I was looking at Martin Seymour-Smith’s discussion of Nietzsche in his (superb and superbly opinionated) Guide to Modern World Literature — I have the 1973 first edition — when I came across this: “Nietzsche could be strident, even horrisonous; but he is a key figure.” Horrisonous! This is why it’s good to have poets writing about literature. OED:

horrisonous, adj.

Etymology: < Latin horrisonus (< stem of horrēre + -sonus sounding) + -ous suffix.
Previous versions of the OED give the stress as: hoˈrrisonous.

= horrisonant adj.

1631 J. Mabbe tr. F. de Rojas Spanish Bawd vii. 84  Words of most horrisonous roaring.
1901 Daily Chron. 31 Dec. 5/1  Sophie oft wakes on my snorting horrisonous.
1962 L. Deighton Ipcress File xv. 91  I listened to the ululating wail and horrisonous mewl.

They should add the Seymour-Smith quote to the citations. And if you’re wondering about horrisonant, it’s “< stem of Latin horrēre (see horripilation n.) + sonānt-em sounding” and means “Sounding horribly; of terrible sound.” The citations:

1656 T. Blount GlossographiaHorrisonant, roaring, having a terrible sound.
1709 Brit. Apollo 2–4 Nov.  A Multiplicity of Horisonant Phrases.
1772 T. Nugent tr. J. F. de Isla Hist. Friar Gerund II. 97  The horrisonant bam, bim, bom, of the bombs resounded throughout all the fields.
1835 R. Southey Doctor III. 106  To exact implicit and profound belief, by mysterious and horrisonant terms.

You gotta love “The horrisonant bam, bim, bom, of the bombs.”


  1. I like it just as much as horripilation.

  2. Exactly! Those grandiloquent Latinisms can easily be overdone, but in moderation they are splendiferous.

  3. No etymological connection to “orison,” it would appear.

  4. No, it’s like eneolithic and neolithic.

  5. The whole passage, full of latinajos, from the Historia del famoso predicador fray Gerundio de Campazas of José Francisco de Isla is amusing:

    »Ya no me detengo, ni en las hogueras, ni en las luminarias nocturnas, que precedieron a este festivo día. ¿Cuándo se descubre el Señor sin que se enciendan brillantes céreos piropos? ¿Ni qué más hicieron los tres milagrosos niños en la flamígera hoguera del babilónico furno, que lo que anoche vimos hacer a los pubescentes muchachos de mi predilecta patria en las fumigerantes hogueras que encendió la devoción y la alegría de sus fervorosos íncolas? Si aquéllos jugaron con las llamas sin que les tocase al pelo de la ropa, éstos brincaron por ellas sin que les chamuscasen ni un solo cabello de la cabeza: Et capillus de capite vestro non peribit, que dijo la Boca de Oro. Pues, ¡qué, la multitud de estruendosos voladores que subieron serpenteando por ese diáfano elemento, saetas encendidas, que disparó la bizarría y el valor para disipar el nigricante escuadrón de las tinieblas! Parece que les estaba viendo el monárquico adivino cuando cantó vaticinando: Sagittas suas ardentibus effecit. Pero más al caso presente lo pronosticó, el que dijo que resonaba por todo Campos el horrísono bom, bom, bom, bom, bom de las bombardas:
    Horrida per campos bam, bim, bombarda sonabant.

    The translation by Thomas Nugent equals (stridulous volatiles) the original in Latinizing humor:

    I shall but just mention the bonfires and nocturnal luminaries which preceded this festive day. When does the Lord discover himself unless brilliant waxen carbuncles are lighted up? Or what more was done by the three miraculous youths in the flamigerous bonfire of the Babylonian furnace, than what we saw last night done by the pubescent youth of my predilected country in the fumigerant bonfires kindled by the devotion and the joy of its fevorous inhabitants ? If those played with the flames without “their coats being changed, or the smell of fire passing upon them,” these leaped through them without an hair of their heads being singed, et capillus de capite vestro non peribit, as said the Mouth of Gold. Then the multitude of stridulous volatiles, which ascended meandering through the diaphanous element, fiery arrows, shot by gallantry and valour, to dissipate the nigricant squadrons of darkness! It seems as if the monarchical diviner was viewing them when he sung prophetically, Sagittas tuas ex dentibus effecit. But more pertinently to the present case prognosticated he who said that the horrisonant bam bim, bom, of the bombs resounded through out all the fields,

    Horrida per Campos bam, bim, bom-barda fonabant.

  6. Wonderful — thanks for digging those up!

  7. The horrisonant bam, bim, bom, of the bombs

    I dunno, bombs that go bam, bim, bom sound as if they belong in the chorus of a Carmen Miranda song.

  8. Yes, and I can see Carmen Miranda leaping through the flamigerous bonfire of the Babylonian furnace without a hair of her head, or a fruit of her hat, being singed.

  9. Nietzsche strident ? Well, here and there a bit. But horrisonous never. It must be some English translation that SS is talking about.

    Not even Also Sprach Zarathustra has horrisony among its many faults, the main one being that only mystic drama queens can get anything out of it.

  10. Bim Bam Bum by the unforgettable Xavier Nougat.

  11. “This entry has not yet been fully updated (first published 1899…)”, yet there are two citations from the 20th century (while horrisonant is unchanged). What’s up with that? Turns out, horrisonous was prematurely marked †Obs. in the original entry! It was Burchfield’s supplement (1976) that rescued it, withdrew the deadly dagger, and added the 1901 and 1962 citations.

    Possibly Burchfield noticed that other dictionaries treated these twin words equally: in the Century Dictionary they’re both listed and marked [Rare]; in Webster’s New International (1909), both Obs. or R.; and Webster’s Third doesn’t include either of them.

    Both horrisonous and horrisonant are pretty far down in the weeds in the Google ngrams, but they’re not dead. Of course it helps that their formation is transparent, and meaning easily guessable. Wordnik offers some excellent examples mined from Project Gutenberg, such as this from The Siege of Kimberley:

    The horrisonous whiz of the ostrich eggs from Kamfers Dam was heard again, and back to the “Lift” flew the ladies.

    (This is during the Anglo-Boer War, when civilians were sheltering in the diamond mine.)

  12. David Marjanović says

    Splendiferous indeed.

    This bim is a good lesson on the importance of keeping [i] and [ɪ] apart.

  13. What lesson ? Important for what ? Cui bono ? Cur quis non prandeat hoc est ?

  14. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Tin tan din dan bim bam bom bo

  15. Previous versions of the OED give the stress as: hoˈrrisonous.

    NED generally didn’t bother with pronunciations for (a) obsolete words (even some in Shakespeare, which is annoying for thespians) or (b) derivatives with pronunciations obvious from the base word[s].

    Did Burchfield as policy not add pronunciations for de-obsoleted words, or was horrisonant overlooked or excluded as still falling under (b)? I see NED has pronunciation hǫri·sǒnănt for horrisonant, which suggests hǫri·sǒnəs for horrisonous. Collins hɒˈrɪsənənt concurs.

  16. Yes, and the stress is clear from a line of verse like “Sophie oft wakes on my snorting horrisonous.”

  17. Horrisonous: Nietzsche / roaring / mewl / whiz

    “Nietzsche” is hourrisonously onomatopoe[t]ic.

  18. From far, far out in left field…

    “1631 J. Mabbe tr. F. de Rojas Spanish Bawd vii. 84  Words of most horrisonous roaring.”

    This brings back over half century old memories of a debate among grad students regarding James Mabbe, who translated La Celestina and other important Spanish literary works. Someone called him ‘Mabb’, and another said it was pronounced ‘Mabbuh”. The pointless argument continued for a couple of months until yet another student found a contemporary mention of Mr. Mabbe by a 17th c. Spanish author who called him “don Diego Puede Ser”. Puede ser=may be.

  19. That’s great! (And shows the value of multilingual puns.)

  20. This morning I was roughly awakened by the horrisonous cacophony of garbage trucks across my street.

  21. Horrisonous: Nietzsche / roaring / mewl / whiz

    Yes, Nietzsche sounds like Mieze = pussy(cat). Friedrich Miezekatze. The Mewler of Sils Maria.

  22. # Sils Maria: Maria ist eine abgeschliffene Form des rätoromanischen Maioria, was Meierei oder «Gutshof» bedeutet. #

  23. January First-of-May says

    Apparently the name Nietzsche was intended to be pronounced, essentially, “Ni-che” (“Ni” as in the knights who say Ni, “che” as in Che Guevara – not like the word “niche”).

    AFAIK this particular variant of consonantal pile-up was already on its way out by then, so most modern readers don’t actually read it like that. Offhand I’m not actually sure how they do read it. Russian goes with a German-spelling-based pronunciation: Ницше.

  24. David Marjanović says

    “Ni-che” (“Ni” as in the knights who say Ni, “che” as in Che Guevara

    Yes, that’s how it’s done in German. Graphically extending tsch to tzsch, perhaps in order to mark the affricate as such by putting an affricate letter in, seems to have been an Upper Saxon fashion a few hundred years ago and survives in a bunch of proper names.

  25. In Russian it is an affricate t͡s and retroflex ʂ (which in my case is not retroflex). I would blame German, but such surnames in German are usually Slavic.

    Actuially, -tzsch- does look like an attempt to write down /ʈʂ/ ot /tɕ/ (I wonder which one).

    But then no one forced Russian to imitate it. Of course no one reads it as -ч-, because if it is meant to sound as -ч- why write it as if it were some German horror, -цш-? It is like reborrowing zashtsheeshtshayoushtsheekhsya as заштшиштшайуштшикхсья.

  26. I was curious to see if Mabbe used horrisonous in English simply because he found horrísono among the latinajos in La Celestina. However, Mabbe seems to have embellished quite a bit… As far as I can tell, Mabbe’s words of most horrisonous roaring corresponds in general to crudas bozes (i.e. modern crudas voces) in the version of 1499 and turbadas bozes in the version of 1531.

    Here is the whole passage from a modern edition by Julio Cejador y Frauca, online at the Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes, in which Celestina describes the powers of her dead friend, the witch and prostitute Claudina (the mother of Parmeno, whom Celestina has raised since a boy):

    — No me la nombres, fijo, por Dios, que se me hinchen los ojos de agua. ¿E tuue yo en este mundo otra tal amiga? ¿Otra tal compañera? ¿Tal aliuiadora de mis trabajos e fatigas? ¿Quién suplía mis faltas? ¿Quién sabía mis secretos? ¿A quién descubría mi coraçón? ¿Quién era todo mi bien e descanso, sino tu madre, más que mi hermana e comadre? ¡O qué graciosa era! ¡O qué desembuelta, limpia, varonil! Tan sin pena ni temor se andaua a media noche de cimenterio en cimenterio, buscando aparejos para nuestro oficio, como de día. Ni dexava christianos ni moros ni judíos, cuyos enterramientos no visitaua. De día los acechaua, de noche los desterraua. Assí se holgaua cola la noche escura, como tú con el día claro; dezía que aquella era capa de pecadores. ¿Pues maña no tenía con todas las otras gracias? Una cosa te diré, porque veas qué madre perdiste; avnque era para callar. Pero contigo todo passa. Siete dientes quitó a vn ahorcado con vnas tenazicas de pelacejas, mientra yo le descalcé los çapatos. Pues entrava en vn cerco mejor que yo e con más esfuerço; avnque yo tenía farto buena fama, más que agora, que por mis pecados todo se oluidó con su muerte. ¿Qué más quieres, sino que los mesmos diablos la hauían miedo? Atemorizados e espantados los tenía con las crudas bozes, que les daua. Assí era ella dellos conoscida, como tú en tu casa. Tumbando venían vnos sobre otros a su llamado. No le osauan dezir mentira, según la fuerça con que los apremiaua. Después que la perdí, jamás les oy verdad.
    — No la medre Dios más a esta vieja, que ella me da plazer con estos loores de sus palabras.

    Here is Mabbe’s version from a 19th century edition:

    Sonne, no more. For mine eyes already runne over, and my teares beginne to breake over those bankes, which should bound them in. O! had I in all this world, but such another friend ? Such another companion ? Such a comfortresse in my troubles ? Such an easer, and lightner of my hearts heavinesse ? Who did supply my wants ? Who knew my secrets ? To whom did I discover my heart? Who was all my happinesse, and quietnesse, but thy mother? She was neerer and dearer unto me, then my gossip, or mine owne sister. O! how well-favored was she, and cheerefull of countenance? How lustie? How quicke? How neate? How portly and majesticall in her gate? How stout and manly? Why, shee would goe you at midnight without or paine, or feare, from Church-yard, to Church-yard, seeking for implements appertaining to our Trade, as if it had been day. Nor did she omit either Christians, Moores, or Jewes, whose Graves and Sepulchres she did not visit. By day she would watch them, and by night shee would dig them out; taking such things as should serve her turne. So that she tooke as great pleasure in darknesse of the night, as thou dost comfort in the brightnesse of the day. She would usually say ; that the night was the sinfull mans cloak, that did hide and cover all his rogueries, that they might not be seene, though perhaps she had not the like in dexteritie and skill in all the rest of those tricks that appertained to her Trade: yet one thing shall I tell thee, because thou shall see what a mother thou hast lost, though I was about to keepe it in; but it makes no matter, it shall out to thee. She did pull out seven teeth out of a fellowes head that was hang’d, with a paire of Pincers, such as you pull out stubbed haires withall; whil’st I did pull off his shooes. She was excellent at a Circle, and would enter it farre better then my selfe, and with greater boldnes, though I also was very famous for it in those dayes, more I wisse, then I am now; who have together with her, lost almost my cunning. What shall I say more unto thee, but that the very Divels themselves did live in feare of her? Shee did hold them in horrour, and dread, making them to tremble and quake, when shee beganne to exercise her exorcismes, her spels, her incantations, her charmes, her conjurations, and other words of most horrisonous roaring, and most hideous noyse. Shee was as well knowne to them all, as the begger knowes his dish ; or as thy selfe in thine owne house. One Divell comming tumbling in upon the necke of another, as fast, as it pleased her to call them up, and not one of them durst tell her a lye; such power had shee to binde them: so that ever since shee dy’d, I could never attaine to the truth of any thing.
    May this woman no better thrive, then shee pleaseth mee with those her wordy prayses.

  27. Good that the name did not went to say, Japan before being borrowed.

    AFAIK this particular variant of consonantal pile-up was already on its way out by then

    I now wonder what was the trajectory of the sound in German.

    Wiktionary: A variant of Nietsch, Nietsche, ultimately from Nikolaus (“Nicholas”), influenced by Slavic languages.

  28. So, Коля.
    Another Коля is “nickel”, the name of a metal.

  29. You’re talking about Коля Никель, I presume. Anyway, we’ve now tied it in with the knights who say Ni.

  30. WP:

    In medieval Germany, a red mineral was found in the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) that resembled copper ore. However, when miners were unable to extract any copper from it, they blamed a mischievous sprite of German mythology, Nickel (similar to Old Nick), for besetting the copper. They called this ore Kupfernickel from the German Kupfer for copper.[48][49][50][51] This ore is now known to be nickeline, a nickel arsenide. In 1751, Baron Axel Fredrik Cronstedt tried to extract copper from kupfernickel at a cobalt mine in the Swedish village of Los, and instead produced a white metal that he named after the spirit that had given its name to the mineral, nickel.[52] In modern German, Kupfernickel or Kupfer-Nickel designates the alloy cupronickel.[14]


    Borrowed from German Nickel, first used in a text by the Swedish mineralogist Axel F. Cronstedt as an abbreviation of Kupfernickel (“a mineral containing copper and nickel”), from Kupfer (“copper”) + Nickel (“insignificant person, goblin”), originally nickname of Nikolaus (“Nicholas”), due to the deceptive silver colour of the relatively valueless ore. Compare cobalt as related to kobolds.

    Maybe everyone knew this, but I only learned it when reading about copper alloys and specifically cuivre blanc. Коля is (obviously) “Nick[y]”. It is very casual, when I am trying to imagine a Коля, I picture a 24 years old craftsman, open and with a large nose, relatively sober today. The Kolya that I know is like that (he studied topology and is a millionaire but he does work as a craftsman).

    It is comforting to know that everything (Nietzsche) is just “Kolya”.

  31. David Marjanović says

    Wiktionary: A variant of Nietsch, Nietsche, ultimately from Nikolaus (“Nicholas”), influenced by Slavic languages.

    *Nik, vocative *Niče. Awesome.

    Hermann Nitsch and his art are here.

    Actuially, -tzsch- does look like an attempt to write down /ʈʂ/ ot /tɕ/ (I wonder which one).

    Now that I think about it, it could actually be an attempt to write something between (t)z [ts] and tsch [tʃ], i.e. [tɕ]. On the other hand, Wikipedia in several languages says č & ć have merged (as [tʃ]) in Upper but not Lower Sorbian, and it’s the former that’s spoken in Saxony.

    I now wonder what was the trajectory of the sound in German.

    Not much. /tʃ/ exists only as 1) a random cluster of /t/ and /ʃ/ (e.g. deutsch < deut- + -isch, i.e. diutisc and such), 2) in loans (most of them Slavic and now English, also Romance in Switzerland). Its place of articulation is, consequently, the same as that of /ʃ/, which is practically the same as in English (there’s more lip-rounding, though, so it sounds more retroflex sometimes).

  32. Tin tan din dan bim bam bom bo

    The bells of Fenchurch St. Paul.

  33. All this talk of Nietzsche reminds me that I still don’t understand how Germans are supposed to pronounce the word “Borschtsch”.

  34. If you don’t like Borschtsch, try Schtschaw or Schtschi.

  35. David Marjanović says

    I still don’t understand how Germans are supposed to pronounce the word “Borschtsch”.

    With [ʃtʃ]. 😐

    It’s no harder than, say, lists in English. Or firsts if you’re rhotic.

  36. PlasticPaddy says

    As with “fresh cheese” (stop after sh?) I am not sure whether in English “lists” there is a stop after the first s (or the first s is prolonged, I think my own production is more like “lissts”). DM seems to have better hearing for things like this than I do.

  37. In Russian it’s just [ʃʃ].

  38. David Marjanović says

    I am not sure whether in English “lists” there is a stop after the first s (or the first s is prolonged, I think my own production is more like “lissts”).

    I’m not sure what you mean. As long as you have a [t] in lists, unlike the people for whom the plural of “breakfas” is “breakfasses”, we’re not disagreeing.

    In Russian it’s just [ʃʃ].

    It has been changing, over the last few generations, from [ɕtɕ] to [ɕː] – at least I’ve read about that claim a few times, and I’ve heard both of these pronunciations (and probably more) from native speakers.

  39. Yeah, that’s more accurate — I was just lazily copying.

  40. [ʃ:] is actually a good approximation.

    But I guess for a learner the problem is finding two Englsih sounds to approximate щ and ш…

  41. I do not know, what is “Russian”. But the change can possibly be explained by

    (1) diffusion from regions where [ɕː] was current. (see Dahl, Щ)

    That is what I mean by “what is Russian” – I do not know how to appropriately define the sociolinguistic entity that we mean when speaking about pre-revolutionary pronunciation.

    (2) removal of pressure to have Щ.

    Our Щs came from church Slavonic.

    Щ is a long and tense sound. It takes an extra effort to articulate it, you actually apply slightly more pressure to the mouth roof and increace airflow. So complaints about borschtsch make certain sense:-)

    Not in щас schas (schtschas:)), a lazy (sometimes intentionally!) pronunciation of seychas, “now”. This sound is relaxed. And I can’t even put this sound in щ-words without preparation.

    Possibly Slavonic did not merely inject -schiy participles (instead of identical -chiy participles that retain adjectival meanings and are means of derivation rathar than conjugation), but also sustained the presence of the phoneme/cluster?

  42. Very plausible.

  43. @drasvi: щ is not just an import from Church Slavic, it is also the product of palatalised sk and of stj in native Russian phonology.

  44. Sure, but the point is that the constant presence of Church Slavic in people’s lives may have helped preserve it. Once the church-smashers took over, it was free to disintegrate.

  45. Yes, that is what I meant.

  46. Well, it’s still a distinct phoneme (/ɕː/).
    FWIW, [ɕː] is what I learnt as normative pronunciation already over 30 years ago, and our corrective phonology teacher (native speaker) actually admonished people who inserted a “t” not to do that.

  47. The link above is to a song from 20s. The singer’s pronunciation is quite peculiar in many ways though, and he is the undisputed king of mannerism.
    Alongside with Severyanin (egofuturism) in poetry whose poems he sung with perceptible pleasuse.

    2:34 is where he says щ in наступающего.

  48. And here Schtscherba, 1940:

    “… о букве щ сразу скажем, что она теоретически (если не всегда в произношении, ср. выше, стра. 119), отвечает комбинации звуков ш + ч, а потому не требует особого латинского эквивалента.”

    “…theoretically (if not in pronunciation, cf. above, p. 119) corresponds to the combination of sounds ш + ч and thus does not require a distinct Latin equivalents”

    Above he notes that both шчука and шьшюка coexist and that [when writing Russian words in Latin] we should thus follow orthography rather than pronunciation. Verba volant, scripta manent, adds he.

    Interestingly, he wrote шчука , that is [ʂt͡ʂ] (because ⟨у⟩) or [ʂt͡ɕ], but шьшюка, that is [ɕ:].

    Likely he meant it, that the former is less palatilized. Of course it also could be /šč/ vs. [ɕ:].

  49. 2:34 is where he says щ in наступающего
    I’m not good at identifying sounds, but that sounds like [ɕ:] to me.

  50. It sounds to me very clearly like …[juʃt͡ʃɐvɐ]…

  51. See, that’s why I never got much into phonetics. I just can’t hear the nuances, and I hear what I expect to hear 🙂

  52. David Marjanović says

    наступающего, 2:34.

    Interesting. The [t] is there, but sort of reduced – [d̥] actually. The sibilants on either side, to my great surprise, aren’t [ɕ] at all, but something around a rounded [ʃ] or a not very retroflex [ʂ].

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