espresso » expresso
Spotted in the wild:
- “…thick expresso with a shot of Calvados” (Patricia Wells, New York Times, 6 June 1982)
Analyzed or reported by:
- Paul Brians (Common Errors in English Usage)
I’ve read several explanations of the origin of this word: the coffee is made expressly for you upon your order, or the steam is expressed through the grounds, or (as most people suppose—and certainly wrongly) the coffee is made at express speed. One thing is certain: the word is “espresso,” not “expresso.”
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage (source of the Patricia Wells quote) explains that the original Italian means ‘pressed out’, but (as Brians points out) lots of people think they have a better hypothesis, and it involves the English word “express”. A classic eggcorn.
Several current dictionaries… recognize expresso as an established variant, but there are others that omit it altogether or treat it as a mistake. Espresso is undoubtedly the more common form, at least in writing, and is undoubtedly favored by the cognoscenti.
A 10 April 2005 Google search accords with the MWDEU assessment: ca. 5m raw web hits for “espresso”, vs. ca. 1.3m for “expresso” (and many of these are not directly coffee-related).