Feb 11

Consonant Clusters 30: wr- (Advanced)

The wr- cluster twists and writhes, its words wrap themselves tight, wringing the life out of the poor wretches who incur their wrath. Although the w of the cluster used to be pronounced, wr- has been pronounced /r/ for the best part of four hundred years. Even so, it has a clear and distinct identity with its phonosemantic meaning implying distortion or twisting. The sound...

Dec 28

Consonant Clusters 29 qu- /kw/ (Advanced)

Although now written with a consonant and a vowel as qu-, the /kw/ sound is made up of two consonants so falls under the consonant cluster category. The letter q is used the most rarely of all English letters with the exception of z. In the Old English period it was very rarely seen, as even the sound /kw/ was usually represented by the letters cw- as in cwen "queen". However, in the Middle English period, English began using q more...

Dec 21

Consonant Clusters 28: kn- (Advanced)

In the Middle English period, the consonant cluster kn- was pronounced /kn/ rather than with the silent k that it has today. This means that contemporary homophone pairs like knight/night, knead/need and knave/nave were easy to tell apart until relatively recently. Other Indo-European languages with the kn- cluster have maintained the /kn/ pronunciation, and it is still common in other Germanic languages and in the Slavic language group. For...

Nov 22

Consonant Clusters 27: shr- (Advanced)

Shr- words are often small, the shrivelled remnants of what had gone before. Other shr- words are high-pitched and shrieking, piercing to the eardrums. There is some crossover between these two themes: shrews are tiny mammals who shrink away from danger, but they also squeak shrilly, shredding the nerves of those in the vicinity. The...

Sep 13

Consonant Clusters 26: gr-

Grrr, you might think, leaves you in little doubt of its rank hostility. Yet despite its gruff grouchiness, the consonant cluster gr- is actually very common in English and so its sound symbolism cannot be so neatly categorised. Gr- words embrace the good - great, grand, graceful - as well as the bad - groan, grumpy,...

Aug 15

Consonant Clusters 25: "Pr-" Advanced

The consonant cluster pr- includes a number of words related to things that stick out: extended one dimensional objects that probe, prickle and prod. How far this goes is debatable: pretzels and prawns are pretty flat with sticky-out bits, while triangular...

Jul 11

Consonant Clusters 24: "Tr-" (Advanced)

Whether trotting along trails or trudging across tracks, the traveller is likely to encounter the consonant cluster tr-.

Through a number of different sources, English has accumulated dozens of words beginning with tr- that pertain to travel.

Should traipsing the countryside on foot not appeal, you could opt for one of the...

Jun 12

Consonant Clusters 23: "Dr-" (Advanced)

The dr- cluster fronts hundreds of words in English, but one of its main uses is with words to do with liquid. Babies and toothless old crones dribble and drool when taking food and drink. If you get caught in the rain, you are liable to get drenched, though you have more chance...

Jun 7

Consonant Clusters 22: "Bl-" (Advanced)

When it comes to consonant clusters carrying implicit meaning, bl- is a beauty. Sometimes it conveys the idea of contained liquid under pressure, blooming and bloating. A second meaning implies colour, especially in connection with the eye - an organ filled with compressed fluid - which is coloured and sees in colour.


Apr 13

Consonant Clusters 21 "Str-" (Advanced)

The consonant cluster str- often denotes a one dimensional object that is flexible, or at least, not stiff.

Str- is the cluster involved when you strum the strings of a guitar, when you strap yourself into your seat or when you tear strips off the person who makes your angry.

There is a lot of suppleness involved in the straining and...