Shmoop's Guide to Writing the Perfect Essay
You’re at Starbucks. You’re really tired because you’ve been hanging out with your friends all night. You’re late for school, you’re sweating inappropriately, and you need a vat of iced coffee in you right now. You wait patiently while some lady reads the entire menu to her kid. You keep calm while a nervous old man hems and haws over the scones like he’s buying a new Buick. Then… it happens: The guy with the trimmed beard, intensely moisturized skin, and fleece zip-up says in his best Tim-Gunn voice: “Yes, along with the green tea, I’d like the CWAH-SAWN.” You lose it. You remove your shoe and start hitting yourself on the head with it. You leap over the counter and guzzle coffee straight from the spigot. You wake up four days later in an Iowa cornfield wearing only the top half of a tuxedo. While you have no idea how you got there, the pain of hearing the word “cwah-sawn” is still fresh in your mind. Indeed, this pretentious, faux-French way of saying “croissant” brings great pain to many everyday Americans. This pronunciation must be scorned, not only because it is elitist, but also because it sounds disgusting coming out of the mouth of the average American. Also, it defies accepted practices of American language use.
One of the most annoying things about this pronunciation of “croissant” is that it has no practical purpose; rather, people use it only to seem superior to the rest of us. What other motivation could there be? Does it aid in communication? No one in the good ol’ United States has ever said, “Wait, what’s a ‘cruh-sahnt’? Ohhhh, you mean CWAH-SAWN.” It’s not like Americans who say it have some irrepressible French accent that comes on only around middlebrow pastries. People say it to make a point, and that point is as follows: “I, being educated and worldly, have visited France. Or at least studied French. Or, I have a friend who has studied French, and I’ve heard her say “croissant” the right way. Or maybe it’s just that I listen to NPR and wear recycled shoes. Either way, the message is clear: I am different from you, I know more than you, and I have better taste than you.” With all of the ways that society carves itself up—by race, by class, by political affiliation—do we really need this petty reminder of our differences while waiting in line for breakfast? “Cwah-sawn” represents outright and distasteful elitism.
There is certainly nothing distasteful about the croissant itself; it is a delicious, flaky pastry, and yet the sound of a clumsy American maw trying to force its name in a fake French accent is enough to turn the stomach (pronounced “sto-mosh”). The French language is certainly beautiful—but only when coming from French speakers. The average cwah-sawner speaks flat American English and has to work pretty hard to pull off a decent “cwah-sawn.” He wrenches and sputters, and what results is a foul, wet, nasal sound that has no home in any language. Once, I noticed a shy-looking young woman wince when a cwah-sawner dropped his business in a coffee shop. I asked her what was wrong. “When I hear people say that,” she said, “horrible images come to mind: very dead dogs; grown men in diapers; old pudding.” She trailed off and left the establishment. Her experience corroborates my point that “cwah-sawn” is a hideous sound that has no place in public.
On the other hand, some people might defend their right to say “cwah-sawn.” They will say that “croissant” is a French word, and French people pronounce it “cwah-sawn,” so it’s accurate and better to use that pronunciation. On the surface, this point makes sense, but dig a little deeper into the history of the English language, and American English in particular, and this argument falls apart completely. The English we speak today is an amalgam of German, French, Greek, and Latin, to name a few. Especially here in the US, English has an insane array of other languages influencing it—we are, after all, the most diverse country on earth. Virtually every word we speak has come from some other culture or language, but they all get folded into the same noble mush that is the English language. So why should “croissant” be any different?
However, others believe that people should be free to say the word however they want. After all, freedom of speech is protected by the Bill of Rights. True, but let’s pause and think about what’s at stake. Some basic elements of human life—food, language, society—are ever-so-slightly spoiled with every cwah-sawn. A law banning the pronunciation might be difficult to pass, but would fit within legal precedent. After all, the First Amendment doesn’t protect shouting “fire” in a theater, or bass rattling your apartment at three in the morning. In the meantime, let’s enforce the ban socially. Step up. Say something. When we encounter a cwah-sawner, let’s look at him sternly, or whap him lightly with a rolled newspaper. Or take a photo of him and post it online with a caption that really brings the issue home: “This Nerd SUXX!”