Ordering a croissant is a perilous enterprise. It forces lovers of French pastries between the Scylla of pretension and the frying pan of provincialism. Actually that’s understating the case: The perils are not two, but manifold.
If you attempt the proper French pronunciation, krwa-san, and succeed, you’ll seem snobby. If you trip over the guttural R, as so many non-native speakers do, you’ll seem pseudointellectual.
If you go for the namby-pamby middle ground, kwa-san, replacing the guttural R with a W, you’ll sound terrible… and namby-pamby.
You could avoid these dangers by pronouncing the word in a straightforward American accident: kruh-sant. But then you’ll quite possibly become the victim rather than the perpetrator of snobbery. Recently I requested a kruh-sant and the server raised an eyebrow. “You mean a krwa-san?” he asked.
Having thought long and hard about this thorny problem, I’ve determined that it would be wise if everyone in America agreed to a standard pronunciation. And of the above-mentioned possibilities, it seems to me the best is kruh-sant.
I’ll dispense with the most obvious and weakest objection first, which is that croissant is a French word. Because: So what? Restaurant is a French word, too, but no one drops the final T.
Jane Setter, Professor of Phonetics at the University of Reading and an editor of the Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary, suggested another reason why English-speakers might consider themselves justified in saying—or trying to say—krwa-san. Croissants, she told me, feel French. Doughnuts are American; croissants are French, even if they’re on sale at Dunkin’ Donuts.
But that’s not very rational. Croissants have been common in the United States for a long time. In 1981, Sara Lee’s parent company, Consolidated Foods, introduced a line of frozen croissants. By 1984 they were outselling pound cake. You can buy a croissant at any Starbucks. You can order one at Arby’s with a sausage, egg and cheese on top.