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Consonant Clusters 10 - "Spl-"


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Consonant Clusters 10 - "Spl-"

Consonant Clusters 10 "Spl-" 

Tutuki_SplashThe Tutuki Splash Ride at Polynesia, PortAventura, Salou, SpainSpl- is a cluster which is wonderful in its expressiveness. The combination of sibilant /s/ with plosive /p/ and lateral /l/ moulds the mouth into a gloriously splenetic splutter of sound, with the mouth and lips working splendidly in tandem.

Spl- clearly has a link to the sp- cluster and its spurting liquids spewing and spitting. The word spill shows the similarities between the two clusters.

There is an element of explosion /ekspləʊʒən/ here. Many words beginning with the spl- cluster splatter outwards, rather than in a linear trajectory. They split or splinter off from one dimension to two.

A good number are also gratifyingly onomatopoeic: splish, splash, splosh. Some words are so similar that it is splitting hairs to try to distinguish a splotch from a splodge, for example.

Now let’s make a splash!


 Match the words below to their definitions:


  • splash
  • splat
  • splatter
  • splay
  • splice
  • splint
  • splinter
  • split
  • splodge
  • splotchy
  • splutter


  1. to join ropes or pieces of tape by weaving them together questionmark
  2. to divide, to break apart along a straight line questionmark
  3. a thin, stiff piece of wood or metal used to keep a body part still or protect a broken leg questionmark
  4. an irregular spot or mark questionmark
  5. a slapping sound made by the flat of the palm and spread five fingers questionmark
  6. to spread outwards, especially the legs questionmark
  7. a thin, needle-like piece of wood, glass etc which has broken off from a larger part questionmark
  8. to scatter in large drops questionmark
  9. to strike a liquid and widely scatter it questionmark
  10. to speak in a hasty and incoherent way, often spitting while doing so questionmark
  11. to be marked or covered with irregular spots or blots questionmark

Now use the same words in the correct form to complete the sentences below:

  1. After suffering a broken bone, she had to wear a ____questionmark______ on her left leg.
  2. His skin went all ____questionmark______ after he had spent such a long time crying and rubbing his face.
  3. The car drove on through the puddles, ______questionmark______ passers-by with water.
  4. The scandalous story was _____questionmark_____ across the front page of the newspaper.
  5. “It wasn’t me!” an indignant Craig ______questionmark____ ”I was nowhere near the scene of the crime. Ask my wife!”
  6. Rob got a _____questionmark_____ in his finger from carrying the wood into the house.
  7. Jack was pressed against the wall and frisked by the police, his arms and legs ____questionmark_____ out.
  8. Denitsa was pleased to have finally killed the mosquito that had been nibbling away at her all evening. She swatted it against the wall with a satisfying ____questionmark______.
  9. The two short films had been shot in different locations, and it was now Scully’s job to ____questionmark_____ them together into some sort of coherent narrative.
  10. John added a generous _____questionmark_____ of cream to his scone and devoured it in one gulp.
  11. Ernest Rutherford is the scientist widely credited as being the first to _____questionmark_____ the atom.


256px-SmirkusRolaBolaHandBalanceDoing the splitsThe spl- cluster has a number of portmanteau words. Portmanteau words are made up of two elements to create a new word, for example: smoke + fog = smog, chuckle + snort = chortle.

One such word is splurge, which is believed to be a combination of splash and surge. Splurging is indulging yourself or spending money in lavish quantities. In this sense, it is connected to the phrasal verb splash out, which means to spend money extravagantly.

Secondly, we have splurt, a combination of splash and spurt. Whereas if something spurts, it comes out in a powerful stream, something that splurts will gush out in all directions.

Another such word is spliff, a marijuana cigarette. This is said to be made up of split and spiff, meaning well-dressed or smart.  

Split and splice come from the Proto Indo-European root *splei-. As such, they have their counterparts in a number of Germanic languages. The noun split in Dutch is spleet, while in German, Danish and Swedish, it is identical to the English word. The verb splice is similarly recognisable in Germanic languages as can be seen by splitsa (Swedish), spleise (Norwegian) and spleißen (German).

As regards splint, Danish and Norwegian use the same word, Romanian has the word şplint, and Dutch uses spalk or splinter.

Many languages agree that splashing needs a combination of sibilant, plosive and lateral, but not necessarily in the spl- order. So although we have Welsh sblash, we also have German planschen and Danish plaske as well as Spanish salpicadura and Portuguese salpico, the latter two languages perhaps considering a splash as more of a slap!  


Image credits

Tutuki Splash: By Irina O. Klubkova (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons Xeaza at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], from Wikimedia Commons


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