People sometimes link the word “express” with “espresso” because espresso can be a fast way to get caffeine, which can make you feel faster. But “espresso” isn’t related to the word “express.” It’s related to the word “pressed.”
In honor of National Coffee Day, September 29, we’ll talk about espresso. I’m always happy to have an excuse to talk about espresso, and the big language thing to note is that it’s pronounced “espresso,” not “expresso.”
‘Espresso’ Is Not Related to ‘Express’
I think people might link the word “express” with “espresso” because espresso can be a fast way to get caffeine, which can make you feel faster. But “espresso” primarily comes from the Italian word for "pressed." The Oxford English Dictionary says it literally translates to “pressed coffee.” It's about how the coffee is made. "Espresso" is peripherally related to the word “express” since "express" and "pressed" both come from the same Latin root, but since "espresso" comes to English from Italian, its direct origin is the word for "pressed."
‘Expresso’ May Be More Common in British English
But I also have to tell you that the OED also lists “expresso” as another form of the word, and in a search of words published in Google Books, “expresso” seems like it’s more acceptable in British English than in American English, although it’s definitely in the minority in both regions.
"Expresso" Is the Standard in France
In France, you order an "expresso."
English Has More ‘Exp-’ Words Than ‘Esp-’ Words
According to Ben Yagoda writing in “Slate” a few years ago, words beginning with “exp” are eight times more common in English than words beginning with “esp,” like "espresso," so that may also contribute to people saying “expresso” instead of “espresso”—it just sounds more like other words you hear—and it would also explain why this is a pattern that goes beyond just the word “espresso,” because people also mispronounce “especially” as “expecially,” “escape” as “excape,” and “et cetera” as “ex cetera.” It’s a thing.
Stick to the ‘Espresso’ Pronunciation
But it’s a thing that I know irritates a lot of people, so it’s best to stick to the “espresso" pronunciation, unless your goal is to annoy people. I wonder if there’s ever been a character in TV or film who mispronounces all his or her “es”-words like this, kind of like how Rob Lowe’s character, Chris, in “Parks and Recreation” used the word “literally” all the time and pronounced it strangely too. If you know of one, let me know!
I Confess to Mispronouncing ‘United’
And speaking of pronunciation, I’ve never claimed to be perfect. Macronencer left a comment on one of my YouTube videos pointing out that I pronounce “united” as “u-nine-ted,” which I do, and I had no idea I was doing it. You may have even just heard how much I had to struggle to say it the right way. “United.” I’d been saying “u-nine-ted” my whole life. So if it’s not clear, I’m not trying to make you feel bad if you say “expresso,” I’m just trying to help, and we all learn new things here together every week.
Mignon Fogarty is Grammar Girl and the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips. Check out her New York Times best-seller “Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing” and her 2018 tip-a-day calendar.