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ColoradoGuy
01-19-2009, 05:49 AM
I always thought of Roy Blount as a humorist, and I suppose he mostly is. It turns out, however, that he is also a lexographer of sorts -- he actually sits on the usage panel for the American Heritage Dictionary. Along those lines he's published a new book, with the lengthy title of Alphabet Juice: The Energies, Gists, and Spirits of Letters, Words, and Combinations Thereof; Their Roots, Bones, Innards, Piths, Pips, and Secret Parts, Tinctures, Tonics, and Essences; With Examples of Their Usage Foul and Savory. There's a good review of it in the New York Review of Books here (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/22184).

Blount takes issue with the idea that the sound of words is arbitrary and separated from their meaning:

"As a principle of English-language appreciation, at least, separation of sound from sense is audibly, utterly wrong."

He's not talking about run-of-the-mill onomatopoeia. He's talking about something else he calls "sonicky." Without worrying about any of the brain/language theory stuff we've thrashed over in here from time to time, Blount claims there is some innate sense in humans to detect when a word is particularly appropriate to the thing it signifies. A word that has that trait he calls "sonicky."

By this he means that the sound of the word "does somehow sensuously evoke the essence of the word"—"... frowzy, froth, moan, mope, mellow, neat, nebbish..."—until your head spins or your ears ring. "Are there not sonic as well as geographical grounds for calling a teeny beach outfit a bikini instead of a smock ?"

It’s not at all clear how he would reckon with the existence of languages other than English. In a way, his status as a humorist gives him cover and allows him to say whatever he wants, no matter how silly. Still, it's an interesting notion. (The NYRB article also reviews two other books: Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, by Ammon Shea, and The First English Dictionary, 1604, by Robert Cawdrey, with an introduction by John Simpson.)

robeiae
01-19-2009, 06:18 AM
What rubbish...

Dawnstorm
01-24-2009, 07:32 AM
Well, Shweta pointed me towards the interesting phenomenon of phonaesthemes (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phonaestheme) last year. I see a connection.

"Essence of the word", though? I'd have to know where he thinks that "essence" derives from to even comment.

blacbird
01-24-2009, 10:32 AM
A linguist from back in my undergrad English major days pointed out a whole list of English words that evoke rough, crude, bulky, vaguely unpleasant things with their sound:

thump
hump
bump
lump
rump
dump
frump
stump
clump
chump
sump
pump
grump
mumps
slump

Aural language is subliminal as much as it is explicit and analytical.

caw

Albedo
01-24-2009, 10:47 AM
A linguist from back in my undergrad English major days pointed out a whole list of English words that evoke rough, crude, bulky, vaguely unpleasant things with their sound:

thump
hump
bump
lump
rump
dump
frump
stump
clump
chump
sump
pump
grump
mumps
slump

Aural language is subliminal as much as it is explicit and analytical.

caw

I'm no linguist but I wonder if it could it be that a nasal consonant followed by a stop is just a naturally discordant or unpleasant sound? What about a voiced nasal-stop combo, e.g. -nt?

runt
punt
shunt
cunt
munt (as in "munted")
bunt

While these aren't all unpleasant concepts, they all have a brusqueness to them.

blacbird
01-24-2009, 01:06 PM
I forgot "plump".

Related, I suppose, would be "lunk, slunk, skunk, trunk, punk, dunk, sunk, plunk, drunk, etc."

caw

Ruv Draba
01-24-2009, 01:13 PM
Mrs Draba and I have remarked before on the dearth of pleasant words that end in 'ump'.

Really.

But is this an acoustic aesthetic, or some sort of linguistic clustering effect? Perhaps you'd have to check other languages to see if they have profusions of compliments that end in 'ump'?

'Mrs Throckmorton, you look absolutely elegump.'

'Why thank you, Mr Fotherington. You are always so grumptious in your compliments.'

'Are you taking High Tea at Raffles this afternoon? I hear that it's simply divump.'

Albedo
01-24-2009, 01:43 PM
sumptuous (like a sump?)

crumpet

trumpet

These are all good things, but they don't END in 'ump'.

robeiae
01-27-2009, 05:45 AM
Just "trump."

StarDrifter
03-17-2009, 01:15 PM
I'm thinking -nk would enhance this further

clunk

bunk (or debunk)

stunk

dunk

funk (doo doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo doo doo)

etc