Friday, 12 April 2013
The correct spelling of this word is espresso, deriving from the Italian cafè espresso ‘pressed-out coffee’. However, it is regularly assimilated to the more common English word express, giving the incorrect, yet increasingly frequent, spelling expresso. This spelling is now sufficiently common to have been accepted as a variant in a number of dictionaries. Merriam-Webster labels it a ‘variant of espresso’, much to the chagrin of many of its readers. Comments added to the online entry voice an outraged hostility to the acceptance of this incorrect spelling. One commentator is saddened that the spelling is common enough to be adopted by the dictionary, while another refuses to accept it: ‘No, it’s simply and only ESPRESSO! EXpresso...is only a variant because the clueless masses have used it so much its nearly been accepted as an alternative spelling!’. (Note the inevitable misspelling of it’s!) For most opponents of expresso it is simply a badge of stupidity: Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post considers expresso the ‘idiot’s coffee-bar order’.
In response to a question about the correct spelling and pronunciation of this word on a bulletin board, most contributors oppose the expresso spelling. For one it is ‘like nails on a chalkboard’; for another there is no debate: ‘It’s espresso. It just is. Go to Italy.’ While this may seem a logical and incontrovertible argument, it’s worth recalling that many foreign words in English have not preserved their original spellings. Supporters of the expresso spelling note that in French the word is spelled express, while one hazards the more dubious suggestion that drinking expresso makes you go faster! This folk etymological justification of the expresso spelling by associating it with speed lies behind one of the definitions offered by Urban Dictionary, which describes it as ‘any fancy coffee’ ordered as a take-away. The association with quick service implied by the expresso spelling is deliberately invoked by owners of the ‘Speedy Expresso’ café. Various establishments play on the association with the verb express, encouraging their customers to expresso themselves. Whatever we might think of these rather tortuous puns, it is evident that the opportunities the expresso spelling allows us to associate it with other genuine English words means that this spelling error is here to stay.