Fwd: sound/meaning interaction in English words

Grant Barrett gbarrett at WORLDNEWYORK.ORG
Fri Jul 10 14:44:19 UTC 2009

I'm forwarding a message from a member of the public who has what I
believe to be an interesting question.

In restating it in a follow-up message, he put it this way: "What I'm
interested in is nontechnical information analyzing confusion and
meaning transfer between words with similarities in both pronunciation
and meaning -- or a referral to an expert whom I might coax into
helping me. And I understand that synonymous paronyms are at least a
subset of these words."

His full query is below.

Grant Barrett

> From: l.trager at comcast.net
> Date: July 10, 2009 02:27:29 EDT
> To: editor at doubletongued.org
> Subject: sound/meaning interaction in English words
> Hi, Mr. Barrett.
> Congratulations on the Wordnik launch.
> I'm interested in finding whatever information may be accessible (in
> all senses) to a layman about how linguistics treats confusion and
> meaning transfer between words with both related sounds and meanings
> (phonology-semanctics interaction?).
> I'm thinking not only of a good number of the word pairs that one
> would find in any confusables (confusibles?) list that aren't
> blatant malapropisms, but also of what I think may be whole clusters
> that could get pretty large depending on the strength of connection
> required.
> So starting with squish/squash/quash/quench/squelch, I could see
> branching off into crush/crunch/ cramp/crimp/scrimp/skimp/stint/
> stanch/staunch and then stamp/stomp and others. (I'd ask the Visual
> Thesaurus to depict this, but it could end up like an infant's art
> work.)
> I'm sure this isn't typical of many clusters -- for all I know,
> it'll turn out to be the world's largest squid of whatever this is
> -- but it's also not unique. I assume that often common etymologies
> will be found (clinch/clench/cinch?) but not always.
> Cursory Web searching indicated that these patterns don't fit neatly
> among at least the better-known "-nyms" or their eggcorn or malaprop
> cousins. I'm writing you because I think this intersects what Blount
> wrote about in Alphabet Juice and I see that you interviewed him.
> That work was a lot of fun but it's impressionistic, of course, and,
> being alphabetical and all, considerably more focused on initial
> letters and alliteration than what I'm interested in (or I think Dr.
> Seuss was).
> Well, damned good thing for me that e-mail isn't charged by the
> letter like telegrams. Any thoughts? Can you guide me toward anyone
> who's likely to have looked into it, or at least toward better
> keywords for searching? Thanks.
> Louis Trager
> San Leandro, California

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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