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Fun with Words: Blonde Coffee vs Blond Brownies

Blonde coffee. Blonde beer. Blond brownies.

Why the difference?

A little over a year ago, a writing friend started a Facebook conversation about usage of the words blond and blonde. (Yes, my writing friends are cool that way. We tend to get whole bunches of folks stirred up over atrocious spelling and grammar mistakes, mangled idioms, and other minutiae of the English language. Some of us even go off and blog about these conversations afterwards! I know you probably think we're odd but it's satisfying, really!)

Anyway I took a moment to reply to the blog entry my friend had shared, a Grammar Girl discussion that among other things pondered whether Starbucks thought it would achieve better sales if we perceived its Blonde Roast coffee as feminine.

I'm not a native French speaker, but I am familiar enough to realize that “blonde roast coffee” is correct usage even though coffee itself is a masculine word. It's the roast being modified: “ la torréfaction ,” which is a feminine word and therefore correctly modified with the feminine “ blonde ” rather than “ blond .” (Beer would also correctly be blonde , in case you were wondering.)

I scrolled down to share my thoughts – because folks who read posts like this enjoy grammar discussions. As I did so I noticed someone had posted to ask whether brownies (to go with your coffee, of course) would be correctly said to be blond or blonde . A burning question, especially when you consider I'd only ever heard the English “brownie” used in French to describe these treats!

I now had to track down the official French expression . . .

Well it turns out that whether, like French Wikipedia, you accept the usage of “ le brownie ” or whether you side with the French language police and call it “ le carré au chocolat ” it is most definitively blond .

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Image credit: Cafe latte by hthorg/Pixabay (CC0 1.0)

Note: This article was migrated from Bubblews, where it was originally published.

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Feisty56 wrote on October 23, 2014, 11:58 AM

Oh my, I so wanted to be able to add something intelligent here, but I'm afraid I have to confess I don't understand the difference in the word usage.

WordChazer wrote on October 23, 2014, 3:18 PM

Apologies to Feisty56 and &AbbyG for sounding highbrow or snooty or something horrible like that. It's not intended, but living and working in a University city I hear all variants of English, all the time.

The blond/blonde discussion is one which many native English speakers won't get, but anyone who speaks a language which agrees its nouns will sympathise with in a heartbeat. English has a few anachronisms - ships and aircraft are usually 'she', for instance, and the generic pronoun is 'he' unless you wish to be dismissive and use 'it' - but otherwise, it's not a grammar construction that English recognises. The way I remember it is: I am female, so I am blonde. With an E. My husband is male, so he is correctly described as blond. Without an E. French and other Romance languages make their descriptives agree to their nouns by adding an E to the feminine version. Yes, objects in some languages are gendered.

Full disclosure: I studied French from the age of 9, Latin from 12 and German from 13. I went on to study Latin and Ancient Greek at University (graduating at 21) as part of my Classics degree as well as Philology, the study of the development of linguistics. I love words, language and seemingly strange constructs such as Ruby3881 describes.

Scorpie wrote on October 23, 2014, 3:40 PM

Gender nouns ack! Run for the hills, it's like Latin all over again!

Ellis wrote on October 23, 2014, 4:12 PM

The main difference between myself and those that like to indulge in in-depth discussions is that by the time you have decided whether it is 'blond' or 'blonde'...I've eaten

BarbRad wrote on October 24, 2014, 3:09 AM

If it involves French, I'm lost, as well. I did not retain much of the French I studied. I'm not much for beer or coffee, either, but brownies I can appreciate.

idyll wrote on October 24, 2014, 5:39 AM

whenever i see the word 'blonde' just remind me of the girl or girly look. that's all. but i can't match that word with coffee because i don't feel coffee as maneuver :D