Do you say For-tay or fort, potato or potahto?

A bird flies from his perch on the remnant of a tree lying in the upper Santee.

For all French language enthusiasts, would be connoisseurs, lovers of French history and culture, who may have learned something of the language during high school or college, and for those who know a lot of the language but nonetheless find themselves prone to the following common mistake: Now hear this. I have an important announcement.

According to reliable sources, including my huge Harper Collins French reference dictionary and consultants semi-fluent in the language, there is no such word as "for-tay." At least not in the (incorrect) context that everyone uses the word, including yours truly.

That context would be in the sense of conveying strength, competence or capability. "Oh, such and such is not really my for-tay," one might say. If I'm not mistaken, the correct way to utter such a proclamation would be, "Oh, such and such is not really my forte," using the pronunciation "fort" (as in Sumter). But if you'd care to be particularly annoying, you might factor in a little gurgle in the back of the throat while making the "r" sound, as if trying to expel an accidentally inhaled Lowcountry gnat, or maybe something far more repulsive.

The only problem is, people will think you're hilariously stupid and might even take it upon themselves to correct your error. Politely, of course. "It's for-tay, you dope. What's wrong with you?"

What I'm suggesting is that it's not "for-tay" at all, but "fort." You'll find no accent aigu over the French word forte, or phonetic instructions to pronounce the word as "for-tay." But nobody knows it, and if you go around saying this, that, or the other is or is not your "fort," people will look at you funny, smile and then gracefully segue on to something else.

Part of the confusion may stem from the assumption that we're dealing with a French term - as opposed to an Italian one, for example. "For-TAY" simply sounds more French than Italian. But, in fact, "forte" is also an Italian word, which I believe is pronounced "FOR-tay," and is generally interpreted as a musical term describing something loud.

So either way - unless you happen to be describing music - the term is wrong, wrong, wrong! But who's going to change at this point? Anybody?

At least with tomato vs tomahto, potato potahto, either eyether, neither neyether, and so on, we can agree that everybody's essentially right.


On the environmental front, how much of a role are politics and development interests playing in the proposed new transmission line in the Awendaw-McClellanville area?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service currently is considering an application from Central Electric Power Cooperative for financial assistance to construct a proposed 115-kilovolt transmission line to McClellanville through parts of Charleston and Georgetown counties.

A distribution line already serves Awendaw and McClellanville from the south along U.S. Highway 17. Several proposed routes for the new power line would originate at the Belle Isle Substation near Georgetown, cut south over the Santee delta, across the Santee River, and then through some of the most beautifully preserved, undisturbed, pristine and historic resources in the country. Up to 11 acres of the Francis Marion National Forest would be affected by the longest proposed route.

In a Post and Courier report, a spokesman for Berkeley Electric Cooperative (which gets its power through a contract with Central Electric Cooperative) was quoted as saying that reliability and service need to be improved in the McClellanville and Awendaw areas. The required impact statement by the Rural Utilities Service also states that the current power line can't handle future growth when the population is expected to grow 2.2 percent for the next 20 years.

Here's the conundrum: While the concept of eminent domain would involve the greatest good for the greatest number, where are the facts that would justify such an astounding assault on such a sensitive region of the state?

A public hearing for McClellanville area residents is set for June 3. Stay tuned.

Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at edwardgilbreth@