I just can’t do it

I am trying not to be curmudgeonly here, but I am a bit squeemish about how we use the Italian coffee words we’ve borrowed. I know it may be technically correct to say two cappuccini but that rather assumes I am speaking Italian. Which I rarely do even within Italy a

I am not out to lambast those that do – but it does sound very odd to talk about baristi, cappuccini and the like. Even though we are rarely brewing espresso to Italian conventions it seems odd that once we anglify b the words they are still exempt from our rules of grammar.

Am I wrong? Should I be using Italian plurals? Should I really not worry about this sort of thing? c

  1. more down to a lack of communicative skill in Italian than anything else  (back)
  2. Once it appears in English Dictionaries I reckon it is an English word and subject to our Draconian rules of language construction. But that is just me….  (back)
  3. Is stress slowly eating away at the sensible part of my brain??  (back)

29 Comments I just can’t do it

  1. The Onocoffee

    I think it’s contrived to use “baristi” and the like. “Barista”, while Italian in origin, is a word co-opted into the English language, therefore it should follows English forms of conjugations.

    An example of this would be there word “tattoo.” Imported from Polynesian languages, we do not use the Polynesian form of conjugation but English standard.

    Since I understand a bit of Hawaiian, I’ll use that. In Hawaiian, “tattoo” is “tatu.” To say that you have plural tattos, one would say Na Tatu, with the “na” signifying the plurality. In English, you wouldn’t say “Na Tatoo” – even though it’s correct in Hawaiian.

    Baristas, Cappuccinos and the like are perfectly acceptable forms.

  2. Baz

    A very good answer! The swedish language has also borrowed the italian word “barista”. In plural that becomes “baristor”. I’m not sure many people would understand me if I started using its original italian form “baristi”.

  3. Mike Baldwin

    Language specialists like Linguists and Linguistic Anthropologists would generally agree with you, Jim. The words are Italian in origin, but they’ve been adopted into English and are therefore subject to the English rules of pluralization.

  4. James Hoffmann

    True – but then again all the things I am currently worrying about are not things I really want to post on my blog about.

    I am looking forward to starting to cup a lot more soon, back to discovering and learning…

  5. liz

    Language evolves and is bastardized whether we like it or not; I don’t think a line needs to be drawn on who chooses to use the occasional word in its native form, though it’s definitely a bit affected to say “baristi” (the only Italian plural I sometimes use). But I only did that because it sounded cool — fuckit, I’m switching to “baristor”.

  6. Kiril

    you are totally right james … i could never bring myself to say espressi or cappuccini, i was talking to an old italian gentleman at work and he pointed out that it is grammatically incorrect two say cappuccini. so if you want to say two cappuccino(s) it will have to be “due cappuccino”
    so we can safely mark that one off the list! i think ben might be right hahaha take a bath :)

  7. Ben Kaminsky

    You gotta have people outside your core group that you feel comfortable speaking plainly with and bouncing ideas off of, etc. For me, it’s Drew, Ryan, Gabe and Baca at Ritual, and Owens. They keep me sane sometimes. I’m guessing you’ve got a lot of friends in this business who would be more than happy to lend an ear. You know this already…sorry to preach.

  8. Rich W

    Guilty of using baristi, but never even thought of cappuccini…

    I’d happily stop using baristi, but as a trade off, I demand English-speakers stop saying “paninis” which is ALREADY plural. If they want to say “paninos”, well, OK.

    If we’re gonna have conventions for all this Italian, then at least let it be consistent.

  9. James Hoffmann

    Ben – yeah, I chew the ear of various folk now and again. Just the usual pains of starting a new business and everyone tells you how hard it is, and you don’t get it, but now I can hear myself using the same words to try to explain to someone else how hard it is! (the folly of youth!)

    Rich – Deal!

  10. Thompson Owen

    i predict we’ll all wake up and be horribly embarassed … at least those with a proper sense of shame. and i am not just talking about language appropriations and one-gloved baristi. there’s a kind of excess that isn’t discussed too much because, perhaps, it hasn’t reached it’s zenith. i amagine i might be one of the most embarassed, we’ll see. but at least i don’t correct people who say expresso (i like expresso!), and i don’t wear one glove, dammit i wear two! on a related note:


  11. Grendel

    I reckon I’ll stick with you on the casual approach. Biscotti, gelati, barista, capuccino and others are all in general use in our househould, and mostly in incorrect use by Italian standards.

    An unconventionalist by habit rather than decision.

  12. James Hoffmann

    Tom – is it possible to get a set of those gloves shipped to the UK? I am not sure the other item would fit me though….

    As for excess – are we talking money or something else (sorry if I am dim, though the recent filter brewing article only seems to be getting so much press because of the price tag that is mentioned in every headline)?

    Just to be clear – I am not out to pick on people, just to grumble away in half arsed way in between manic coffee obsessed posts.

  13. Daniel

    I have felt the same way for quite some time. I won’t correct anybody when they use one of those terms, but I almost feel uncomfortable when they are used. I’m glad I’m not alone.

    And Tom, those seem like wicked-good deals for barista gear of that caliber.

  14. Lance

    This has turned into a real debate. I am not too bothered but we do you Espresso and Cappuccino is single form as normal everyday language so why not use the plural if we know them. I do not myself.
    Lets try and keep Italian coffee words traditional because coffee itself has been bastardized by the 20oz paper cup. We should be saying that is not a cappuccino. That is a meal. If you go to Italy and ask for a latte you will get given a glass of milk.
    No such thing as a doulbe espresso in Italy. Right drink for right name then we be in a postiion to call
    drinks by 2s and 3 s
    There is no Starbucks in Italy. I rest my case

  15. James too

    Yes i have asked for a ‘latte’ before to an italian barista and he gave me a glass of milk! I’m too embarrassed to say what happened when i ordered an ‘americano’.

    I think the only way someone could get away with using the word cappuccini is if they meant it in an ironic kind of way. Like – look at me i know that the plural of cappuccino is cappuccini aren’t i clever because i’ve been to italy – and then making fun of that by using the word. I think i could do that.

    Having said that i do say ‘brusketa’ rather than ‘brusheta’. Guilty as charged…

  16. Shaun

    I’m just hope that no trend setting blogger ever takes on the notion that two tampers on top of an espresso machine should be referred to as tamperi.

    I agree with your point James.

  17. Ben

    interesting thoughts, many more than i would have thought on said subject. I just finished a week of Barista…. or is it Baristi… or Barista’s/s training in Durban South Africa and was given an ear full by an Italian South African that we should all be using cappuccini if we are going to be calling ourselves a barista. I smiled, nodded, thought how fascinating and didn’t think I’d give it a second thought until this amusing conversation took place. fascinating.

  18. Carlo Odello

    Do not worry about the plural form of Italian words in English. If it can be of any help, just think we in Italian do not use plural forms of English words, e.g. we say “un computer, due computer, tre computer”. It is just about reciprocity.

  19. Chris, Chris & Denise

    Lighten up folks – we often use putfee (PTFE)tape – call UckyDee (UCD ltd) – order machines from Penky & Porky (the spaziale boys)- & at the end of the day visit the local pub to counteract all the caffiene from the cappuccini by ordering a Brace of Adnami – That’ll be 2 pints of Adnams Ale then!

  20. Anthony Epp

    Having said that i do say ‘brusketa’ rather than ‘brusheta’. Guilty as charged…
    –Depends. I have heard this one different ways and even with all my years spent working in Italian restaurants, nobody could give me a definitive answer. But if you believe in Giada de Laurentis, it would be “brusketta”.

    but at least i don’t correct people who say expresso (i like expresso! Do you “ask” or “aks” a question.
    –I do in a hopefully lighthearted way. It grates on my nerves. Just like when somebody says “Kahsta Rica” instead of “coasta rica”. But I don’t think it’s worth it as I just usually get a dumb look in response. Because people are lost enough already. Do we let them continue down this road. And now McCafe is making things worse by putting “espresso” up on bill boards in all CAPS. ugh!!!

    When talking about the town in Germany where the church in the center of town was about the only thing not bombed to the ground, do you say it “Cologne” or “Kolne”? How did you say the name of the city where the last winter olympics were held?

    If one is talking about things specific to a country, then the pronuciation should be as people in that country would say it. (Although, when I was in Norway, I couldn’t get on straight answer from anyone one how to pronounce the name of the city we were in – “Bodo”)

    From my perception, there isn’t a whole lot Italian about the way thing are done in a majority of shops anymore so what would be the pressing need to use the “correct” terminology or pronuciation. My appologies, that sound so conceited and SO ‘arrogant American’ of me, but it wouldn’t come out any other way.

  21. Phil

    You say, “If one is talking about things specific to a country, then the pronuciation should be as people in that country would say it.”

    When speaking english, most people use the english forms of nouns and place names, ie. Do you say “Paris” or “paree”? “Italy” or “Italia”
    if we do borrow words from other languages we should pluralise them the english way as many others have already said…

  22. Anthony Epp

    That’s what I wanted to say.

    Thank you for saying much more succinctly than I.

    I really should not try and get that deep on my sleep depraved brain. (and yes, I did mean it like that.)

  23. rob

    Call it any damn thing you want. We’re not asking for a specific scalpel during surgery here. It’s a freakin cup of coffee.

    Furthermore, there’s no loss or dilution of meaning when interchanging the variations of the plural form, so no harm no foul.

    “Barita” sounds too damn pompous anyway. I propose changing it to “mr mojo”.

  24. Thompson Owen

    james … i guess i am just stealing a riff from your original post. you reach a certain threshold and feel self conscious about baristi and cappuccini and some people never, ever hit that point. i apologize, but when i see a barista competition i feel traumatized. i just don;t understand what culture people are representing. las vegas. game shows. reality tv. whats with the madonna mics, what do hairstyles have to do with making drinks. the great thing is that we can embarrass ourselves referencing our own culture, rather than embarrassing ourselves by trying to seem italian. i dont get what making someone a cup of coffee has to do with putting on a show. in my years serving coffee, its kinda a humbling thing. everyone is either in school or in a band or doing something else because serving coffee is not exactly what you planned to do with your life. i actually like that aspect, and dont think its something that needs to turn into a wierd vegas fantasy. let me say that the limits of my experience are the finals at scaa shows, thats all ive seen of it. anyway, i like to creatively misread things. of course there’s a whole other side to this, which has to do with the coffee, with the cup, and the crop. and thats why i read your posts with great interest… tom

  25. James Hoffmann

    Hi Tom,

    I was reading your last post and it got me thinking, and then you expanded on it more here and it got me thinking more.

    I also sometimes worry about the attitudes and direction that the (incomprehendable to me anyway) third wave/barista competitions are going in.
    I worry about the growing rigidity about the new “rules” being created around coffee, especially espresso, and the arrogance that can come with that. I worry that the industry better at focusing on what we are good at, not what we are bad at. (perhaps that is kind of how you see barista competitions?)

    I worry a lot, but right now my main concern is how to replace the stuck screws from my Gothot as I have no idea where to source replacements and it would be a shame to prettify it but leave old ugly screws in the barrels and the front.

  26. Insultingbozo

    I haven’t taken Italian since high school, but wouldn’t the plural of “barista” be “bariste”?

    Unless you’re referring to “baristo”, which would be “baristi”.

Leave A Comment