espresso » expresso

Classification: English

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)

Brians notes:

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.

MWDEU observes:

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).

| link | entered by Arnold Zwicky, 2005/04/10 |


  1. 1

    Commentary by Ben Zimmer , 2005/04/13 at 9:00 am

    Words with es- followed by a consonant have often been refashioned as ex-, such as excape and expecially. Historically, a similar process resulted in words like exchequer, from Old French eschequier.

  2. 2

    Commentary by Steve Holdener , 2005/04/21 at 7:25 pm

    The use of “Expresso” as a trim level available for the Dodge Neon several years ago didn’t help, I’m sure.

    Regarding one of Brians’ hypotheses, while hot water (preferably around 91°C) may be “expressed” through the grounds, proper espresso cannot be made with steam (over 100°C by definition), despite advertisers’ claims to the contrary.

  3. 3

    Commentary by Ben Zimmer , 2005/05/09 at 4:14 pm

    There’s also the Dire Straits song Expresso Love, the lyrics of which evoke both ‘wired (as if on coffee)’ and ‘express-speed’.

  4. 4

    Commentary by Erik Hansen , 2006/01/26 at 6:04 pm

    Am I the only one bothered by the fact that hordes of people mispronouncing a word can legitimize the mispronunciation to the point where it becomes an “accepted variant”? Ugh.

    Maybe I should just calm down with a cup of expresso, a side of chip-ul-te peppers and study nuke-u-lar medicine.

  5. 5

    Commentary by Tony H. , 2006/03/10 at 6:46 pm

    I don’t think expresso belongs here. It’s common in UK English, certainly not recent (it appears in one of the early John Le Carré books), and seems like a reasonable borrowing from French (café express), presumably with assimilation to espresso borrowed from Italian.

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