Words index  Vivian Cook

Can sounds and letters have meanings in themselves?

Usually we think of meaning as belonging to words like beer or to grammatical inflections like ‘‑ing’ or ‘-ly’. However there are some groups of words in English where a particular combination of sounds or letters seems to go with a particular meaning.

‘sn-’; something to do with breathing and the nose/mouth: snore, sneer, sniff, snot, sneeze, snuffle, sniffles snob, snuff, snout, snarl, snicker, snigger, snivel, snorkel, snooze, snooty, snub

‘tw-’; something to do with pinching or twisting: tweak, twirl, twist, tweezers, twiddle, twine, twizzle

‘-ip’; light blows: nip, clip, dip, yip

‘-ous’; lip smacking: luscious, delicious, scrumptious, voluptuous

‘-ion’; no clear meaning but vital syllables in reggae lyrics and political discourse: revolution, generation, appreciation, consideration, nation, satisfaction, jubilation, globalisation, marketization, theorization

‘sq-’; something unpleasant to do with liquid and impact: squash, squish, squeeze, squelch, squidgy, squirt, squabby, squirm,

‘gl-’; something to do with sight and reflected light: glare, glitter, gleam, glimmer, glint, glow, glitz, glass, glance, glimpse, glaze, gloom

‘-ash’; something to do with violent contact: bash, crash, lash, gnash, mash, gash, dash to ground

Is this just coincidence or do these sounds have some meaning of their own? If you were designing a new breakfast cereal, would you call it Squoffy Snash say?

See also Size Matters