Pardon my mock French

The McDonald’s people have rolled out an advertising campaign for their McCafés, which offer (in their words)

expresso coffee, gourmet cakes & muffins and delicious snacks

The television ads show ordinary English words that are spelled with a final E re-spelled as mock French, with an acute accent on the E (as in café), and pronounced with a final stressed /e/, thus converting everyday experiences into something fancier, more exciting (by the addition of something from a McCafé): choré, rinsé, sprinklé. Have the Café Experience!

The point of the ads is to call attention to the products, of course. It doesn’t really make any difference that some people find the ads silly or annoying (and some people do), so long as the ads are memorable.

Back when most Americans were experiencing the ads in print rather than 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 pronunciation fould be: a maximally clear pronunciation, with all three syllables bearing some stress (and therefore having unreduced vowels), in an alternating pattern (heaviest stress on the last syllable, next heaviest on the first, least on the second), and the vowels /æ/, /æ/, /e/ (in order) (the transcription is phonemic rather than phonetic, to allow for variation in the phonetic realizations of these phonemes across dialects). No doubt many people will fail to follow this model and will de-stress one or both of the first two syllables (and so reduce the vowel(s)).

5 Responses to “Pardon my mock French”

  1. mollymooly Says:

    expresso? espresso, surely. Although in France, expresso is quite common: less deprecated, if not quite unexceptionable.

  2. arnoldzwicky Says:

    To mollymooly: this is an exact quote from the website, though to be fair to McDonald’s, the body of the website has espresso.

    Expresso for espresso is a very frequent usage in English — entered into the eggcorn database on 10 April 2005 (by me, in fact).

  3. Mark Mandel Says:

    Hell, for Mickey D’s I’ll just say /məkˈkɛ͜ɪf/.

  4. arnoldzwicky Says:

    Another take on these ads, from Ben Zimmer, also on 21 May, here.

  5. The Ridger Says:

    I’m not spending money to comment on Ben Zimmer’s article, but I immediately thought of Dr. Beardface, from Scrubs, who’s always saying, “It’s Beardfacé, dammit!”

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