Mighty Red Pen

June 7, 2008

Decor vs décor

Filed under: Overseen,Spellbound — mighty red pen @ 1:04 pm
Tags: ,

When I first read this query from MRP reader Ms. Vickie, it didn’t seem like there was much to the question. She sent in something she’d seen on wave3.com, the website for WAVE 3 TV, Louisville, Kentucky:

Newport restaurant closing over lawsuit

“Ruby said changing the name of the restaurant isn’t an option because it would require a change in décor or concept. “

Ms. Vickie questioned the spelling of the word decor:

I don’t believe I have ever seen the word “decor” written that way!

In fact, the spelling of decor with or without an accent is quite common, but when I happened to just do a little checking around, I unearthed this little tidbit of information in the Columbia Guide to Standard American English:

decor, décor (n.)

is a French word meaning “the scheme of decoration (of a room).” It’s in divided usage in both spelling (either with or without the acute accent mark) and pronunciation (either with the main stress on the second syllable, approximating the French sound, dai-KOR, or with the stress anglicized to fall on the first syllable: DAI-kor).

Now, dictionary.com prefers décor for spelling, but is agnostic on pronunciation, while the American Heritage Dictionary is agnostic on both issues. What do you prefer, either spelling or pronunciation-wise, and why?


Update: Ms. Vickie wrote back to clarify that it was not the spelling décor she was wondering about, it was what she actually saw on the screen. She kindly sent along this screen shot:

This is not an unusual spelling of decor/décor, but a minor case of the accent not reading correctly and being rendered as a series of symbols. Either way, thanks to Ms. Vickie for something to think about. 



  1. I prefer that words used in American English go without accent marks or accented pronunciations when possible. In this case, it seems to me to be absolutely possible, and so I prefer it without. I would, however, pronounce is as deh-KOR, with a slight emphasis on the second syllable.

    Comment by Lydia — June 7, 2008 @ 3:08 pm | Reply

  2. […] clarification, miscellaneous, random, spelling I noticed Mighty Red Pen put up a post called Decor vs décor using a link I sent, but I also noticed the formatting of that which I sent changed […]

    Pingback by décor « Cosmic Bubbles — June 7, 2008 @ 8:19 pm | Reply

  3. I prefer the French spelling and pronunciation, d’accord?

    Now, forte: “fort” or “for-tay”?

    Comment by tk. — June 10, 2008 @ 4:47 pm | Reply

  4. Funny you should mention that. It seems to me that I was just reading the other day that the correct pronunciation is “fort” and that Americans trying to Frenchify it say “for-tay.”

    Comment by mighty red pen — June 10, 2008 @ 6:54 pm | Reply

  5. Although I would guess that “for-tay” is more Italian. I always thought it sounded better than “fort”, though, and I was bummed to learn that that’s the “more correct” pronunciation.

    Comment by tk. — June 11, 2008 @ 12:06 pm | Reply

  6. There are two words with identical spelling.
    The Italian musical term “forte” indicates that a passage is to be played “loudly” (its opposite is “piano” or “softly”). The Italian word is pronounced “for-tay”.
    The French “forte” means strong and is pronounced “fort” In English, it means a strength: “Cooking is my forte” but North Americans generally mis-pronounce it “for-tay”, borrowing from the Italian.

    Comment by Tom — September 25, 2009 @ 10:09 am | Reply

  7. To my horror, I just realized that I ordered my business cards with an accent on the 2nd syllable of decor (“Decór Déviant”), which according to your explanation above, IS where the stress is actually placed for the French pronunciation: “…and pronunciation (either with the main stress on the second syllable, approximating the French sound…” Yet. when written the accent mark is actually placed over the ‘e’. Color me confused-but-so-hoping-to-be-relieved. Merci beaucoup!

    Comment by Denise Lynn Banks — July 16, 2011 @ 3:58 am | Reply

    • Denise, The accent mark is correctly placed on the first syllable: décor. I’m not an expert on accent marks (as any of my Spanish and French teachers would be happy to testify) but I believe that in French, accent marks above the e dictate the sound of the e rather than the stress of the syllable. So the accent can be over the first syllable (to let you know the sound the e makes) but the stress can still be on the second syllable. Here’s more info: http://www.grammarist.com/french/french-accent-marks/ or http://www.pronunciationguide.info/French.html. I’d defer to anyone who can explain this more clearly, however.

      Comment by mighty red pen — July 17, 2011 @ 12:40 pm | Reply

  8. Thank you for this! I think décor is more aesthetically pleasing and encourages the pronunciation ‘dai-kor’ which I prefer. Ultimately, with the nature and evolution of language, it seems to come down to preference now that there is no ‘right’ way. I’m so curious about the consensus, or lack-there-of, in the interior design world!

    Comment by Artisan Crafted (@ArtisanCrafted) — November 5, 2012 @ 12:09 pm | Reply

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