Friday, August 27, 2010

en prise

Let me first point out that this is a purely personal rant and does not necessarily express the views/opinions of Trowbridge Chess Club (or its other members).

For those unaware, the phrase en prise is used by chess players to describe an unprotected piece (or pawn). It derives from the French verb prendre (to take) and can be translated as 'within grasp' or 'able to be taken'. Now those of you with a passing knowledge of French will recognise prise as having a feminine form. This is because it agrees with the generic word for a piece (une pièce in French), which is feminine.

The excellent Edward Winter in his Chess Notes (#4463 and also updated here) observes that en prise is often incorrectly pronounced "on pree", particularly in the United States. I am not especially surprised or alarmed by this. American language does tend to diverge from the original source and from International standards. One might even say it is à la mode.

What does bother me is (British) English speakers who not only fail to pronounce the s in en prise but also have the temerity to castigate others (who aren't so ill-educated) for their perceived inadequacy. Witness one well-known British player advising a fluent French speaker to "learn sone (sic) French pronounciation (sic)". When I politely enquired about his usage I received the following response from another user: "it's french. You don't pronounce the 's'."

In spoken language one might be excused as mistaking the phrase to be en pris or en prix. But when the words are correctly spelled this behaviour simply cannot be condoned. Perhaps (some) people are dimly aware of the rule that (in French) s as a final consonant is usually silent. However, to extend this rule to the ise suffix is a monstrous hypercorrection.

Is it really that troublesome to consult a dictionary? (Or dictionaries, if you prefer.) I'm tempted to offer a bottle of Moët et Chandon (it's not Mo-ay) if you find a genuine dictionary supporting the pree variant. Not that this would prove anything in particular.

Au Revoir!


  1. It appears that kingscrusher has removed his comment. However there's still one from some idiot who thinks I'm American. One click on my profile is all it would take...

  2. To give kingscrusher some credit, there is a video here where he admits to his misapprehension regarding the word pronunciation. We all make mistakes and there's no shame in admitting to one.