Q&A: Espresso or expresso?

Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week we've requested express delivery of our espresso…

Q: Hi AWC…zzz

A: Um, hello – are you okay?

Q: It’s too early. Why do we do these so early?

A: Have you not had your morning coffee yet?

Q: Noooo I haven’t and I simply cannot start my day without an expresso.

A: Do you mean an “ESpresso”?

Q: I don’t think so. But it is early.

A: Alright, we’ll just do the heavy lifting on this one. YES, you probably SHOULD mean “espresso” and not “expresso”.

Q: Wait, what were we talking about?

A: “Espresso” is actually one of the most commonly mispronounced words around – mistakenly said as “expresso”. And occasionally, it will find its way into written form too.

Q: Why?

A: It is likely due to the common English word “express”. Since we are only adding an O to the end, and there is no such word as “espress” in English, many people merely think it’s an extension.

Q: I’m so sleepy. But yes, I see your point.

A: The word “espresso” comes from the Italian “caffé espresso” – meaning “pressed out coffee”. Many coffee varieties come from Italian of course – for example “macchiato” translates as “marked/stained” because of the dash of milk in the espresso. And “cappuccino” actually comes from “Capuchin” Catholic friars – named such because the drink resembles a Capuchin’s habit.

Q: Yes, coffee is one of my habits – thank you for asking.

A: Oddly, back in the 1950s and ‘60s, it was far more common to see “eXpresso”. It kind of died out by the ‘70s, but now it’s enjoying a comeback.

Q: So is “expresso” completely wrong then?

A: English is constantly changing. Currently we would say that “espresso” is the word you should always use to avoid someone thinking you don’t know what you’re talking about. However, many dictionaries – including Australia’s Macquarie Dictionary – now list “expresso” as an alternative spelling, much to the chagrin of coffee experts everywhere.

Q: Don’t you mean “coffee esperts”? Hahaha. I’m hilarious.

A: No comment.

Q: I always thought it was “expresso” because you drink it fast – express.

A: A lot of people probably thought the same thing. But as we saw, “espresso” actually translates as “pressed out”.

Q: So to recap-puccino – haha, see what I did there?

A: Yes, we see.

Q: Okay, good. So to recap – always use “espresso” but the X is not going away.

A: That’s right.

Q: I once had an ex who wouldn’t go away. Had to get a restraining order…

A: How ‘bout we go grab a coffee?

Q: Best idea you’ve ever had. I’ll have a triple espresso…

If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!

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