Saturday, June 30, 2018


For me, words have color, character,
They have faces, pouts, manners, gesticulations,
They have moods, humors, eccentricities,
They have tints, tones personalities.
Because people cannot see the color of words,
  the tints of words, the secret ghostly motion of words;
Because they cannot hear the whispering of words,
  the rustling of the procession of letters,
  the dream-flutes and dream-drums,
  which are thinly and weirdly played by words;
Because they cannot perceive the pouting of words,
  the frowning and fuming of words, the weeping,
  the raging and racketing and rioting of words;
Because they are insensible to the phosphorescing of words,
  the fragrance of words, the noisomeness of words,
  the tenderness or hardness, the dryness or juiciness of words –
  the interchange of values in the gold, the silver,
  the brass and the copper of words –
Is that any reason why we should not try to make them hear,
  to make them see, to make them feel?

Lafcadio Hearn

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Flammable & Inflammable

Irene wrote that only recently had she learned that flammable and inflammable are synonyms, not antonyms. Previously, she thought that flammable referred to something that would burn, and that inflammable referred to something that would not burn. She took the in- prefix to mean not. The problem is that this prefix has three diverse meanings, so context or a dictionary must be used to know which one is in play.

First, it can mean not. This occurs in words such as insane, inanimate, and insincere.

Second, it can mean inside or within. Examples are inbred, inset, and inhabit.

Third, it can be an intensifier: invaluable, incandescent, and intoxication.

A complication is that the prefix in- can change its spelling to il- (illuminate), im- (impossible), or ir- (irrigation).

Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find some podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Mutating Pronunciation

Michael, a truck driver from Traverse City, called in a question from Texas while he was on the road. “Why,” he wondered, “does the pronunciation of a word change over time?” He cited the word protein as an example. While the current common pronunciation is pro-teen, Michael remembers hearing it as pro-tee-in years ago.

Sometimes it’s simply imitation. Exposure to overheard conversation influences our pronunciation. Humans tend to try to fit into their environment; it’s a survival mechanism. If you hear the word business pronounced as biz-ness more frequently than biz-i-ness, or if you hear the word ration pronounced as ray-shun more frequently than rash-un, that will eventually become your pronunciation – unless you are fanatically individualistic.

And sometimes the mechanism is a bit more subtle, complex, and long-range. Ease of articulation can change pronunciation and even spelling over time. The prefix ad- (to or towards) is a good example. Uniform application would mean that every time ad- is used, the spelling and pronunciation remain unchanged – but that’s not the way it happens. The consonant that follows the prefix ad- can influence the spelling and pronunciation because of rapid and awkward changes in the interplay of tongue, teeth, lips, larynx, and palate.

AD- can become
·       A-  ascribe,
·      AB- abbreviate,
·      AC- acclaim,
·      AF-  affirm,
·      AG- aggrade,
·      AL- allege,
·      AN- announce,
·      AP-  approve,
·      AR - arrive,
·      AS-  assent,
·      AT-  attrition.

Other factors may also enter in, but imitation and ease of articulation are major factors in hastening changes in pronunciation.

Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about two year’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.

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