Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Peculiarities of the English language #1

Here are some odd facts of our language.

    bet, the house
    'alef, the ox head
  1. The word alphabet literally means "ox-house" in Phoenician. The first alphabet was created by the Phoenicians, who labeled each letter with a word that began with the letter's sound. It's the same concept behind the NATO phonetic alphabet ...Papa, Quebec, Romeo, Sierra... So the Phoenicians were like, four million years ahead of their time and probably made this up between flying space cars. Phoenicians labeled the first letter the "ox" because it looked like an ox head; the second letter was the "house" for the same reason. Of course, sounds change over time. The original sound of alpha was closer to 'alef (the ' indicates a glottal stop) and bet was more like... okay it was like bet too. If that doesn't get you excited then get out of my face.
    Click this image... for infinite pleasures.
  2. The word bookkeeper is the only unhyphenated English word with three pairs of letters.
  3. Words like dreamt, comfort and warmth have a hidden 'p' sound between 'm' and 't'/'f'.
  4. The full line of the old quote 'Ignorance is bliss' is: "Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise." Which of course is complete nonsense cause we just got some serious knowledge bombs here and we're all the more blissful for it. 
'Till the next blissfultude, folks.


  1. Ha! This is great.

    Actually, I walked around work last fall with a card reading 'WARMTH' asking people to say the word. When they said it, I flipped back the card to reveal another behind it reading 'WARM(p)TH'. I would say, "you read this but you said this." The head of academic sales and a couple of the editors really got into it and had fun, others (such as the General Manager of the company and a few of the customer service reps) wondered why I thought I should use company time to play word games. Totally worth it.

    1. The trick is that the tongue is placed in a low bilabial position with [m] - right in a sweet spot behind the middle or bottom of the teeth. In a word like 'warmth,' the tongue has to quickly make it to a very high inter-dental position to make the 'th' sound (a sound written as [θ]). It's virtually impossible for the mouth to switch between voiced midddle/low to voiceless high without making a voiceless plosive 'p' sound along the way as your lips release the tensing from the [m].