Saturday, January 09, 2010


A listener from Traverse City asked if tunnel and funnel were related in origin. Furthermore, he wondered if the –unnel formation and sound held any significance.

First, their meanings. Funnel has many definitions –some of them widely variant – but the relevant one here is a cone-shaped device that is used to conduct liquids or powders through a small opening in order to transfer them into another container. A tunnel is a pipe-like passage or conductor. So at certain points, they do intersect.

The origins differ. Funnel comes from a Latin term that meant to pour in. Tunnel came from a French word that meant a cask. Early on, it designated a funnel-shaped net used to snare partridges and other game birds.

So both words have a dirigent nature. There is a sense of channeling, of guiding, of setting up passageways that must be followed. Whether there is something innate in the sound that captures and broadcasts this meaning is debatable. I do note, however, that the verb runnel means to channel or to furrow, and the noun refers to a gutter, a reinforcement of the notion. Then there’s the made-up word Chunnel, which is a blend of channel and tunnel; it runs under the English Channel.

SIDEBAR: Do sounds convey meaning?

Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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