The stink/The stank

Dennis R. Preston preston at MSU.EDU
Fri Jan 21 16:28:53 UTC 2005

I reckon all this is simply the common Southern - South Midlands
modification of /I/ before nasals. Before labial and alveolar nasals
/I/ goes to [E]; before the velar, it goes to [Ey]. There is
important lexical influence; in my speech, for example, this [Ey]
realization is obligatory in 'thing' and 'bring' but not so strong in
'ring' and hardly there at all in 'king.' (Word frequency; order of

Tin-eared foreigners often her 'bring' and the variant preterite
'brang' as the same, but they ain't. 'Bring' is pronounced '[brEyng]
(by the above rule) and
'brang' is pronounced 'braeyng,' the the following velar nasal
causing the rising diphthongization of /ae/, but the onsets are quite


>Is the verb really a different word than "stink", not just a different
>(I agree that the noun "stank" has a separate meaning from the noun
>I've heard "thank" for "think", and back when MTV still played music
>videos, around
>the time of John Cougar Mellencamp's (we called him John Cougar
>Melonhead) "Little
>Pink Houses", the network had a promotion where they gave someone a pink
>house, but
>it had to be painted.  I remember clearly Mellencamp saying "Paint thuh
>muther pank."
>>  -----Original Message-----
>>  From: American Dialect Society
>>  [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of Wilson Gray
>>  Sent: Thursday, January 20, 2005 8:09 PM
>>  Subject: Re: The stink/The stank
>>  ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>>  -----------------------
>>  Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>>  Poster:       Wilson Gray <wilson.gray at RCN.COM>
>>  Subject:      Re: The stink/The stank
>>  --------------------------------------------------------------
>>  -----------------
>>  I *do* agree with you. Oh. Now I see your point. The quote
>>  from Hank should read "stink." No, maybe I'm still not
>>  getting your point. I could say "it stanks," if that fitted
>>  in with what the people around me said and I didn't want to
>>  draw attention to myself by speaking a different subdialect.
>>  But the people around me use "stinks" and so do I. So, in
>>  what sense would this be impossible for any other speakers?
>>  It's not as though the string -ank- is foreign to English. I
>>  once had a chat with an Englishman who was unable to
>>  pronounce "Wanda" in isolation so that it could be
>>  distinguished from "wander" spoken in isolation. Or do you
>>  mean that "it stanks" would be impossible to the extent that,
>>  in some sense, no English speaker  could say "it rans" or "it
>>  stoods" or "it wents"? Then I was right. I *do* agree with you.
>>  But, for people speaking a suddialect in which "stink" and
>>  "stank" fall together as "stank," "it stanks" would be just
>>  ordinary English speech, with nothing special or peculiar
>>  about it at all.
>>  -Wilson
>>  On Jan 20, 2005, at 6:28 PM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>>  > ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>>  > -----------------------
>>  > Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>>  > Poster:       Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM>
>>  > Subject:      Re: The stink/The stank
>>  >
>>  ----------------------------------------------------------------------
>>  > -
>>  > --------
>>  >
>>  > I'd be inclined to agree, except that for many speakers (presumably
>>  > Hank Hill is one), the verbal  " *It stanks " would be impossible.
>>  >
>>  > JL
>>  >
>>  > Wilson Gray <wilson.gray at RCN.COM> wrote:
>>  > ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>>  > -----------------------
>>  > Sender: American Dialect Society
>>  > Poster: Wilson Gray
>>  > Subject: The stink/The stank
>>  >
>>  ----------------------------------------------------------------------
>>  > -
>>  > --------
>>  >
>>  > About a year ago, I heard the character, Hank Hill, of the animated
>>  > cartoon, "King of The Hill," which is set in Texas, say,
>>  "You got the
>>  > stank on you and everybody can smell it." It's been about
>  > sixty years
>>  > since I've anyone use this turn of phrase, which means,
>>  "everybody can
>>  > tell that you're the responsible party, etc."
>>  >
>>  > Then, on Comedy Central a while ago, on a show called "Country
>>  > Comedians" or some such, one person says to another, "Go
>>  'hayid. Put
>>  > yo' stank(sic) on it," which, from context, meant, "Put
>>  your mark (of
>>  > ownership, etc.) on it."
>>  >
>>  > In both cases, the speakers were white, FWIW.
>>  >
>>  > So, I was moved to see what Google had to say. It showed that both
>>  > spellings, "stink" and "stank," are in use. But, whatever the
>>  > spelling, both of the meanings above are rare. In some cases,
>>  > "stink/stank" is used to replace "funk" in the sense of "foul,
>>  > disgusting odor." In other cases, it's used to mean "the
>>  word, the inside dope, the skinny,"
>>  > leading to puns like, "The stink on anal glands." In still other
>>  > cases, "put the stink/stank on" is used to mean "jinx, foul
>>  up," etc.
>>  > A closer reading of the data may yield other meanings.
>>  >
>>  > IMO, there's only one word, "stink," with the spelling following
>>  > whichever pronunciation is hip or boss in a given area.
>>  >
>>  > -Wilson Gray
>>  >
>>  >
>>  > ---------------------------------
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>>  >

Dennis R. Preston
University Distinguished Professor
Department of Linguistics and Germanic, Slavic,
        Asian and African Languages
Wells Hall A-740
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824-1027 USA
Office: (517) 353-0740
Fax: (517) 432-2736

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