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Welcome to issue #28 of Words Matter, our bi-weekly newsletter
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"R" you listening?
It's finally February, the month that the Finns call the pearl month, because the sun even among them is finally starting to peep through, allowing ice alternately to melt and refreeze like pearl drops on the branches. It was the year's final month for the ancient Romans, when they would clean out the vestiges of dreary winter and prepare for the new year's spring that would come in March.
Our name for the month comes from the Sabines, neighbors of the Latins, and means "a cleansing" or "purification". Their word which the Latins adopted was februum, and the suffix -arius turned the word into the adjective that we know today as the month of February.
Say February aloud. You will notice a certain awkwardness about the two r sounds so close together, and in fact you, like many people, may have unconsciously omitted pronouncing the first r.
What we're witnessing is actually a common pattern that language takes when certain sounds get in the way of each other. And before you complain about "sloppy" or "careless" speech, observe how you yourself pronounce Wednesday. I'm thinking that you omitted the first d sound and that you would think it odd for someone to pronounce the word precisely as it is spelled.
The spelling of a word or name tends to remain stable, even as the pronunciations, especially involving the sound r, may popularly avoid clumsiness. You may hear a pronunciation of defibrillator something like de-fib-yu-lator. We commonly and even reputably hear gov-e-nor for governor, and temp-a-ture for temperature.
But even spellings have changed over time after "sloppy" pronunciations prevailed.For instance, you probably haven't seen the (correctly spelled) word purpure: it early on got "sloppily" pronounced as pur-pul, and then spelled as purple! The word peregrine is still in English to describe traveling birds, but many pronounced it and then spelled it as pilgrim.
So before you "correct" someone for omitting the first
r in February, remember your Wednesdays and your purples and your pilgrims
(and there are many other examples), and enjoy the month: Valentine's Day and Spring are on their way. --R. D. "Doc" Larrick
Morpheme of the week:The suffix ARY
Enjoy this brief video that comes directly from WordBuild Foundations Level 3.
The suffix ARY
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