Archive for the ‘Pronunciation’ Category


February 25, 2015

Yesterday’s Rhymes With Orange:

Presumably Hilary Price’s intention was that the spelling FRAUG, pronounced [frɔ:ɡ], should represent a combination of FROG — pronounced [frɑ:ɡ] or [frɔ:ɡ], depending on your variety of American English — and FRAUD, pronounced [frɔ:d] for many American speakers, but [frɑ:d] for American speakers who level [ɔ:] and [ɑ:] in favor of the latter (the “COT-CAUGHT merger”: both these words are pronounced [kɑ:t], DAWN and DON are both [dɑ:n], and SHAW and SHAH are both [ʃɑ:]).

[Addendum: an earlier posting on frog and fraud has a Discover Card commercial that plays on a confusion between the two.]


February 23, 2015

Today’s One Big Happy, in which it turns out that Ruthie isn’t the only character who’s unsure about word meanings:

NOAD2 identifies gormless as informal and specifically British, so it’s no surprise that the adults don’t know what it means (though the appalling Avis takes it back to a putative noun stem gorm, which she treats as a mass noun (gormless ‘without gorm, lacking gorm’), though it could be a count noun (gormless ‘without gorms, lacking gorms’)).


Cartoonists at language play

October 29, 2014

Two recent examples of cartoonists playing with language: a Zippy with a cascade of rhyming invented names, and some outrageous puns by cartoonist Nina Paley. The Zippy:


This will lead us to some entertaining half-rhymes.

Then a t-shirt by cartoonist Nina Paley with an outrageous pun:


This will lead to another of Paley’s Jewish puns.



August 18, 2013

Two questions: How is the name of this foodstuff pronounced in English? Is it a grain?


Sconic sections

July 10, 2013

From several sources on the net, this entertaining story posted 6/25/13 on the Evil Mad Scientist site:

Play with your food: How to Make Sconic Sections

The conic sections are the four classic geometric curves that can occur at the intersection between a cone and a plane: the circle, ellipse, parabola, and hyperbola.

The scone is a classic single-serving quick bread that is often served with breakfast or tea.

And, at the intersection of the two, we present something entirely new, delightfully educational, and remarkably tasty: Sconic Sections.

Detailed instructions follow. The edges of the sections can be highlighted by jam, chocolate, or Nutella (as above).


The geek voice?

January 25, 2012

Arne Adolfsen recently reported on Facebook that he’d been hearing the hit television show The Big Bang Theory. (Yes, hearing, not listening to, and certainly not watching. The show goes on in a room next to the one he’s in. He avoids it, because he hates the very obtrusive laugh track, an antipathy I sympathize with.) He’s formed the opinion that all of the male characters are gay, because of the way they talk [because of the phonetics of their talk. which is all he has to go on — see comments]. (Possibly relevant fact: Arne is gay.) Yet they’re all presented as straight — and awkwardly pursuing women — and the actors playing them all seem to be straight in real life [which is to say: there’s an apparent disjunction between orientation as perceived from phonetics and orientation as presented in the story — again, see comments]. Where does Arne’s impression come from?


Go pho it

April 5, 2011

Saturday night I had dinner at the fusion Vietnamese restaurant Three Seasons in Palo Alto, sitting at the bar for a while with the owner, John Le Hung. He was having the wonderful pho that he added to the menu a while back (the Vietnamese soup that is classically slices of beef and rice noodles in a rich beef broth, with bean sprouts, basil leaves, lime juice, sriracha sauce, and hoisin sauce added at the last minute) and lapsed for a moment into puns on pho, which triggered a cascade of mental punning in me. Turns out that puns on pho abound, extravagantly.


Low vowels

March 29, 2011

More from the “Metropolitan Diary” in yesterday’s NYT, a letter from Kevin J. Farrelly with a puzzle in the production and perception of vowels:



February 28, 2011

Today’s Rhymes With Orange:

The easy way to read “Aah’m not a failure” is as having the monophthongization of [aj] in I to [a], a phonetic feature widespread in the dialects of the American South. But there’s another possibility.

One of the concomitants of (certain instances of) Auxiliary Reduction in American English (and perhaps other varieties) is a laxing of a final tense vowel in the word hosting the reduced auxiliary. The phenomenon is quite specific, affecting only certain pronoun hosts, and then only when they are the complete subjects of the auxiliary (the facts are reasonably well-known, and several proposals have been made to describe them). The combination of the pronoun I and the reduced variant ‘m of the auxiliary am (as in I’m going now) is one case in point: though most speakers believe that they pronounce the combination as [ajm], in fact the pronunciation [am] prevails for many (including me, though I am not a speaker of a Southern American variety), except when the subject I is accented for emphasis or contrast. If you hear that pronunciation, you’d be likely to represent it orthographically as AAH’M, as in the cartoon.


Fun with cot/caught

January 26, 2011

Passed on by Jeff Shaumeyer on Facebook, about the story “RCMP say vicious beating of gay man at St. Leon’s Hot Springs a hate crime” in the Arrow Lake News (BC):

It’s a vicious hate-crime and the RCMP should get their man, although it may take a bit longer if they keep looking for “….a Caucasian male standing at about 6 feet tall (180 cm), around 44-years-old with a stalky, muscular build.” ‘Stalky’? Like celery?

What we have here is an instance of the a-ɔ merger (the merger in cot-caught and many other pairs), in favor of ɔ, so that stocky is pronounced like stalky. And then the journalist spelled by ear. Possibly the journalist thought that stockiness had something to do with height, as in stalks, which would make the misspelling an eggcorn.

And indeed among the cot/caught mergers in the Eggcorn Database is stock >> stalk (entry here), but chiefly in stalk-still for stock-still.


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