Lachlan Mackenzie lachlan_mackenzie at
Mon Mar 21 15:01:57 UTC 2011

Just a little remark from a native speaker of British English. Rooster is not a word we use, so I feel very aware of the morphological complexity of roost-er; we simply call the little fella' a cock. Mencken explains in his The American Language (Ch. 4, Section 5) that the word was invented in the 19th-century US as a euphemism because of the other sense of cock. Similarly for drumstick rather than the potentially titillating word leg. I imagine that Americans also have found a way of avoiding breast as a cut of chicken.
Would roost-er not just be an example of a locative -er formation, i.e. denizen of the roost? Like cottager, etc.?
Best wishes,
Lachlan Mackenzie

> Date: Mon, 21 Mar 2011 10:40:15 -0400
> From: geoffnathan at
> To: grvsmth at
> CC: funknet at
> Subject: Re: [FUNKNET] Versatility?
> While I've been reluctant to get into this flurry, I have to share two small points. 
> First, it never occurred to me that 'rooster' was related to 'roost', because it never occurred to me that 'roosters' 'roost'. I don't know where or how male chickens sleep, but I'd always thought it was the females that 'roosted'. 'Rooster' is therefore, to me, quite different from 'baker', 'singer', 'liar', because the semantics is completely opaque. 
> In response to Jo, I think the syllabification your students come up with is correct--both the Maximum Onset Principle and the fact that primary stress attracts consonants would lead to roo.ster, which I think is how English syllabifies. Else we would have an aspirated [t], which we don't--at least in my dialect it's typical voiceless unaspirated (as in 'stir') (i.e. VOT between 0 and 40 ms. for the three I just said). 
> Geoffrey S. Nathan 
> Faculty Liaison, C&IT 
> and Professor, Linguistics Program 
> +1 (313) 577-1259 (C&IT) 
> +1 (313) 577-8621 (English/Linguistics) 
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Angus B. Grieve-Smith" <grvsmth at> 
> To: funknet at 
> Sent: Sunday, March 20, 2011 8:41:38 PM 
> Subject: Re: [FUNKNET] Versatility? 
> Aya, I've been thinking about your "rooster" example. I think one 
> important factor is that the noun "rooster" has become much more 
> frequent than the verb "roost." As English-speaking societies have 
> become less and less agricultural, we see roosters a lot less 
> frequently, our opportunities to see them roosting dwindle, and thus 
> roosting has become less significant as a characteristic of roosters. 
> In contrast, I think that most English speakers would be able to tell 
> you why a particular kind of bird is called a "roaster." 
> Other derived words that have similarly outpaced their roots, like 
> "computer," and we'd expect them to be treated similarly. 
> -- 
> -Angus B. Grieve-Smith 
> grvsmth at 

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