From John Lawler via Facebook, a link to my 1971 Linguistic Inquiry squib on manner-of-speaking verbs (like snap in Kim snapped that it was time to leave), along with a captioned image of the Rice Krispies elves:
Archive for the ‘Sound symbolism’ Category
A story from almost 50 years ago, in Cambridge MA, in which a young woman talks with exasperation about the slapdash housekeeping skills of some male friends of hers sharing an apartment in Cambridge. One of them had done a load of laundry, washing, along with a lot of dark clothes, a brand-new fuzzy yellow garment, with the predictable unfortunate outcome that, as she put it:
*Everything* was covered with little yellow greeblies!
Ann and I hadn’t heard the word greeblies before, but from the context and the word’s sound, it was clear what the greeblies were: little bits of fluff (which attached themselves unwelcomely to other things). And when we told the story to others, no one had any problem dealing with the unfamiliar word.
(Greeblies are relevant in my life right now, because I’m washing my new plush bathrobe, which has shown some tendency to shed the occasional greebly here and there, and has to be washed on its own, not even with other dark-colored clothes, so as not to risk a plague of dark blue greeblies. Not for me the mistake of those guys back in Cambridge.)
And it seems that people have invented this noun (and the similar noun greeble), independently, many times, using the phonosemantic resources of English to craft a new word that vividly suggests the image they have in mind.
The Zippy strip has advanced to #3 in the “Speechless” series (first two installments — or instalments, if you will — here and here), and moved from silence to vocalizations that are and are not “speech”:
There’s an overwhelmingly large literature on various kinds of symbolism and conventionalization in utterances. Ah-ooga, used to represent the sound of an automobile horn, most notably a Ford “Model A” horn (there’s even an ahooga website, for owners and restorers of Model A’s), falls in with a big class of cases, of several types — ouch and ah-choo and cock-a-doodle-doo and whoosh among them — that are expressive or sound-symbolic but also conventionalized to the point where they can be pronounced like ordinary words (rather than sound effects), though they can also be set off to some extent from the material surrounding them by various levels of “performance”, rather than mere utterance.
Now, you ask, the fish, what about the fish? How do we get from ah-ooga to landing a fish, or the reverse? Here I’m not up enough on Zippyconography, though the fish looks vaguely familiar. Maybe some kind reader can help.