I've always heard people say something like
"Pronunciation is not my [for-tay]"
... but I feel that I've heard that the correct pronunciation is
"Confusing people is my [fort]"
What is the proper way to pronounce this word?
If you want to be perfectly and unimpeachably correct, you will pronounce the word forte, meaning something that is one’s strong point, identically to the word fort, and reserve the FOR-tay pronunciation only for the musical term.
Most people don't know about this distinction and pronounce it FOR-tay for all senses, both the “strong point” sense as well as the musical term. Most people will not notice or care if you do that. In fact, if you say that some subject is or is not your “fort”, people will look at you quizzically and perhaps even ask “do you mean FOR-tay?”. On the other hand, if you use the pronunciation “FOR-tay” those of us who know the difference may judge you to be ignorant.
In either case, you take a risk of some sort. Bryan Garner came up with the name “skunked term” for words like this, in his 1998 Dictionary of Modern American Usage:
When a word undergoes a marked change from one use to another … it’s likely to be the subject of dispute. Some people (Group 1) insist on the traditional use; others (Group 2) embrace the new use.… Any use of [the word] is likely to distract some readers. The new use seems illiterate to Group 1; the old use seems odd to Group 2. The word has become “skunked.”
My advice is to find a substitute word or phrase.
This source http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/forte suggests that the correct pronunciation of the word in your context is 'fort', as it is derived from the French 'fort' (strong) and the 'for-tay' pronunciation appeared through confusion with the 'forte' in music meaning loud, which is Italian and correctly pronounced 'for-tay'.
As reported by the NOAD, the pronunciation is
|fɔrt|, whenever forte means a thing at which someone excels, or loud/loudly.
In the first case, the origin of the word is from a French word fort (masculine), or forte (feminine), from Latin fortis; in the second case the origin is the Italian word forte, from the Latin fortis. The difference is that in the first case the word has been borrowed from French, while in the other case the word has been borrowed from Italian; in both the cases, the word derive from the same Latin word.
In Italian, the used word is forte for both the meanings; if there is any difference in the pronunciation is probably to differentiate the different origin of the English words.
Define "proper." Language change, including pronunciation change is inevitable. And reference books, no matter how prescriptive, cannot stem the tide of change, which can come from overwhelming use by the masses. Frankly, I've never heard forte (meaning strength) pronounced as anything other than for-tay, and I am fifty two.
If you are unsure or waffling, I suggest you pronounce it the way that the social group you wish to identify with pronounces it, and that can include pronouncing it differently around different people.
Thank you for your interest in this question.
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