Syllabic approximants

From a weekly report of the Bowman International School in Palo Alto, from the youngest class:

In science we are learning about the native plants of California. We are doing the Honeysucker, and Poppy.

(The writeups are taken down by older students acting as reporters.)

That would be honeysuckle, with a perceptual confusion of syllabic [r] and syllabic [l], the two segments being very close indeed phonetically (the difference between an unaccented rhotic and an unaccented lateral being very slight phonetically, especially since unaccented approximants are frequently “vocalized”, realized as vocalic offsets rather than actual approximants).

A honeysuckle on the vine:


They are in fact sweet to smell, and you can suck sweet nectar from the bases of their flowers, as I learned to do as a child.

From Wikipedia:

Honeysuckles ([genus] Lonicera, …;) are arching shrubs or twining vines in the family Caprifoliaceae, native to the Northern Hemisphere.

Then there are honeysuckers, which are in fact irrelevant to the honeysuckle issue — just a phonological converegence. So, the birds:

any of a number of long-billed birds that feed on nectar, esp. (in South Africa) a sunbird. (NOAD2)

(semantically, more or less transparent). And, more dramatically, the euphemistic:

A Honeysucker is a term used in India and South Africa for a cesspool emptier that is used to empty cesspits, septic tanks and latrines. The honeysucker uses a vacuum pump to suck septage from a cesspit, septic tank or latrine and discharges it either to the sewer network, to a wastewater treatment plant, in a pit for composting or into the environment. (link)


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