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Consonant Clusters 14 "Tw-"


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Consonant Clusters 14 "Tw-"

Consonant Clusters 14: "Tw-"

TwineTwineA number of words beginning with the cluster tw- are related to spinning, pulling or plucking.

In your leisure time, you may twang a guitar string or if you are unfortunate, tweak a muscle playing sport.

Most of the other words beginning with tw- are related to the number two, which was spelt twa in Old English and pronounced /twa:/. Twine, twice and between fit into this category.

Both etymologies go back to Proto Indo-European, so are very old indeed. Sometimes, the two elements are combined, as with twist. In Old English, twist meant spin two or more threads together to make twine (double-thread or yarn) or rope. This can be seen from Old English words such as candeltwist, meaning "wick".

Let's look at the words related to pressing and pulling first.  

Match the words in the box to the definitions below.  (Hover your mouse over the question to reveal the answer - tap on mobile devices)

  • twang
  • tweak
  • tweezers
  • twiddle
  • twinge
  • twirl
  • twist
  • twist off
  • twitch
  • twitchy
  • twizzle


1.    Rotate or wind around rapidly, twist in tight circles questionmark

2.    Spin around in a tight circle: especially used in figure skating for turning on one foot questionmark

3.    A sudden sharp pain or feeling of emotion questionmark

4.    Nervous or anxious questionmark

5.    A strong, sustained ringing sound from a stringed instrument. Also the nasal pronunciation of a particular area. questionmark

6.    A small instrument for plucking out hairs and picking up very small things questionmark

7.    Turn something into a bent or curling shape questionmark

8.    Give a sudden jerking movement, often due to nerves questionmark

9.    Remove by pulling and rotating questionmark

10.  Pull or twist something sharply. Also improve by making fine adjustments. questionmark

11.  Move or fiddle with something by pulling or rotating it. Often used for aimless activity. questionmark 



Now put the same words in the exercise below in the right forms. All the verbs are regular.

256px-European_2011_Nathalie_PECHALAT_Fabian_BOURZAT (1)1.    Sandra found Brad's nasal American _____questionmark_____ rather grating.

2.    "Let's see your new dress Svetlana. Come on give us a _____questionmark_____!"

3.    The skaters _____questionmark_____ impressively on the ice.

4.    Sylvester had a _____questionmark_____ of guilt when he saw how disappointed his mother was with his cheating.

5.    Julian _____questionmark_____ a muscle when getting onto his bike. He wasn't used to such strenuous exercise.

6.    "You don't need a bottle opener," claimed Brian. "I can _____questionmark_____ a bottle top with my teeth!"

7.    We could see that the rabbit was alert by the way that its ears _____questionmark_____ at the slightest noise.

8.    While the interviews were being conducted, the candidates in the waiting room sat, _____questionmark_____ their thumbs, trying not to look at each other.

9.    Polly was the boss of her household. She could _____questionmark_____ her husband around her little finger.

10.  Paula used _____questionmark_____ to remove the long hairs from Alun's ears.

11.  Stephen felt _____questionmark_____ and under pressure. He knew that his boss was watching his every move.  



The most clearly related words to the number two, are obviously the other numbers beginning with tw-, namely, twelve and twenty.

When mothers have twins, they have two babies at the same time. These may be identical twins, from the same egg, or fraternal twins, from separate eggs.

Nowadays, many towns and cities are twinned with each other to promote commercial and cultural ties. The earliest modern twinning venture was between Keighley, UK and Poix-du-Nord, France in 1920.

The word twain is an archaic masculine form of the number two, and survives in the expression "never the twain shall meet", which is used for things that are too different to co-exist together in harmony.

Twilight is the light which can still be seen in the sky after the sun has set at the end of the day. The tw- cluster here corresponds to half, so twilight is literally half-light.

Another archaism, betwixt, is an old form of between. It can still be found in the expression "betwixt and between", which means "not completely one, nor the other".

Twigs are the small thin branches of trees. Twig also belongs to the category of words meaning "two" as it originally means "a fork, a point of division". Twig has also developed the secondary meaning of "understand". This is unrelated to the tw- two root and is a borrowing from Scottish and Irish Gaelic tuig - to understand.

TweedTweedCloth making, weaving and spinning were very important industries in the past, and English developed a very specialised vocabulary to deal with the different terms and processes involved. (See Consonant Clusters 9 sp- ).

As outlined above, it was important to twist threads together to make stronger yarn. Two threads would obviously provide greater strength. Twine is a verb which means "twist strands of thread together". The finished product is also called twine. This derives from Old English twin, meaning "double thread". If things are twisted together they intertwine.

Similarly, if something is twisted around something else it becomes entwined. You can also become entwined in events or a business difficult to extricate yourself from, usually when your involvement wasn't planned.

The names of the cloths twill and tweed are both derived from twine. Twill is a cloth that produces a pattern of diagonal lines by weaving the weft thread over one and then under two warp threads. Tweed is a rough, woollen cloth associated with the River Tweed in the Scottish Borders area. It uses twill weaves in the making of suits, hats and skirts.    

Proto Indo European for two has been reconstructed as *duwo, which is very close to the Greek and Latin duo, from which modern Italian due, Portuguese dois etc. originate. Old Church Slavonic has duva, and the Slavic languages tend to keep the dv- combination: Bulgarian две, два /dveɪ/ /dvæ/, Czech dvě etc. Indo-Iranian languages keep the dv- cluster, with Avestan dva and Sanskrit dvau.The /d/ of *duwo morphed to a /z/ in German, in which we have zwei (two), zwischen (between), Zwirne (twine) and Zwilling (twin).

Scandinavian languages often have a tv- cluster. Icelandic has tveirtvö and tvær and Swedish has två. Dutch and Frisian are closest at preserving the tw- sound of Old English twa and twegen.. Dutch for two is twee, while in Frisian twa remains two. 

English has lost the second consonant sound of two entirely (/tu:/), as have Norwegian and Danish, where two is to.  

That's the end of my two pennies' worth on the cluster tw-. Between you and me, I very much enjoyed writing and researching it!    



Image credits:

Twine:  By http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Ryj [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Twizzling ice dancers:  By David W. Carmichael [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons Dull sign: By Peter Mercator (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons Tweed: By tanakawho (originally posted to Flickr as Tweedy!) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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