I never thought of featuring this flaky French pastry in my weekly column until one of my students’ mother posed the “Is it kroy-sant or kroy-sohn?” question to me recently.
Here’s a creative way of saying it, a method my nine-year-old nephew Christian taught me, one that involves your thumb and index finger: first, say “kwa” and just as you’re about to say “son” (rhymes with “on”), pinch your nose for a smooth, suave, nasal finish—as denoted by the squiggly worm above the phonetic symbol “ɑ”:
Goodness knows where he learned this from. Although I never pinch my nose at a patisserie whenever I order a croissant or two, it’s a great way to get you into a nasal groove if you don’t already know how.
Notice that the “r” is optional. I never articulate it, the French don’t either. It requires extra effort, so why bother? Go ahead and pronounce the “t” if you like (the American English Oxford offers the “t” option, |k(r)wɑˈsɑnt|). But no French would ever pronounce it, the same way they don’t do the last “t” in Bon Appetit).
Generally, whenever you see an “oi” in French, it’s a quick liaison between “oo” and “ah” till they merge into a single sound: u-ah.
So, see the French president’s first name, “François”? The second syllable is pronounced “su-ah,” not “koi” because that “c”-looking letter with the squiggly tail, or cedilla, is pronounced with an “s” sound, not a “k.” See our post on façade. By the way, that name, François, is pronounced fron-SUAH, the first syllable nasalized.
Here’s another French word with a “-ssant” ending:
puissant (adj) archaic or literary
having great power or influence
You can do the pinch-the-nose trick on this one too. PWEE-son. Give it a “t” finish if you like. Oxford (for both American and British English) insists there’s a “t” sound. Pretty vexing: “t” or no “t”? I’ll just go with the purist, snobby French way. No “t,” lesser effort.
I invite you to write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any word ideas you’d like to share.