Forte and Foible

Image“Lord Antwill hates crowds. He tends to slip away at every gathering for a few minutes of privacy to collect himself. He even often eludes his own bodyguards,” the informant said.
“Then I shall strike at the Emperor’s Ball. Exploiting the foibles of others must be every assassin’s forte,” replied the assassin.

Word games are my forte.

And yes I said forte,
to rhyme with snort;
like snorts of derision for those who say,
that the word should be pronounced for-TAY.

Yes, that is a clever little mnemonic so you can remember how to avoid my beating your head in with a dictionary. But let’s not quibble over pronunciation. I’m giving you two words this week, but they are closely related. Maybe kissing cousins.

Most folks know the word forte, as it is used here. It is something you are good at, it is your “strong point.” And the origin is no mystery. Bards say for-TAY when they want you sing with strength. We can fortify a fortress with folks of great fortitude to force enemy forces to flee. So, we know where forte is coming form.

Foible – yes, you get two words for today – foible is a word you might know too. You might think of it as a personal eccentricity or an odd habit, but it is actually more correctly defined as a personality defect or weakness.

And so, if you can turn your forte against foe’s foibles, you can win… a SWORDFIGHT.

What?

Image

See, forte and foible are both related to swords. The forte and the foible are two of the three (or sometimes four) parts of the blade of the sword. The foible is the upper third of the blade, starting at the tip. It is the weakest part of the blade. You need it for thrusting, but you don’t want to connect with it when you cut or slash an opponent because it will bend or break.
The forte is the bottom third of the blade, from the cross-guard up. This part of the blade is thick, tough, and heavy. You don’t want to strike an opponent with it either, because that means your opponent is too damned close. But it is the perfect place to catch someone else’s weapon when you parry.

The middle third of the blade doesn’t have a nifty name. It is just the middle. And, if you are slashing at someone, that’s where you want to connect with them. In fact, the spot between the middle and the foible is often called the cutting point. That’s the spot on on the blade you want to connect with for a good, solid slash that gives you maximum speed, strength, and power.

ImageOh, that fourth part that blades sometimes have? Well, big, two-handed weapons like a German zweihänder or a Scottish claymore sometimes included a section of the blade below the forte that was left unedged. Often, it had an extra guard just above it. This section, called the shoulder, was a place for the warrior to grip the sword to shorten his fighting distance when an opponent managed to get in too close. You couldn’t swing a big two-hander effectively from the grip against a foe who was close enough to kiss you (it all comes full circle). So you could switch one hand to the shoulder to shorten the swing.

Hopefully, now you can consider combat flavor text your forte.

Incidentally, if you want to learn more about medieval weaponry, check out the Medieval Weapons for Beginner’s Guide, four pages of great info from the Mercenaries Medieval Combat Guild.

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3 thoughts on “Forte and Foible

    • Yes, they would. Forte is an Italian word meaning “with force.” It is often used as a direction to a musician to sing or play loudly (with force) and, as it comes from the Italian, the pronunciation is for-TAY.

  1. And finally I understand why in stage fighting we were taught to strike with the middle-upper third (say, the 2nd and 3rd sixths) of the blade.

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