Seattle sold coffee in the sizes "short," "tall" and sometimes "grande". Starbucks' only real innovation is the "venti".

    Of course, if you are dead set on making fun of some company's size names for drinks, I strongly recommend Jamba Juice's "Sixteen," "Regular" and "Power."

  20. Timr said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 9:27 pm

    Piccolo, mezzo, and alto?
    I need serious caffeine: give me a basso profundo.

  21. Jen said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 10:13 pm

    I too am pleased to see this discussed…Language Log knows no bounds. Haven't seen the Double Gulp at local 7-Eleven's here on the west coast, but we have a gas station/convenience store known as Arco AM/PM (a subsidiary of BP). There they have a 64 oz. soda cup, and a 1 gallon mug, both with discounts if you refill them…though I usually fill them with icees instead. Forgot the names of the cups, but they are sitting in my car, so I always have them with me.

  22. james said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 10:24 pm

    Do these places make their size systems difficult and different from each other so that once you have learned the "language" of Starbucks you will be hesitant to go to another coffee place and learn a new language? At Wendy's or Jack in the Box you have to specify small if you want a small combo. I ordered a small combo at McDonalds recently and the girl looked at me like I was stupid and said "we don't have small".

  23. J Lee said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 10:32 pm

    Just to spite myl I'm gonna pwn Barry by pointing out that the Egyptian Arabic term for toilet is doorit mayya,'rotation of water' i.e. AquaSwooshie.

  24. Filius Lunae said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 10:54 pm

    This has bothered me, in a way, the few times I've been to Starbuck's. I want to use the English terms, not the Italian words because I see Italian and I can't help myself but pronounce them *sigh* in Italian, the way they're supposed to be pronounced. All I get are funny looks from the baristas, though.

    It's either that, though, or, say the cup sizes in English. I just couldn't for the love of God say grande, venti, and all those coffeehouse terms with an English pronunciation.

  25. David Green said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 11:22 pm

    You might want to compare with the "official" sizes of olives.

  26. Peter G. Howland said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 12:19 am

    coffee cups and cars

    A couple of years ago, while away from the house on some marathon errand adventure, I was in need of a shot of coffee and found myself in the vicinity of a Starbuck’s. I had never been to one before, but, based upon familiarity with the brand name, thought I’d take a chance. I only had a dollar and thirty-two cents to spend, so I asked for “the smallest cup of regular, plain coffee you’ve got”. I was informed that the smallest cup available (some obscure size-related term) was priced at $1.50. “Okay,” I said, “just make it seven-eighths full,” and plunked down my coins. The counter service attendant smiled, dispensed some java into a small paper cup and I got my caffeine fix. Prescott, Arizona is, after all, a small town that employs, for the most part, nice, sensible people.

    BTW, speaking of the size of things, is anyone as baffled as I am with a phrase used in a recent car rental commercial (National?) “Full size and above”? How is that possible? Once you get to “full size” you’re done, right?

  27. Nijma said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 12:32 am

    As a teenager I once worked in a resort town dispensing sandwiches at a take out window. The ham sandwich was a "Diamond Jim" and the roast beef sandwich was a "Harney Peak". Not once all summer did anyone order these sandwiches using any other name.

  28. SlideSF said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 12:33 am

    @Peter G. Howland – You mean like a bed?

  29. Christopher Petersen said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 1:09 am

    For myself the allure of places like Starbucks and other coffee shops as opposed to Mcdonald's is the atmosphere. I'll take that over better tasting coffee and less pretentious name sizes any day.

  30. Max Pinton said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 1:27 am

    For the ultimate in bizarrely-named sizing, it's hard to beat tea grading names, which denote the size of the leaves and are more or less pure gibberish. My favorite is "Orange Pekoe," which has nothing to do with oranges but has fooled at least one Amazon reviewer into commenting on the orange flavor of the tea.

  31. Nathan Myers said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 1:36 am

    It's probably appropriate to mention, once more, the neighborhood coffee shop that charges Starbuck's prices when coffee is ordered in Starbuck's sizes, and their traditional (lower) price for coffee ordered as "small", "medium", or "large".

    Names for Italian noodle varieties include "strozzapreti", which I take to mean "choke a priest". There doesn't seem to be any standard for the size or shape of this variety from one town to the next, but I guess its name implies "big", a reference to priests' gluttony. My mother-in-law points out in their defense that priests have often had to content themselves with more diffuse pleasures than the rest of us are inclined to seek.

  32. Peter G. Howland said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 1:55 am

    filler up

    To my ancient, inexorably shriveling brain, “full” means “complete”. If I have a full size cup of coffee, my cup is full; that’s it. More than that, and there’s a mess on the table. If I rent a car, I can ask for a small size, medium size, or full size vehicle; larger than full size is beyond the limits of physics…and probably against the law. It’s allowable to call your product by any name: “Grande”, “King”, “Giganto”, “Monsteracious”…whatever, to indicate its *bigness*, but when it has reached its fullness potential, it’s over.

    There’s more, but right now I need to go to the AquaSwooshie…

  33. maidhc said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 2:23 am

    Seven-Eleven sizes work differently than coffee because the amount of soft drink is a constant. The larger sizes just have more ice.

  34. Dan Parvaz said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 3:31 am

    The trenta almost sounds logical, which puts the whole business beyond the scope of Starbucks. In keeping with (a) their getting names almost exactly wrong, and (b) their tradition of pretalian (or Ispaliano, or whatever it is you get at the union of "grande" and "venti"), "mas venti"? Le plus venti?

  35. Luis said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 3:47 am

    We are getting closer and closer to the day when "suicide by caffeine" is made possible.

  36. John Walden said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 4:29 am

    Sounds like Pulp Fiction:

    "Vincent Vega: You know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?
    Jules Winnfield: They don't call it a Quarter Pounder with Cheese?
    V: No, man, they got the metric system, they don't know what the fuck a Quarter Pounder is.
    J: What do they call it?
    V: They call it a Royal with Cheese.
    J: Royal with Cheese.
    V: That's right.
    J: What do they call a Big Mac?
    V:Big Mac's a Big Mac, but they call it Le Big Mac.
    J: Le Big Mac. What do they call a Whopper?
    V: I don't know. I didn't go into Burger King."

    So, if these companies "don't have a word for something" they often go ahead and invent one, instead of relying on a series of descriptive words. Which rings a bell, now where have I been reading about this?

    My coffee preference here in Spain is the purely descriptive 'un descafeinado de maquina en vaso', for which I don't think there is a shorter alternative, certainly not a made-up one. Eight people wanting coffees can give a range of orders ranging from the abrupt 'solo' to variations quite as long as my preference, without going into their milk requirements. But if you want a beer, you can say 'una cerveza'. Not like the UK in the days before Starbucks where the range of beers was the issue so you couldn't order 'a beer'. But coffee came in 'black' or 'white'. Not that most pubs had anything as effete or foreign as coffee. And cafes couldn't sell beer.

  37. peterm said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 5:02 am

    "So, if these companies "don't have a word for something" they often go ahead and invent one, instead of relying on a series of descriptive words."

    On the contrary, the marketing departments of large chains such as Starbucks would be artfully designing – ie, inventing – every aspect of the purchase and consumption experience, from the names of the cup sizes to the colors of the napkins. Any prior word that exists would be considered, of course, but it would not necessarily preclude the creation or borrowing of other words. It is no coincidence, for example, that the cupsize names used by coffee chains are Italian, rather than, say, Swedish or Japanese.

  38. The Ridger said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 5:51 am

    Isn't it venti because it's 20 oz?

    [(myl) Yes, of course. ]

    And I'm sure those folks "ruining" their coffee at Starbuck's would "ruin" it anywhere. You can drink black coffee there, (I do but lots of people just don't like the way coffee tastes.

    What I like about Starbuck's is that they have Sumatran a lot of the time, and their other bolds are good too, and that they give me a discount from bringing my own cup, which keeps the coffee, even 16 oz, hot as long as it takes me to drink it. I honestly don't care what names they use; you can always say "16 oz" or "12 oz" or whatever. It's not like they don't have it posted on the wall for you to read…

  39. Terminologia etc. » » Trenta: quasi un litro in America said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 6:13 am

    […] * fonte: Starbucks Drinks Simplified (kinda); note sui formati anche in Language Log      [aggiornamento 26/1/11: altri commenti sui formati qui]. […]

  40. John F said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 6:28 am

    Interesting point from james about 'indoctrinating' customers. I surprised myself when I ordered a McChicken sandwich once (never with mayonnaise!), when most people in my area would just say chicken burger. But I'm an indecisive person so I always stare at the menu before I order and usually use the terms on the menu, so going to another establishment doesn't affect me too much. Except Subway. I know what I like there and I have a loyalty card. Though I prefer Quiznos but we don't have any round here and Subway is cheaper anyway.

    I think the size names are part of the branding. You know Starbucks uses these size names so you recognise the Starbucks brand even if you just hear the cup size and Starbucks isn't mentioned.

    On the physical nature of the sizes, though, I don't drink coffee, but I _like_ tea and even a grande is too much for me.

  41. James said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 6:53 am

    Peter H., if you get greater than full-size, your cup runneth over, is all.

    Follow up to one of John Walden's points:
    Has LL ever discussed the fact that we get "a beer" or "a soda" in America, but not "a wine" or "a coffee", whereas in the UK all of the counting references are fine? I have a feeling that you have. And isn't "a coffee" a lot more acceptable in the US now than it was pre-Starbucks? There's no problem at all, to my ear, with "an espresso".

  42. Jay D said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 8:00 am

    The most absurd product sizing nomenclature has to be at Coldstone Creamery where their S/M/L are "Like It", "Love It", and "Gotta Have It".

    I don't drink coffee very often but when I do have a taste for it I go to Caribou.

  43. adriano said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 8:14 am

    As an Italian, I think that if I'll ever get the chance to go to the States, I'd dispense with coffee.
    No one would convince me to pronounce "grande" and "trenta" the American way…

  44. Adam said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 8:15 am

    As Click & Clack said, "Just gimme five bucks worth of coffee!"

  45. John Walden said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 8:33 am

    peterm: It's a nice distinction you make between a truly invented name, like the ones for cars that aren't a word in any language, and taking the Italian for twenty or thirty and using it in a novel way for a cup size. Strictly speaking you're right that that Starbucks didn't invent the words for their cup sizes. A subtelty that might just escape customers with zero knowledge of numbers in other languages.

  46. Adam said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 8:47 am

    Suggestion for a new coffee type: "chiaroscuro"…

  47. cameron said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 10:23 am

    When you order espresso at Starbucks, there's a second set of Italianate terminology they use. If you ask for a single shot, they call it to the bar as a "solo" and if you ask for a double shot, they call it a "doppio".

    I often order a triple shot, and they usually refer to this as a "trippio." While "doppio" and "solo" are simply Italian for single and double, "trippio" is not Italian for triple. I asked one of the Starbucks staff at one place I go whether they are actually trained to say "trippio". I was wondering whether this was official Starbucks lingo. The staffer I asked claimed that she didn't think it was official lingo, but that Starbucks staff everywhere used the term, which was presumably coined by simple analogy with "doppio".

  48. Ellen K. said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 10:29 am

    @Filius Lunae: I'm confused. What's the difference between Italian and English (language) pronunciations of grande and venti, besides accent? Is there some American pronunciation I'm somehow missing? (I can't I've experience with how others pronounce these words.)

    @maidhc: I admit I haven't been to 7-Eleven for awhile, but isn't it like other convenience stores where you can put in as much or as little ice as you like?

  49. GeorgeW said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 10:30 am

    @Mr Fnortner: I am with you and I refuse to go along with these cutsie names.

    @David Green: "You might want to compare with the "official" sizes of olives."

    Or the types – extra virgin? Not only chaste, but not even considering alternative possibilities.

  50. Licia said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 11:11 am

    @ Ellen K.: Italian pronunciations are /'venti/ and /'trenta/

    @ Cameron: I am Italian and I find trippio hilarious, as it makes me think of trippa ("tripe"), a word used jokingly to describe excessive fat – presumably what one puts on when drinking too many trenta.

  51. SlideSF said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 11:50 am

    Is "tall" Italian for 12?

    @Jay D – if you really want absurd nomenclature, check out the menu at Cafe Gratitude in the SF Bay Area. It's a vegan restaurant with all it's offerings named in the form of an "affirmation". I won't go there simply since I would feel ridiculous ordering an " I am Dazzling".


  52. Ellen K. said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 11:52 am

    Licia: No, I'm pretty sure the Italian pronunciations of grande and venti aren't /'venti/ and /'trenta/. Since you clearly didn't read my post carefully, I guess that's why you mistakenly think I was asking what the Italian pronunciation is. I wasn't.

  53. Claire said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 12:16 pm


    Yeah, if someone suggests that it's more "correct" for me as an English speaker to pronounce a rolled /r/ or whatever when saying a loan word within the context of English, I think that's a bit ridiculous. If I did that, I'd surely be laughed at for being pretentious. If you're a native Italian speaker, of course, that's one thing. But I'm not, and I don't enjoy pretending to be in order to chase some ideal of "correctness".

  54. Scott said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 3:31 pm

    I was a barista for many years, and this nomenclature issue was quite perplexing. First off, I never worked at a Starbucks (thank the Lord) but people would come in using their size terminology anyway. What made this even more frustrating was that some people, rather rationally, assumed that the term "tall" referred to a large. They had heard it used at Starbucks but had never ordered one, I suppose, or had simply forgotten the idiotic use of that term for the shortest available cup at Starbucks. So every time someone ordered a "tall", I'd have to stop and ask if they meant a small, just to make sure. Some people would say "no, a large…" with a snarky look on their face, and I'd just sigh and get on with my day. Can't win.

    Also, Starbucks offers a "Caramel Macchiato" which is actually just a caramel latte (a macchiato is espresso with a small amount of milk foam on it–not a full-sized drink with liquid milk added). So people would come in an order THAT, and I'd have to ask if they want a "real" macchiato or a "Starbucks" macchiato. I think Starbucks tries to claim that this is distinct from a latte because they add the espresso, thus "marking" it (see the morpheme similarity with "macchiato"?) but this is just a bunch of idiocy. Milk foam can't trap espresso at the top of a drink.

    Basically, Starbucks needs to buy a dictionary.

  55. Filius Lunae said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 4:20 pm

    @Claire: I was giving my personal thoughts on the subject, not necessarily chastising anyone who doesn't follow the same practice. I agree with you, in some ways. However, the topic here is that these establishments are coining their own Italianate terms, which haven't been part of the English language otherwise (like, for instance, the Spanish words "burrito", "tortilla", etc; those I would not pronounce in Spanish in an English utterance).

    So, I go into Starbucks, I read venti, trenta, when I haven't heard anyone say that in an English conversation, my point was that I'm forced to pronounce them in Italian because I speak Italian (notice I didn't say something like "oh the atrocity, the barista just mispronounced trenta!").

    @Ellen K: The Italian pronunciation involves the "rolled r", the unaspirated "t", and unreduced vowels, so the transcriptions by an earlier poster are correct.

  56. taswegian said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 4:51 pm

    "I’m only devoted first month of pumpkin spice latte."
    What does that mean?

  57. Ellen K. said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 5:21 pm

    So, then, most Americans, in your experience, and unlike me, pronounce these words with some sort of "reduced" vowel? I can't imagine that. I can imagine grande having the vowel of grand, and even the 2nd vowel being altogether dropped, but I can't imagine a "reduced" vowel in any of these words.

    See, I don't see the Italian pronunciations as being far enough away from how I understand them to be pronounced in English that I can imagine someone not understanding them when given Italian pronunciations. Thus my question about the English language pronunciation, and the difference between that and the Italian. Or were you exaggerating for effect when you indicated the baristas don't understand you when you use the Italian pronunciations?

  58. Qov said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 5:22 pm

    I can parse that, taswegian. There is a season during which a pumpkin spice latte is available, and for the first month of that season, the speaker is devoted.

  59. Filius Lunae said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 5:34 pm

    @Ellen: The vowel part is only one element of the pronunciation. The biggest difference comes from the quality of /t/ and the /tr/ combination in English. Also, I was being simplistic with my terminology (and I wasn't referring to a vowel in "grande"). For grande, I suppose you can have either "grawnd" or "grawn-day", neither of which is an Italian pronunciation (or Spanish).

    And no, I didn't say they didn't understand me. I said they looked at me funny, like "O…k…". It's then, that I prefer to use the English names, rather than pronounce the Italian terms with an English pronunciation. More of a habit, really, that my mind sees Italian, and wants to say it in Italian (besides the fact that I'm not in Starbucks often).

    Speaking of which, barista is a word I would give an English pronunciation to when speaking English, not the Italian one.

  60. Ray Dillinger said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 6:06 pm

    Last time I was in a Starbux (which, I think, was only the second time ever for me) I asked the over-pierced person behind the counter for

    "…something as hot as lava, black as darkness, bitter as love lost, and big as the sky, with a ridiculously excessive dose of caffeine."

    I was relying on her knowledge of the place's terminology, since mine was zero.

    She interpreted my order perfectly. I think she called something back about a venti negro, four shots, but what she produced was exactly what I wanted. I tipped her nicely and took my coffee.

  61. Ellen K. said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 6:12 pm

    @Filius: No need to repeat yourself. I commented on what I had questions about. The comments here are not the place to reinterate what's been said that we understood.

  62. Paolo said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 8:05 pm

    Ellen K., please don't get mad also at me, but there are plenty of Italian words that are not understood by ordinary Americans if pronounced properly, and /ˈgrande/ and /ˈlatte/ (note gemination) are two of them.
    My favourite is /brusˈketta/, quite different from your /bruːˈʃɛtə/.

  63. HP said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 8:20 pm

    In the interest of fairness, mangled English on Chinese menus is a staple of Language Log, and while I've never been to Italy, I imagine most sizable cities there have an "English pub" or an "American Bar and Grill". And for me to order from the menu there would be an exercise in stifling laughter.

  64. Christopher said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 9:06 pm

    There's a whole pile of prejudices here that I haven't really thought through before.

    For example, I'm okay with people giving their sandwiches ridiculous names, but not their sizes.

    I guess it's because a sandwich has a lot of different ingredients, so it needs some kind of smaller name so that you can refer to it as something simpler then "that burger with the ham and fried egg and barbecue sauce and onion rings".

    So I'm fine ordering a "big mac" but I draw the line at "biggie fries".

    Also, I really do wonder if there's any hard data showing a benefit to giving all your sizes stupid names. My policy, which has always been successful, has been to just order with normal words, so if neither I nor the barista is using them, what's the sense of them? How many people do use them when they order? Is there some kind of documented benefit to them?

  65. GeorgeW said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 9:16 pm

    @Ray Dillinger: If you are not comedy writer, you should be.

  66. Rod Johnson said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 9:45 pm

    I like piccolo, mezzo and alto as ordering conventions a lot. I need to cut down on caffeine, so next time I'm ordering a castrato.

  67. Jangari said,

    January 27, 2011 @ 12:26 am

    I don't think I've been to a Starbucks in the last ten years – we have real cafés in Australia – so this question is in earnest. Is it possible to get anything (besides an espresso) smaller than 12 fluid ounces? A standard cup of coffee (for most Australian cafés at least) is 250ml, roughly 8 fl. oz, and I get annoyed at places that give you a "large" (12 fl. oz) by default. As far as I know, there is no larger size than that (obviously not including these behemoth cup sizes at Starbucks and similar chains).

    The only thing I order these days is a macchiato, an espresso or, if I'm craving some creamy goodness, a flat white (one third espresso, two thirds milk). Anything larger than 12 fl. oz is to me an absurd amout of milk. The concept of a pint, let alone almost a litre, of that brown dishwater that you guys seem to think is coffee literally nauseates me.

  68. tudza said,

    January 27, 2011 @ 4:10 am

    Jangari, I think you can get an 8 oz cup from Starbucks if you ask for one.

    I don't see why they can't name their drink sizes all in Italian. I took the trouble to look up 12 and 16, but the 8 I'd prefer to call "The Ocho!"

    Or how about small, double unsmall, and double plus unsmall?

  69. richard howland-bolton said,

    January 27, 2011 @ 7:38 am

    jfruh: 'Biggie'
    I seem to remember that 'biggie' is a youthful euphemism for defecation, so maybe they are just being honset??

  70. James said,

    January 27, 2011 @ 8:12 am

    Jangari doesn't mean a small coffee, tudzi. Australians only like espresso drinks. Note the 'brown dishwater' remark — Australians think that brewed coffee is a weak, inferior version of espresso.
    I like espresso drinks, myself, but in America coffee gourmets concentrate on brewed coffee. I've been to some tastings, or "cuppings" as they call them, and I enjoy them but I'm out of my league.

    Oh, so the answer is, yes, you can get a shorter espresso drink by asking for a 'short' (as I said above).

  71. James said,

    January 27, 2011 @ 8:12 am

    Sorry, tudza, not tudzi.

  72. Colin Reid said,

    January 27, 2011 @ 1:20 pm

    What irks me about 'venti' and 'trenta' is that it's a kind of calque into Italian of something that wouldn't be intelligible to most Italian speakers in the first place (no matter how they're pronounced), because apart from the million or so who live in the US, I imagine very few of them are familiar with the US Customary system of measurement. By comparison talking about a 'twenty' would at least make sense to many Americans, although probably not other English speakers (eg British people are not in the habit of referring to a drink by the number of fluid ounces it contains). Perhaps it's obfuscation so as not to make the customers think about how much they are drinking.

  73. Faldone said,

    January 27, 2011 @ 4:02 pm

    I think the trick in handling the pronunciation of these Italian (or Italianate) words is to think of them as English words that just happen to be spelled the same as Italian words. This same procedure can also put to rest any compunctions you might have about ordering "a panini."

  74. Bloix said,

    January 27, 2011 @ 4:20 pm

    "British people are not in the habit of referring to a drink by the number of fluid ounces it contains"

    I think I'll quietly nurse my pint while I think about that one.

  75. Terry Collmann said,

    January 27, 2011 @ 7:16 pm

    Um, well, I'm doubtful how many British people could tell you the number of fluid ounces in their pint, Bloix – indeed, I'd suspect quite a lot would have to think hard about how many ounces there are in a pound. (For Americans, of course, this might be different, since the answer in the US, unlike in the UK, is the same in both cases – and there isn't the added confusion of the number of pounds in a stone …)

  76. Dave2 said,

    January 27, 2011 @ 7:30 pm

    OK, I'm still not following the conversation. I used to study Italian, so I know the original Italian pronunciation of these terms. But I don't drink coffee, so I have no idea what the 'American' pronunciation of these terms is supposed to be.

    Can someone please spell it out for me? Thanks.

    [(myl) If you want to know what the pronunciation of these terms in American English actually is, and you don't trust your own efforts, you should consider a field trip to your local Starbucks or other relevant research site. If you want to know what the pronunciation of these terms in American English "should be", take the same field trip and ask to speak with a barista named Norma Loquendi.

    If the problem is that you don't understand the (anyhow off-topic) discussion in earlier comments about whether or not to roll the 'r' in "trenta", then you should buy and read a basic phonetics text.]

    [My message keeps getting eaten. Apologies if there is a double post]

  77. Picky said,

    January 28, 2011 @ 7:19 am

    I think a fair number of Britons who cook are still familiar with fluid ounces, and many measuring jugs now show three scales: metric; pints and fractions of pints; and fluid ounces.

    As to alcoholic drinks served over the bar, these used to be in pints and half pints (beer – still is, until this weird schooner thing arrives) and fractions of a gill (spirits). Now spirits are served in some sort of metric size.

  78. J.H. said,

    January 30, 2011 @ 5:48 am

    MIX, a chain in Hong Kong that sells sandwiches, salads and "Wrapps", also offers "Smoothees" in sizes "Wee" (12 oz.), "Wow" (16 oz.) and "Woah" (20 oz.). "Wee" is sort of understandable, but the only time I ordered a "Wow Mango Tango" made me feel pretty ridiculous.

    On another note, I find the constant urge to spell "Starbucks" as "Starbuck's" fascinating. I've noticed it several times in the comments as well as from people writing about it on Twitter or Facebook. I guess the prevalence of businesses named after their owners might make people instinctively follow the pattern for any establishment with an "s" on the end.

  79. HC said,

    January 30, 2011 @ 7:37 pm

    Just to say, McDonalds coffee in Ireland (expresso-based, automatically dispensed by machine, and quite tasty) comes in 'tall' or 'grande' sizes. Which confused the hell out of me the first few times I had to sell one.

    Most franchise chain coffee and smoothie establishments here sell beverages in fluid ounces alongside the silly names, even the ones which are Irish or British owned, despite the fact (as mentioned above) that very few people have any idea what a fluid ounce *is* (example: Insomnia coffee). If it's Starbucks-influenced then it must have been indirectly, because Starbucks is only here about five years.

  80. Drinks Week: Coffee | Wordnik ~ all the words said,

    September 29, 2011 @ 10:15 am

    […] sizes, take measure of the OUP Blog post on the trenta, the largest of the Starbuck’s large, and this post from the Language Log on latte lingo, coffee sizes ridiculously borrowed from Romance languages, and 7-Eleven’s various […]

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