Thursday, October 08, 2009

Do Flounders Founder? Part 2

Here’s a follow up to my last blog. Margaret Magnus, PhD, is an expert in phonosemantics. In answer to my inquiry, here was her response.

“The nose in sn- comes from the -n- alone. /n/ appears in nose words far more frequently than it does in the vocabulary generally. I think that's because it appears in words referring to small bumps far more frequently than you would expect (knob, knoll, nib, dune, mound,...). In initial position, the /n/ appears in words referring to the nose itself (neb, nose, nib). In second position, it is usually verbs pertaining to the nose, as you point out. And in prefinal position, you have scent and stench... I don't believe that's by chance.

As for /fl/, the /f/ is like a fountain, a source from which things come out, but whose ultimate destination is unpredictable. The /l/ is like water. When the /l/ precedes the vowel, it causes flowing: float, flush, flood. It's also flat. When the /l/ follows the vowel, the /f/ forms a mold or pattern that the /l/ tries to fill, follow or live up to (fail). With initial fl- the resulting motion is determined by the consonants after the vowel. So let me sort your words:
  • flip, flap, flop -- a flat thing which lands or reaches a critical point/position (/p/)
  • flag -- note the power of the /g/ to slow things down (flag, bag, drag, gag, lag, sag, rag, tag, bog, dog (v),...)
  • flounce -- the -oun- makes a mound (round, bound (v)), and the -ounce makes it bouncy.
  • flub - adds a 'clubbing, drubbing, stubbing' effect to the failure.
  • flinch - gesture is similar to pinch, cinch, bunch, hunch, winch
  • flurry -- gestures like that of scurry
  • etc.

I have really come to believe that the effects are just that precise. If you consider the motion in 'flurry' for example, you can say, "Well, 'scurry' is only one word which is similar." But ask yourself if you can find any other word in the whole language whose 'gesture' is more similar to 'flurry' than 'scurry'. Add to that the fact that the /r/ after the vowel in the stressed syllable causes a 'turn' (curve, curl, darn, warp, bore, churn,...) skittish.

Here's one article on fl- that I know of:

Liberman, Anatoly (1990), "Etymological Studies III: Some Germanic Words Beginning with FL-. Language at Play", General Linguistics, 30(2).”

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