The Guttural.

From a very long and gassy NY Times “Guest Essay” by Anand Giridharadas (bold added):

They worry, meanwhile, that their own allies can be hamstrung by a naïve and high-minded view of human nature, a bias for the wonky over the guttural, a self-sabotaging coolness toward those who don’t perfectly understand, a quaint belief in going high against opponents who keep stooping to new lows and a lack of fight and a lack of talent at seizing the mic and telling the kinds of galvanizing stories that bend nations’ arcs.

I have no idea what “the guttural” is meant to mean; Nick Jainschigg, who sent me the link (thanks, Nick!), says “it sounds like it refers to the gutter,” and I guess that’s as good a guess as any. (The word in more standard uses, not that they’re necessarily apt, has featured here more than once, e.g. “The politician seemed to have a longstanding issue with the ‘guttural‘ letter” [ы!] and “Avar … with its guttural pops and creaks,” not to mention the classic Flann O’Brien “People do say that the German language and the Irish language is very guttural tongues.”)


  1. Did he mean something like ‘throaty’, i.e. involving a lot of yelling?

    Giridharadas came up here before.

  2. David Eddyshaw says

    “Pertaining to the gut” would fit the context. But it’s so bizarre a usage as to make you wonder if there is a misprint at the back of it, or some sort of cupertino.

    The general theme of the article, viz that quite a lot of voters actually quite like fascist tropes, puts me in mind of Bill Stone’s remark, reported here:

  3. David Eddyshaw says

    I see that the MP in question was (contrary to Hoggart, or just mangled by the Graun) actually called Bill Stones.

    WP has a bowdlerised version of the anecdote, unworthy of a mine inspector:

  4. That’s a great anecdote, and a reprehensible bowdlerization.

  5. J.W. Brewer says

    Was this actually published in more or less this form in the hard-copy N.Y. TImes or is it an internet-only thing? I have trouble imagining a space-constrained physical paper devoting as many column-inches as this would take up on a printed page to these bloviatings. And the sort of competent old-timey editor who could quickly and reliably turn an overlong draft into something that will fit into the space allotted to it in a hard-copy newspaper might also have saved the author from various other embarrassments or infelicities along the way. The proposed desideratum of “seizing the mic and telling the kinds of galvanizing stories that bend nations’ arcs” seems a plausible contender for the old New Yorker “Block That Metaphor” feature.

    I asked Mr. Google about antonyms for “wonky” but unfortunately it only gave me suggestions for an entirely different sense of wonky, the one meaning “unsteady, shaky, unreliable.” Which may in fact be part of the etymological backstory of “wonk” in the “policy wonk” sense, but is not useful here. I’m not thinking of what plausible-in-context word could have been Cupertino’d or damn-you-Autocorrected into “guttural,” but maybe I just lack the right sort of imagination.

    Another part of the problem is that “wonkiness” is being portrayed pejoratively, but “guttural” also seems (whatever the heck the author thinks it means in context?) to be intended to have a pejorative vibe, which means it’s not a very rhetorically effective contrast even if readers could guess from context what was intended by “guttural.”

  6. J.W. Brewer says

    The late Hon. Member for Consett was of course working in a very ancient (presumably pre-Shakespearian in origin) genre, also exemplified by e.g. the anecdote in this unbowdlerized wiki page beginning “In 1979, during a concert at New York City’s The Bottom Line …”,

  7. The title itself reads to me like, “This One Weird Trick Will Defeat Fascism”…

  8. John Cowan says

    I immediately thought of Senator Roman Hruska of Nebraska (1904-1999):

    In 1970, Hruska addressed the Senate, urging it to confirm Richard Nixon’s nomination of G. Harrold Carswell to the Supreme Court. Responding to criticism that Carswell had been a mediocre judge, Hruska argued:

    Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance? We can’t have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos.

    I never noticed before that the three he named were not merely eminent jurists, but eminent Jewish jurists, as was Abe Fortas, whose seat Carswell was nominated to occupy.

  9. As to wonky, Green separates two meanings: ‘shaky’ (attested from 1896, in England), note German wankel with a similar meaning; and ‘overstudious’ (attested from 1955, as Harvard slang). He includes in the latter earlier British and Australian uses of wonk meaning ‘weakling’ or ‘homosexual’, but I don’t know that those are actually related to the Harvard word.

  10. J.W. Brewer says

    @John Cowan: that’s true, but I do think it would be hard to find three Gentile jurists of the same generation (I’m treating Holmes as being enough older than the oldest of the three as not to be eligible) who had the same level of generally-positive name recognition in 1970 among non-specialists. Among other things, they were all viewed in hindsight as “liberal” and “progressive” and thus had a generally good reputation among journalists and academics (and Cardozo and Frankfurter wrote in a style that the relevant generation thought quotable), but not (in hindsight) as “radical” and without being magnets for controversy like the goyische Earl Warren or William Douglas, of whom Sen. Hruska’s constituents might have disapproved.

  11. i wonder if he’s accidentally grasping in the direction of “gutbucket”, without really knowing it’s there.

  12. It occurred to me that perhaps English is not the author’s first language, but no – he was born in Shaker Heights and later attended Sidwell Friends School, the U of Michigan, and Harvard.

    But I do think what he meant was the gutter, as in the expression “gutter fighting” – fighting to kill, without mercy or regard for rules.

  13. I’d have liked it if he’d used “cloacal”.

  14. J.W. Brewer says

    @Bloix: you didn’t think the steady stream of cliches and buzzwords was already a tell that he was a product of high-brand-identity U.S. private educational institutions rather than an ESL learner? It’s hard to master that degree of platitudinousness (platitudity?) if you’re not a native speaker.

    My best guess (which well could be wrong …) is that what he’s trying to say could be paraphrased as “Our team’s spokespeople are often too wonky and thus ineffective at connecting emotionally with the regular people we need to be persuading; we would be more effective if only we learned to be more X.” Solve for X, but as I already said in an earlier comment I don’t think an X with too obviously pejorative a resonance (like “cloacal”) successfully makes the point he appears to be trying to make. Not that “guttural” (which has a pejorative vibe even if you can’t quite figure out what he means by it) avoids that pitfall.

  15. I’ve heard this usage and believe that the operating metaphor for the person deploying it is “feeling felt in the gut” rather than “being down in the gutter.”

    From Hello Poetry (
    >and when a mountain laughs
    >He does so, so gutturally,
    >From deep within his catacomb chest
    >that the whole Earth quakes — everything shifts

    From a Stranger Things forum:
    >”I was like, ‘I can’t I can’t lose Cami, it has to be. Cami is Drea.’ But I kind of couldn’t even engage with searching for another Eleanor because it was just it was Maya. It had to be Maya, I felt it gutturally.”

    Here’s John Podhoretz:
    >I felt gutturally that not to respond is a form of acceptance.

    My sense is that I’ve always heard that phrase or a variation — to feel something gutturally. I doubt any of these people are saying “I feel it in my throat”, nor “I feel it in a harsh way, like a grating sound made in the throat.”

    I very much doubt Giridharadas was trying to use guttural pejoratively. This is just the classic geeky east coast vs. the genuine heartland cliche. I interpreted it that way at first read and was surprised to find that might be unfamiliar.

  16. J.W. Brewer says

    I feel better-informed, if also filled with existential despair, by Ryan’s insight and examples. I also accept the point that someone who uses a word with a sufficiently weird/novel meaning does not necessarily mean to evoke the pejorative baggage that may accompany the word’s more core/conventional meaning.

    Giridharadas is significantly younger than I am, but Podhoretz is a bit older than I am (a full two decades older than Giridharadas), which makes it harder to dismiss this peculiar-to-me usage as a generational thing.

  17. I feel better-informed, if also filled with existential despair, by Ryan’s insight and examples.

    You and me both.

  18. Existential despair is wonky despair of the sort felt by Giridharadas’s friends in Shaker Heights and Cambridge. It passes quickly. But he once took a wrong turn and wound up in a mill town outside Sandusky, and there he met with true, guttural despair.

    It IS a conundrum to me. The people that have commented are disparate, widely read and seem widely conversed. What path winds by my door and those of the laughing mountain poet, the vernacular Stranger Things fan and Podhoretz, that none of you have trod?

  19. I can’t read the article and the paragraph makes no sense without context.

    However, I wonder whether “guttural” isn’t a reference to the supposed harsh and militaristic nature of countries speaking guttural languages (esp Germany). I’m thinking he might regard the Germans, especially under Bismarcks and Hitlers, as a jackboot people, against the effete, cultivated nature of the British (in particular) and Anglo-Saxon culture in general — especially the effete intellectual classes.

  20. J.W. Brewer says

    @Bathrobe: I can assure you that evading the N.Y. Times paywall (and/or the Great Firewall of China, as the case may be) and reading the whole piece for context does not make that paragraph make any more sense than it does in isolation.

    @Ryan: Port Clinton, Ohio, right outside Sandusky, is the boyhood home of Harvard professor Robert Putnam, whose alarmingly-titled book “Our Kids: The American Dream In Crisis” is perhaps an attempt to create a synthesis of the disparate types of despair you identified.

  21. Coincidentally I was just bowling this weekend.

  22. Shorter Giridharadas intro: What this nation needs from the Democratic party is fewer college grads and more arc welders, welding our arc towards justice.

  23. If I were trying to explain it to a translator from English asking for help, I would say that the “guttural” is mainly a reference to the throat, not the gut: barked orders, grunts of assent, chanting crowds, that sort of thing. Military, caveman, Nazi. (Especially Nazi.) The similarity to “gut” influences one’s reading of it, but just as an additional connotation. And wonky in the sense of geeky, cerebral.

  24. David Eddyshaw says

    Ryan’s exegesis seems to be definitive. It is always useful to have a native interpreter to hand in these perplexing cases.

    Incidentally, I see a groundbreaking new phonological insight here: the fundamental distinction among consonants is between authentic (“guttural”) and inauthentic (“wonky.”)

  25. This thread has made me wonder about the term “gutbucket”. In music, people talk about “gutbucket bass” and “gutbucket jazz” and so on. But where does it come from?

    Obviously, a gutbucket is a bucket that contains guts. But where would that be found? I’m guessing that that’s something you would have when slaughtering a pig. But pig guts are not something to be discarded. Pig guts should be carefully washed out and used for sausage casings.

    So “gutbucket” is something really downhome and what you would find with downhome people who make their own sausage out of pig guts. And those people would be the people who play the most downhome jazz.

    I’m talking about the US, but I would guess that you could find a lot of good music worldwide played by people who slaughter their own pigs at home.

  26. Excellent parallels, thanks! “I’m not going to comment on the kind of, I think, low, guttural politics that’s going on over and over in this state…”

  27. I doubt it explains “gutbucket”, but I thought of “tub of guts”, meaning a fat person, not in a nice way. I first encountered it in Portrait of the Artist.

  28. J.W. Brewer says

    @maidhc: a “gutbucket bass” is the same as a “washtub bass,” i.e. one where a metal container with a more prosaic household use has been repurposed as a component of a homemade musical instrument.

    The specific NP “gutbucket jazz” appears on the evidence of the google books corpus (which may be missing some important stuff, of course) to be a hipster semi-anachronism coined by enthusiasts of an already archaic style or styles (which did not necessarily employ a gutbucket bass!) several decades after its/their heyday, although “gutbucket” used as a stylistic classifier in a jazz context seems somewhat older and may have been used by musicians as well as fans, although the evidence of outsider white journalists purporting to describe insider black jazzman lingo is perhaps not always 100% reliable. Some sources from the Thirties and Forties seem to suggest that “gutbucket” and “barrelhouse” are synonymous as stylistic descriptors; others imply they are distinct but don’t explain the distinction. Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five recorded “Gut Bucket Blues” back in 1925. It does not have a bass-line-producing instrument (gutbucket bass, regular string bass, tuba, etc.) at all, just three horns, a piano, and a banjo. If you find a record cut by black musicians in the 1920’s using an actual gutbucket bass, it is probably likely to be in the “jug band” style, which I would think of as distinct from even the earliest jazz styles, although I may of course be using a classificatory schema developed only in hindsight.

  29. David Eddyshaw says

    Well, this new sense of “guttural” would hardly be the first time that language change in Latinate words was driven by sheer ignorance and wholly misguided analogy. My favourites are “obnoxious” (which, of course, really means “fawning”*) and “ingenuity” (i.e. “ingenuousness.”)

    Sheer ignorance and wholly misguided analogy are the main drivers of Progress …

    * Trumpites are obnoxious.

  30. Where would you look for the best etymology for guttural?

    Different online sources give it as guttur, a Latin dead-end (etymonline and M-W); a descendant of PIE *g(w)et = to say (etymologeek); a descendant of PIE *gut = swelling, rounding, entrails (wiktionary).

    They all seem unwilling to countenance a connection with gutta (= trough, watercourse), a much better semantic fit with other exemplars (gully/gullet, for instance, as well as OFr gargouille, with both meanings).

    Does anyone think that most PIE articulations were guttural, in which case maybe an extension of “to say” is plausible. To me, that’s mighty unlikely. The distinction between mouth and throat is significant enough that I’d guess it’s maintained in most (all?) languages, and I would guess that virtually every culture identifies speech with the mouth before the throat. My word-cloud for throat involves swallowing, gurgling, choking, coughing, hockering*, even ahemming, but not speaking.

    Or do any of you feel “swelling/rounding” is among the first 10 or 12 adjectives that occur to you in relation to the throat? Or that a meaning of “entrails” (which more reasonably linked to swelling/rounding) would travel up the digestive tract to become throat? That seems pretty dubious to me as well. Are there other examples of such a semantic path?

    What factor assures us that L. guttur is unrelated to L. gutta?

    * If you use the concept of phlegmy spit so often that hock is a living term for you from which hocker is derived, more power. But for me and mine, we do not hock, we hocker, a verb derived from the much more common noun hocker.)

  31. gutta (= trough, watercourse)


    Definitions of gutta from the Oxford Latin Dictionary:

    1a. A drop (of liquid)
    b. a solidified drop (of gum or sim.)
    c. (in neg. context) a drop as the smallest measurable quantity of anything.
    2. A spot or speck of color.
    3. (archit.) A small ornamental cone under a triglyph or mutule in the Doric entabulature.

    No semantic fit with ‘throat’ at all.

    EDIT: oh, I see, you were confusing gutter with gutta. Gutter meaning ‘watercourse’ comes from French, in a later semantic development; gutta didn’t have that sense in Latin.

  32. De Vaan:

    guttur, -is ‘throat’ [n. r] (Naev.+; also m. Naev. to Varro)
    The ur-stem is difficult to explain from a known PIE inflectional type: guttur can hardly be interpreted as a u̯er/u̯en-stem, since the base is unknown. The geminate tt is also problematic: it either belongs to the group of expressive / iterative words showing this characteristic, or it reflects earlier *gūtur. Note that gula, glut- and gurguliō also refer to the ‘throat’ and ‘swallowing’, and also contain g(l)u-. Guttur may belong to this same family, which has no PIE etymology. IEW connects Hit. (UZU)kuttar- [(n.)] ‘strength, force, power; back of neck, top of shoulders’ and MLG koder, NHG dial. Köderl, Goderl ‘double chin, goitre’ < *gut- (to OE cēod(a) ‘bag’, OHG kiot ‘bag’). Yet the connection of the Hittite word is semantically unconvincing. The Gm. words might be related if the ‘throat’ was referred to as ‘goitre’; but Gm. might also continue *gudʰ-.

    Bibl.: WH I: 629, EM 286, IEW 393ff., Leumann 1977: 379.

    Ernout and Meillet only say, “Mot expressif, d’origine obscure.”

  33. OED on gutbucket, for whatever it’s worth:

    In sense 2 [A type of unsophisticated jazz, making use of improvised instrumentation] usually considered an extended use with allusion to the name of the bucket used in low-class saloons and barrelhouses to catch the drippings or ‘gutterings’ from the barrels (although no such concrete sense appears to be attested in written sources at an earlier date); compare barrel-house n. 2. An anecdotal account by Johnny St. Cyr, a member of Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven bands, alternatively refers to buckets in New Orleans fish markets into which the internal organs and other inedible parts of fish were thrown.

  34. J.W. Brewer says

    The OED’s sense is a bit too narrow to account for actual usage. By 1966, Willie “The Lion” Smith (1893-1973) was referred to in print as “[o]ne of the last of the ‘gutbucket’ jazz pianists.” He certainly did not play on improvised or homebuilt instruments but on “regular” factory-built pianos (the odds of it being a well-built one that was in tune probably increased as his career progressed …), and you could in the right crowd probably provoke a shouting match or fistfight if you called his playing style “unsophisticated.” His style as developed in the Twenties and Thirties was largely superseded in jazz by later-developed styles whose partisans probably thought they were “more sophisticated” than what had come before, but that’s not exactly the same thing. Indeed the “stride” style which he helped develop along with Fats Waller, James P. Johnson, and others, is routinely described as itself more sophisticated than earlier styles.

  35. If you use the concept of phlegmy spit so often that hock is a living term for you from which hocker is derived, more power. But for me and mine, we do not hock, we hocker, a verb derived from the much more common noun hocker.

    For what it’s worth, I have never run into the verb “hocker”; for me, the verb is and always has been “hock,” and a hocker is one who hocks. But I am an Old.

  36. David Eddyshaw says

    Kusaal kʋkɔr “voice” is also “throat”; now I think of it, it’s the same Proto-Oti-Volta root *kóʎ- that turns up in Kusaal kɔdig “cut the throat of” (the *ʎg -> dg change is regular in derivation), Mooré koɛɛga “voice, speech”, Mooré kokore “throat” and Moba kunkɔl “throat.”

    Don’t mind me. Carry on …

  37. >a hocker is one who hocks

    For me a hocker is primarily the gob of phlegmy spit itself. I’d probably call someone who hock(er)s a hockerer.

  38. Kusaal kʋkɔr “voice” must be the source of George Cukor’s surname, and Mooré kokore “throat” is clearly related to Japanese kokoro “heart.”

  39. J.W. Brewer says

    Yet again, Ryan and I seem to have different lexical paths winding past our respective front doors. I don’t think I have the noun “hocker” (much less a verb “hocker”) in my lexicon at all, but I do have the verb “hock,” admittedly pretty much exclusively in the fixed idiom “to hock a loogie.” I do feel like that’s an expression I both uttered and heard with some frequency in my teenage years but rarely if ever in more recent decades. I am however delighted to learn that the fixed idiom is in respectable international scientific use, there being a learned paper published in 2020 (with 21 co-authors!) under the title “Hock-a-loogie saliva as a diagnostic specimen for SARS-CoV-2 by a PCR-based assay: A diagnostic validity study.”

  40. Biblical Hebrew גַּרְגֶּרֶת gargeret ‘Adam’s Apple’, and Mishnaic Hebrew גרגר grgr ‘gargle’ and גַּרְגְּרָן gargǝrān ‘glutton’ are in that neighborhood, too. Ulp.

  41. David Eddyshaw says

    The Western Oti-Volta throat/voice polysemy, which I never really followed through the implications of hitherto, actually solves a puzzle in Kusaal morphology.

    The verb kɔt “cut several throats” is glossed as a pluractional form corresponding to kɔdig “cut (one) throat”, but there is no pluractional derivational suffix *d anywhere else in Western Oti-Volta which could have given rise to that -t, which is the outcome of *dd or *ʎd.

    I’d already deduced that the formally very odd perfective kɔt must be a back-formation from the imperfective kɔtid, where a second imperfective flexion has been added to an original imperfective kɔt (there are several parallels for this sort of reinforcement of flexions by doubling) but unfortunately there is no corresponding perfective *kɔd.

    This makes sense now, because the expected perfective verb form from *kóʎ- in Kusaal would actually be *, and that would naturally enough be avoided as near-homophonous with kɔ’ “break.” It’s all so simple

  42. Once again, LH advances historical linguistics! I hope the NSF is pleased with the results of their paying for my graduate education.

  43. Huh, I would have thought that the gut in gutbucket referred to the strings, not to the previous contents of the bucket. (Especially since having a specific bucket for one part of a once-a-year thing like slaughtering seems odd to me.)

  44. With the advent of indoor living, hockers and loogies are primarily the domain of children, whose usage is creative and variable. I wonder whether it was strictly central IL or even Springfield kids that called a loogie a hocker. I’ve heard loogie, but it’s the sort of gross term I would never use, just as poo is an unfathomably disgusting synonym for poop. Shampoo has always been on the edge of vulgarity for me just by sonic association.

  45. J.W. Brewer says

    @Biscia: the Johnny St. Cyr account referenced by the OED points to an outside-the-home environment where buckets-to-throw-guts-in would be in daily use.

  46. Words for the neck and throat just aren’t very stable in European languages. For example, English throat is inherited from Germanic, but (per OED, updated 2017) the only cognates that actually mean ‘throat’ are Old Frisian throt- and obsolete German Drosse; there are probable cognates in Old Icelandic, Norwegian, Swedish, Swedish regional, and Danish regional, but they mean various things such as ‘snout, muzzle, (protruding) mouth, spout, long nose, mouth of a bottle’. The connection of the throat with a verb meaning ‘to swell, protrude’ may be through reference to the Adam’s apple.

  47. >Mooré kokore “throat” is clearly related to Japanese kokoro “heart.”

    Surely this is a connection we all feel gutturally from deep within our catacomb chests.

  48. David Eddyshaw says

    Once again, LH advances historical linguistics!

    and, lo and behold, Meeussen’s Proto-Bantu reconstructions have -kodo “throat”; cf Swahili koo, Tsonga nkolo

    Matches perfectly segmentally and for tone and everything, too (I gave the wrong tone for Proto-Oti-Volta above: the POV form ought to be *kòʎ-; Western H tone comes from POV L.)

    So another root reconstructable to Proto-Volta-Congo.

  49. David Marjanović says

    In the interest of complaining the joke, I can’t help mentioning that cukor is just “sugar” in Hungarian. But Hungarians, of course, are everywhere you look, Africa included

    note German wankel with a similar meaning

    That’s just the prefix of wankelmütig “of unstable mood and preferences”; through the verb wanken “stand or walk unstably”, it would fit the Wankel engine, but that one’s simply named after its inventor Felix Wankel.

    welding our arc towards justice

    I’ll try to steal that.

    Does anyone think that most PIE articulations were guttural

    If velar counts as guttural, then a language with nine velar plosive phonemes fits that beautifully… otherwise, no. Though *h₂, apparently [χ] (uvular, so… more guttural than velar), was pretty common.

    Johnny St. Cyr

    Pronounced “sincere”?

    So another root reconstructable to Proto-Volta-Congo.


  50. Whatever the history of the word gutbucket (with the gut– part referring to the typical dross to be found in such a bucket), I think something else is going on with the word’s use in connection with jazz. Specifically, in the context of bands “making use of improvised instrumentation,” we think naturally of the washtub bass. The washtub bass is a rather unusual instrument,* and is very simply constructed, with only three elements: the string, the upright rod that holds the string taut at one end, and the overturned bucket or tub to which the other end is attached and which serves as a resonator. Of those three pieces, two of them could be described as “gut” (the string) and “bucket” (obviously). So I think that using the “gutbucket” name is also a pun on the use of the word gut to refer to musical strings. The OED says of gut: “For making violin strings; (hence in †plural) the strings themselves (obsolete). In modern use in singular as the name of a material. Cf. catgut n.”*** However, that use for the strings themselves is not actually obsolete—although I can only personally attest to its continued use among classical musicians.

    * The professor I had for my class on oscillations and waves pointed out that the washtub base was the only instrument he knew of in which the pitch of a vibrating string was controlled not by changing the length, but by adjusting the tension force. The signal speed for waves on a string is √(T/μ), where μ is the mass of the string per unit length and T is the tension. Stopping strings changes their length, and using multiple strings of different weights (on a piano, viol, etc.) makes them capable of producing different pitch ranges. However, while adjusting the tension is normally how stringed instruments are kept in tune, only** with the washtub base is the tension actively manipulated to change the pitch as one plays.

    ** There may, of course, be other obscure instruments, unrelated to the gutbucket bass varieties that do this. However, I am not—so far as I can recall—familiar with any.

    *** The version with cat– apparently comes from Dutch. There is no solid evidence that cats’ intestines were ever used for musical strings or connective bindings.

    EDIT: Or what Biscia said.

  51. @J.W. Brewer I like the idea that calling something “unsophisticated” would start a fistfight

  52. I strive to match Brett by posting comments with three asterisks, but I never have enough interesting asides.

  53. @ Ryan: poo is an unfathomably disgusting synonym for poop

    That’s strange. ‘Poo’ for me is a children’s word, just like ‘wee’ for urine. So it’s more cute than disgusting.

    Also, for me the vowels in ‘poo’ and ‘poop’ are different, although for the American-influenced youth of Australia they might be the same.

  54. the only instrument he knew of in which the pitch of a vibrating string was controlled not by changing the length, but by adjusting the tension force

    There’s the voice, if you want to call it an instrument…

  55. J.W. Brewer says

    @David M.: Johnny St. Cyr was a black man from New Orleans born in the 19th century. I don’t know how he or his close friends pronounced his surname – Louisiana is the only part of the U.S. (modulo comparatively recent immigration from Haiti etc.) where a significant portion of the black population has French-origin surnames and at least a sometimes-robust folk memory of their echt-French pronunciations that can provide an obstacle to anglicized spelling pronunciations. But the mid-20th-century white American ecdysiast Lily St. Cyr (a stage name – her birth name was Marie van Schaack) had her surname more typically pronounced in anglicized fashion as /seɪnt sɪɹ/ or thereabouts.

  56. I checked the Internet, of course, and found this for the pronunciation of ‘poop’:

    But someone commented:

    “Hi Julien, in Australia they traditionally pronounce it with the ‘oo’ as in the word ‘look’ (for meanings other than ‘tired’). And they wouldn’t be alone in the British-influenced world in pronouncing it that way. So, not so simple as it appears then.”

  57. @languagehat
    Kusaal kʋkɔr “voice” must be the source of George Cukor’s surname

    Maybe you were joking above, Hat, but as you may recall, “cukor” is Hungarian for “sugar.” (George Cukor was of Hungarian descent.) As and you have noted before, both derive from Sanskrit sharkara “ground or candied sugar,” which apparently originally referred to “grit, gravel” (cognate with Greek kroke “pebble”). So maybe the Giridharadas-Kusaal connection is to a gravelly or guttural voice?

    Thanks for your always fascinating posts!

  58. Maybe you were joking above, Hat

    I was indeed; sorry, sometimes these fits come over me…

  59. David Eddyshaw says

    It was probably my bad influence.

  60. Yes, I blame Eddyshaw.

  61. David Marjanović says

    Complaining? Explaining the joke. I shall spend the next 3 hours trying to find out how that happened. For the record, this is the first time I’ve ever noticed these two words must be related.

  62. the only instrument he knew of in which the pitch of a vibrating string was controlled not by changing the length, but by adjusting the tension force

    There’s the guzheng (Chinese zither), the koto, and even blues guitar (Albert King, for example). Also sitar and related Indian instruments. Probably more Asian instruments. I think some violin-like instruments played in Central Asia?

    If you want to know how Louis Armstrong pronounced “St. Cyr”, you can hear it on the recording of Gut Bucket Blues.

    Johnny St. Cyr didn’t play banjo, he played guitar banjo, i.e., a guitar neck on a banjo body. You can hear that on the recording he is playing very guitar-like phrases.

  63. In the instruments you mention the notes are ‘bent’, i.e. modulated a little by changing their tension, but the main control of the pitch is done by the changing the length of the vibrating section in the usual way. You can add the whammy bar–equipped electric guitar and the pedal steel guitar to the list.

    If I am not mistaken, all Classical Indian string instruments are set for note bending in this manner, except for the santoor, as played by the recently departed Shivkumar Sharma, but he was one of a kind.

  64. I am reading guttural as a strange adjective for gut feeling.

  65. You can add the whammy bar–equipped electric guitar and the pedal steel guitar to the list.

    You can also add the clavichord, a tedious weak-voiced instrument best consigned to the practice closet. Still, Bach wrote effectively for it.

    By depressing the key for a given note, a tangent (typically of brass) is made to strike the string: setting a portion of the string (delimited by the tangent) to vibrate as long as it stays in contact with it. On release, the sound is stopped by felt at the end of the non-delimited portion of the string, which is now free to muffle the vibration. Volume is determined by the initial force with which the tangent strikes. Before release, the force applied by the tangent can be varied by changing the pressure one is applying to the key, altering the tension in the string and therefore the pitch. Vibrato: not possible on instruments of the harpsichord family (where volume is independent of the force which keys are struck, also) or the piano.

    Usefully emulated as aftertouch on modern electronic keyboards – in most implementations with little finesse, because the strongest additional pressure on any of the depressed keys will globally determine the change in pitch (or in some other programmed parameter).

  66. > Complaining. Explaining… For the record, this is the first time I’ve ever noticed these two words must be related.

    Actually not. The situation is complicated, but I can explicate it. One is flatten out, the other lament with.

    I initially believed you, but I couldn’t work out how ‘flatten with’ would come to mean gripe.

  67. i’m with JWB and hat on “hock” – never encountered “hocker” before (even as a nonce noun for someone who hocks a loogie). and for me it’s generally in the fixed phrase, though at some early point i remember making the connection to “hawk and spit”. that, though, has a bit of an anglicizing flavor to me (probably from where i’d’ve read it?), and refers to the preliminary cough, not the act of spitting, like “hock”. and i wonder whether it, and “lungie”, which i’ve seen in print, reflects a different pronunciation, a defensible etymology, or an urge to turn a vernacular word into a Real dictionary-approved Word by any means necessary.

    (i also have from childhood, with the same vowel, האַק / hak [chop/hit], in the fixed phrase “hak mir nit keyn tshaynik” [don’t pester me], and “hock” [pawn])

    and i lean towards maidhc’s sense of “gutbucket”. the association, to me, is specifically aesthetic/stylistic, pointing towards the presumed proper environment of the music: a roadhouse or juke joint where you might expect to get properly cooked organ meats. “barrelhouse” is a touch classier (and more of a specific piano genre), and for me, “washtub bass” is about the instrument but not the music, so isn’t really a synonym.

  68. David Eddyshaw: Well, this new sense of “guttural” would hardly be the first time that language change in Latinate words was driven by sheer ignorance and wholly misguided analogy. My favourites are “obnoxious” (which, of course, really means “fawning”*) and “ingenuity” (i.e. “ingenuousness.”)

    What does the word “obnoxious” have to do with the meaning “fawning”? It doesn’t mean that, and its etymology doesn’t contain a derivation from a word which means anything like that. The best I can come up with is that you were pretending to mistake “obnoxious” for a word meaning “fawning”. “Obsequious”, perhaps? That’s a bit of a stretch, even for Mrs. Malaprop.

  69. hak mir nit keyn tshaynik. But Mr. Heller is mistaken. Tshainik though literally means teapot, also clearly takes after Russian metaphorical meaning head.

  70. David Eddyshaw says


    The Latin obnoxius means “fawning.” Tacitus, Hiistories 1.1:

    simul veritas pluribus modis infracta, primum inscitia rei publicae ut alienae, mox libidine adsentandi aut rursus odio adversus dominantis: ita neutris cura posteritatis inter infensos vel obnoxios.

    “Then too the truthfulness of history was impaired in many ways: at first, through men’s ignorance of public affairs, which were now wholly strange to them, then, through their passion for flattery, or, on the other hand, their hatred of their masters. And so between the enmity of the one and the servility of the other, neither had any regard for posterity.” (Brodribb and Church)

    If you mean that English words don’t have to mean what their Latin originals do, yes, that was my point …

    I believe “obnoxious” actually did have the meaning of the Latin when first sighted, and has got contaminated by “noxious”, but ktschwartz will Actually Know.

  71. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    FWIW, Elem. Lewis has “liable, addicted, guilty; exposed” as the first lemma (animi lubidinis obnoxius, Sallust). “Subject to harm,” in short, and there’s your etymology. But from subject to servile is not far, and there are quotations for the latter as well (obnoxius videar, Livy). And then comes pax obnoxia (Livy), “dishonourable peace,” which to a Roman statesman was probably an obnoxious concept in the modern sense.

  72. A separate point of interest for me in Giridharadas was “the right is outcompeting small-d democrats”.

    I’ve heard of “small-c conservatives” in the UK; that is, people who have conservative views but don’t necessarily support the Conservative Party. In that sense, I would have thought most U.S. Republicans were small-d democrats and most Democrats were small-r republicans. I surmise “small-d democrats” here has a different sense; something like, “people who often but not always vote for the Democrat”?

  73. Mollymooly, you’re overestimating how fond of democracy today’s Republicans are. “We’re not a democracy, we’re a republic” is a favorite saying among US right-wingers online nowadays, and of course elected Republicans are busy undermining democratic elections and suggesting insurrection is no big deal.

  74. >change in Latinate words was driven by sheer ignorance and wholly misguided analogy

    I actually think it’s somewhat different. I think the bridge was usages in the area of guttural utterances and cries, meant both literally and metaphorically, characterizing a throaty “ARRGGH” as primal and inchoate.

    Guttural took on this new meaning by natural extension, and the “misguided analogy” merely reinforced it, because among English speakers, the gut is also associated with these qualities, more commonly than the throat.

    Some proof of that is that I don’t think anyone uses guttural to indicate a literal relation to the gut. It’s usage is always related to inchoate emotion or communication, or action motivated more by emotion than intellect.

  75. David Eddyshaw says

    But then “gut” itself is not really much used literally, except as a head noun: “gut reactions” and “gut feelings” have nothing much to do with literal intestines.* So one can imagine “guttural” getting shanghaied as a supposed posh adjectival form of “gut.”

    But these explanations are not mutually exclusive, anyway. We can all be right …

    * Speakers of Oti-Volta languages locate common sense in the gall bladder (though I think this is actually a kind of accidental pun, two originally quite distinct words differing only in vowel glottalisation having fallen together by simple historical sound changes in nearly all the languages which have lost this vowel feature, and even some that haven’t.)

  76. >“We’re not a democracy, we’re a republic” is a favorite saying among US right-wingers online

    I’m part of a bipartisan group working on election security, and this is actually a word-choice we have to give conscious consideration — that in contexts where democracy might be the natural choice, we sometimes use republic to avoid turning away readers who may be open to the rest of the message.

    To be clear, I think among a plurality of Republicans, the question is not a lack of fondness for democracy, but instead, the perceived sanctimonious triteness of “protecting our democracy” uttered by people who they believe are undermining it. Consider that the participants (as distinct from the leadership) of the somewhat ridiculous “Arizona Audit” really seem to have seen their job as accurately counting ballots they believed the voting machines had counted fraudulently. They actually did their job well. They don’t seem to have sandbagged for Trump at all. They served democracy, or the republic, and I imagine many were quite surprised to discover that their work showed the machine count was accurate all along and Trump lost Arizona fairly.

    I really wish someone had created a documentary about those people, their experience and how (whether) their opinions changed in the end.

  77. >“gut” itself is not really much used literally
    That’s likely more true for those who have never been on the receiving end, nor seen anyone felled by, a “sucker punch to the gut” that “made a man double over in pain.”

    or never been in a basketball tussle that escalated:

    I’ve never been punched in the stomach, but it sounds like this guy might have been, since he describes physical reactions, including gasping for air and a “burning sensation in your gut.”:

    I’d guess that people hearing about rotgut liquor don’t think it’s about whiskey that tears apart your primal emotions. The word is tied to a physical reaction in the intestines.

    >We can all be right …

    I don’t actually think your statement that the change was “driven by sheer ignorance and wholly misguided analogy” is consistent with my explanation of a natural extension of meaning.

  78. J.W. Brewer says

    Most normal-American voters are both small-d democrats and small-r republicans outside some sort of weird context where these are presented as mutually-exclusive possibilities forcing a choice (which would require a narrower semantic scope than either has in common use). FWIW, the google n-gram viewer shows (in the AmEng sub-corpus) “republican government” more commonly used than “democratic government” through 1911, although I will admit I’m not sure how to filter out capital-letter (and thus political-partisan) uses of those phrases from the small-d and small-r ones.

    It took a while for “democracy” and associated words to lose their pejorative overtones in American political discourse. The first two presidents to use a “democ*” word in their inaugural addresses appear to have been J.Q. Adams and W.H. Harrison, who were separated in time by three addresses by Presidents associated with the Democratic Party who nonetheless avoided such words. JQA’s 1825 debut of the word was with the somewhat cumbersome phrase “confederated representative democracy,” which maybe sounds cumbersome because it was a hedge intended to signal “not the BAD kind of unconstrained-mob-rule democracy.” Thomas Jefferson, who is often assigned in hindsight to the Democratic Party, included in his intended-to-be-irenic first inaugural address the famous lines “But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.” Apparently none of us in 1801 were small-d democrats, or at least there was no perceived rhetorical benefit in saying so?

  79. David E: “gut feelings” have nothing much to do with literal intestines.

    What about all the recent medical news about the “gut-brain connection” (and that’s “gut” being used literally), and the enteric nervous system being dubbed the “second brain”? Is it all bogus?

    And “intestines” is only one narrow sense of the word “gut”; it’s also commonly used for the entire GI system, or the whole contents of the abdominal cavity. Surely you don’t disagree that a lot of emotions are physically felt in the stomach and the abdominal muscles?

  80. David Eddyshaw says


    That’s why I said:

    “gut” itself is not really much used literally, except as a head noun

    “Gut” as a dependent premodifier is generally metaphorical. (Hardly surprising, as most people have relatively little call to talk about gut secretions, gut flora, gut innervation, gut linings …)

    Thus, “guttural” occurs in places where “gut” is most likely to be interpreted metaphorically.

    I think sheer ignorance and wholly misguided analogy are perfectly compatible with natural extension of meaning: different individuals display the sheer-ignorance-etc from those who see it as a natural extension of meaning. There is no need to assume that only one mechanism has been operative in the word acquiring new meanings in the communiity. So, compatible, yes.

  81. >That’s why I said:
    >“gut” itself is not really much used literally, except as a head noun

    Seriously, what are you trying to salvage, and why strain this hard? Literally none of my examples were head nouns. And your position now on diverse drivers of change is not your position from up-thread.

  82. David Eddyshaw says

    All your examples use “gut” as head of its noun phrase, as opposed to a modifier of a following noun. I deliberately and specifically limited my claim about metaphorical usage to cases where “gut” is being used “adjectivally” in my original comment precisely because I was not asserting that “gut” is typically used metaphorically when it is not modifying the following word (obviously not the case, as you rightly note.) That’s the point of my comment about “guttural” as a “posh adjective.”

    And my comment about community usage is simply meant to explain what I meant all along. I haven’t changed my position at all. That was the point of my pretended objection to “obnoxious” and “ingenuity”, both perfectly cromulent words in their normal modern senses, as anybody but a lunatic would surely appreciate.

    You seem to think I was getting at you personally in talking of “ignorance”; I had absolutely no such intent, and was in any case deliberately aping an over-the-top peeverese style for what I foolishly imagined to be comic effect. Hence the feigned objections to the perfectly cromulent “obnoxious” and “ingenuity” in their normal modern senses.

  83. David Eddyshaw says

    Oops. Editing error. Ignore whichever parts of the above are pointlessly repeated/make no sense/show me in my true colours/all of the above.

  84. As Ryan said, “gut” is not the head of a noun phrase in “rotgut”; it’s a cutthroat compound, which some say has no head, others say the verb is the head. Another example: “gut-shot” is an adjective, where “gut” is a modifier, not the head. I’d say both of these are well above the threshold of “not really much used”, and are literal.

    DE: “Gut” as a dependent premodifier is generally metaphorical. (Hardly surprising, as most people have relatively little call to talk about gut secretions, gut flora, gut innervation, gut linings …)

    Maybe not in your eye surgery. Has “gut health” not been hitting the mainstream media as much where you are as it has in the US? Is this a US vs. UK thing?

    Literal “gut” as a premodifier in the New York Times, past month:

    Better gut health. How do these health claims stack up against the science?
    “The gut bacteria interact with our immune system and eventually lead to chronic inflammation,” she said
    promoting a healthy gut microbiome
    People on podcasts say things like “gut bacteria is responsible for 95 percent of the body’s serotonin supply.”
    when a specific food triggers digestive issues or gut inflammation

    Granted this is a recent surge in such usage, but anyway, I think the older “gut reaction” also has a strong literal aspect that can’t be ignored.

  85. David Eddyshaw says

    You may be right. “Gut health” is not a common collocation in the sort of media I consume, but that may well not prove anything much at all. I am not yet old enough for it to be a major concern … give it time …

    (To clarify, I am not in fact at all emotionally invested in the idea that the use of “guttural” to mean “visceral” is based on the accidental similarity of sound with the word “gut”, and perfectly happy to contemplate the idea that there may be transferences of meaning at work; not that I see any reason why these have to be mutually exclusive explanations.)

  86. This legendary menu of a now-defunct San Francisco taqueria offered “Guts”.

  87. J.W. Brewer says

    Getting back to the original infelicity that prompted hat’s post, would “a bias for the wonky over the visceral” adequately convey the writer’s assumed meaning, or is there some probable intended nuance that “visceral” doesn’t quite capture? This alternative has the advantage of not being incomprehensible to me, if that were thought an advantage. (I doubt I am the relevant newspaper’s target reader, but I may have a reasonably similar idiolect and lexicon to that target reader.) It still sounds a bit off, but I think that could be fixed with “a bias for the cerebral [or “abstract”] over the visceral,” so maybe it’s just that “wonky” feels like it’s not in quite the same register as “visceral,” creating a lack of parallelism that’s jarring because register-shift doesn’t seem to be adding rhetorical effectiveness? But since this surprising usage of “guttural” is not in my lexicon at all, I have no gut feeling, as it were, for what register it would go in if it did exist within my lexicon.

    @David E.: all of the “gut” compounds ktschwarz referenced seem like normal current AmEng usage to me, although a usage I associate more with hucksters and journalists than with actual licensed physicians. But that may just be because I have not thus far had any personal medical issues that required me to have discussions with an actual licensed physician who would either need to use these terms or synonymous Greek-etymology jargon-words instead.

  88. Elem. Lewis has “liable, addicted, guilty; exposed” as the first lemma (animi lubidinis obnoxius, Sallust). “Subject to harm,” in short, and there’s your etymology.

    Amen. Cf. Anne Bradstreet:

    I am obnoxious to each carping tongue
    Who says my hand a needle better fits.
    A poet’s pen all scorn I should thus wrong
    For such despite they cast on female wit,
    If what I do prove well, it won’t advance,
    They’ll say it’s stolen, or else, it was by chance.

    The textbook from which I last taught this poem didn’t annotate “obnoxious,” the editors having apparently missed the fact that the word wasn’t being used in its present sense.

  89. I am not yet old enough for it to be a major concern

    You mean you’re not *young* enough. “Gut health” is trendy, very big on TikTok. And, yes, used by licensed physicians too, when writing for the public.

    Garner’s Modern American Usage (2009 and later editions) has an entry for “gut reaction … sometimes malapropistically said (and written) *guttural reaction, or worse, *gutteral reaction”, with examples back to 1991; “guttural instinct” is also cited. (He could easily have picked this up from Language Log in 2005.) He makes no connection to the voice sense of “guttural”, but has a separate entry complaining about its misspelling as “gutteral”. Of course, Garner is not a good observer, so this doesn’t prove much.

    I’m not convinced by Ryan’s “guttural scream > primal and inchoate > guttural feeling” theory, but this is intriguing, from Conversations with Menuhin: A Celebration on His 75th Birthday (1991):

    Menuhin: … Bloch is essentially a Jewish composer, in his deep and guttural feeling for the Jewish cry of despair.

    … a guttural cry of despair?

  90. J.W. Brewer says

    ktschwarz: I think of cries of despair as characteristically formed fairly high up in the vocal tract rather than deep in the throat or pushed up from the abdomen (is there such a thing as a “grunt of despair”?), but your mileage may vary.

    I note that wiktionary has two senses of “guttural” it notes as “proscribed” which match up with the novel/bizarre usages that have been discussed in this thread. There’s a cite to that 2005 LL post by Ben Zimmer.

  91. David Eddyshaw says

    That LL post is very much to the point. Thanks, kt.

    … a guttural cry of despair?


  92. I don’t think your dropping the word ignorance was personal. It’s your projection in calling others ignorant that makes me respond.

    Earlier in thread, you conceded you were in fact completely, well…, ignorant of this usage of guttural (“so bizarre a usage as to make you wonder if there is a misprint.”), despite the fact that it is used in a diverse number of settings cultural and intellectual, though market penetration based on the comments here is clearly spotty. Now you’re claiming to know and understand the factors behind its emergence.

    This leads you to tell us to ignore actual gut punches, to pretend that puking your guts out is a rare phrase, that fishermen don’t gut their fish, because “gut” isn’t used literally much anymore, aside from “exceptions.”

    You arrive at the idea that guttural is a “posh adjective” for gut. Again despite the fact that you’d never heard it used in conversation nor seen it in print before yesterday.

    To make such claims, I believe you should first know what words mean. Do you?

    Your two examples are as good as any. They’re common uses of gut as an adjective. Gut reactions and gut feelings. Can guttural actually substitute for gut? Would it mean the same thing? Or can it meaningfully be described as the same, only “posh”?

    A gut reaction isn’t so much a primal reaction as a snap judgment. This is metaphorical, but it doesn’t allow for replacement by guttural, because a guttural reaction is not in fact a snap judgment.

    People also talk about both guttural feelings and gut feelings. But surprise! (At least for those who didn’t know the word till yesterday.) They don’t mean the same thing. The former is characterized by intensity, the latter by immediacy.

    Few people in English speak of gut longings or belly longings or stomach yearnings. These are core usages of guttural.

    People do speak of hunger, but being metaphorically hungry is not wanting something gutturally. Guttural desires are deeper than your stomach. They’re not mappable.

    The assonance with “shudder” is likely as relevant as that with gut. I’d suggest mutter and clutter are relevant here as well, because with the meaning of intensity, guttural also carries a bit of the indefinite, of that which is not easily articulable.

    Very interesting that the associative road leads back to vocal metaphors, since the literal meaning of guttural for English speakers is a set of sounds many of us find difficult to make or to distinguish, difficult to articulate.

    Maybe that helps you recognize where you’ve strayed. Guttural doesn’t actually mean what adjectival gut means. Guttural has its own meaning, not dependent on gut but mildly supported by the assonance, as well as by other sound friends. Guttural’s meaning remains the natural outcome of the development pathway that led from literally guttural sounds to sounds voicing inchoate feelings to a description of those feelings themselves.

    As an auxiliary position that, like the Russians and Balakliya, you’ve been unwilling to retreat from despite its indefensibility, you pretend that insisting something “is driven by sheer (X) and… wholly (Y)” is an identical position to “oh gosh yeah of course there are multiple factors.”

    Though these words parse as modifying “ignorance” and “misguided analogy”, their effect on the sentence is as totalizing intensifiers that don’t allow for other significant factors, let alone a different primary factor.

    Which was understandable then, since it’s unlikely you would have recognized the extension of meaning pathway by which it did in fact develop. After all, as it seems necessary to remind, you’d never even come across the vernacular usage of guttural in the wild. At all.

    Bottom line, there’s no ignorance at all in the usage. My explanation is not consistent with yours.

  93. You’re being awfully belligerent considering that DE has already backed off from a position he does not seem to have been especially invested in to begin with.

  94. David Eddyshaw says

    like the Russians and Balakliya, you’ve been unwilling to retreat from despite its indefensibility

    Exactly like that! Of course!

  95. If it helps to defuse tension, might I point out that when the frontline reached Balakliya, Irish newsreaders took pains to distinguish it from Baile Átha Cliath

  96. David Eddyshaw says

    A natural mistake …

  97. You’re being awfully belligerent considering that DE has already backed off from a position he does not seem to have been especially invested in to begin with.

    Ryan’s display of obloquy was acerbic indeed and not obviously fitted to the circumstances; but like Kinch on hearing J.J. O’Molloy’s report of Seymour Bushe’s words concerning Michelangelo’s Moses, I found my blood wooed by grace of language and gesture.

  98. David Eddyshaw says

    Well, if that’s your bag:

    For poetic abuse done by undoubted masters of the genre:

    (Some of the epithets strike me as remarkably modern …)

  99. @ktschwarz: I think Ryan is right that there are multiple overlapping influences leading to the observed recent sense of gutteral. Many of them, for example, do refer to sounds—even if not necessarily throaty sounds, often low or growling sounds. For example, the mountain in the above-linked poem “Wild of Atavism” by Chris Voss is laughing (which might be a further mixture of metaphor and description of the rumbling echoes often heard atop mountain peaks).

    Likewise, Menuhin was talking about the sound of Bloch’s music. Here is the piece of Bloch’s music that I listen to most frequently, the first movement from his Concerto Gross No. 1. The whole piece is for string orchestra and piano obbligato, and it is often deliberately rough, with jarring contrasts as the melody jumps around and the piano and orchestra seem to be doing rather different things. This style and tempo annotation for this particular movement is the apparently unique “allegro energico e pesante”—energetic peasant style, right from the gut.

  100. DE, obnoxious: well, I don’t know any more about it than anyone else with OED access. They say the “servile” sense did show up in English, though it wasn’t the earliest or most common use: “†2. Subject to the rule, power, or authority of another … (hence) submissive, obsequious, deferential (to a person). Obsolete.” Citations from 1591 to 1754, and the first is actually a translation of Tacitus (though not the same quote).

    The joke didn’t work, because if someone is going to claim that a word “really means” something, I’d think they’d choose the etymologically transparent sense, which is “exposed to harm”, or maybe “liable to punishment”, depending on how you interpret noxa. Both of those seem to have been more common in Latin than the “obsequious” sense, judging by the length of the sub-entries in L&S and OLD. (Were you *still* joking in the comment citing Tacitus, in saying “means ‘fawning’” instead of “can mean ‘fawning’ among many other meanings”? That was even more unclear.)

    The sense of “subject or exposed to something, usually harmful” was also the earliest in English, and was “The usual sense before the 19th cent.”, says OED. Oddly, they only label this as “now rare”, rather than archaic or obsolete as all current dictionaries do if they list it at all, even though with a last citation from 1902 it would normally qualify for obsolete:

    1902 W. James Varieties Relig. Experience xi The too immediate and spontaneous an expression of self-despair and anxiety to be obnoxious to any such reproach.

    That may just mean that at the time of revision (2004) they weren’t confident of the exhaustiveness of their search for later uses.

    Merriam-Webster has a page on the history of obnoxious with a couple of 19th-century complaints, plus Ambrose Bierce lagging far behind his times in 1909. Fowler showed his usual common sense:

    obnoxious has two very different senses, one of which (exposed or open or liable to attack or injury) requires notice because its currency is now so restricted that it is puzzling to the uninstructed. It is the word’s rightful or de-jure meaning, & we may hope that scholarly writers will keep it alive, as they have hitherto succeeded in doing. Meanwhile the rest of us need not scruple to recognize the usurping or de-facto sense offensive or objectionable; this has perhaps no right to exist (‘apparently affected by association with noxious’ says the OED), but it does & will, &, unlike the other, it is comprehensible to everyone.

    Had Fowler actually seen obnoxious in the old sense later than 1902? There may be a few later examples out there, but I can’t believe they’re common enough, or recent enough, to avoid the archaic label.

  101. David Eddyshaw says

    Thanks, kt. I was angling for your input …

    I either had forgotten or didn’t know in the first place the even-originaller etymologically transparent “exposed to harm” sense, probably because the Latin word immediately suggests the Tacitus passage to me.

    The joke wasn’t really supposed to be coherent; that was part of the joke … peevery is rarely coherent. I can in fact readily conceive of a species of peever who maintained that Latin-derived words have to mean what their originals meant in Latin. But the whole thing was meant as a throwaway quip anyway, not some sort of reasoned analogy. (Apart from anything else, the cases of “obnoxious” and “ingenuity” are obviously not really parallel.)

    I really must take to attaching a helpful sigil to my comments to flag up when they are not meant to be completely serious … as it happens I just chanced to be reading the other day that John Wilkins suggested “¡” for this very purpose:

    On the other hand, does it not add to the spontaneous gaiety of the Hattery to leave such things to be inferred by the Wise?¡

    No doubt there is one of what The Young People of Today call emojis which is intended for this purpose …

  102. J.W. Brewer says

    That Ernst Bloch piece sounds nothing at all like any sort of musical style you would expect actual peasants to perform for their own enjoyment and/or listen to with enjoyment if played by others. It certainly doesn’t sound “gutbucket” or even “visceral.” (In general, music you can’t imagine anyone dancing to is more or less by definition non-visceral.) But maybe it’s “guttural” in the “conflated with gutter” new sense rather than the “conflated with gut” new sense?

  103. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    It pesante means ‘heavy’ and is even listed as an Engliish musicological term with that meaning. It paesano is the parallel formation to the French word that English borrowed as peasant — the -t is excrescent, but in OF so we can’t change it now. I do think Brett is right that “heavy and energetic” is a rare combination.

  104. @J.W. Brewer: It sounds like a it makes a difference which romantic view of the peasantry one holds—whether they are viewed as hearty salt-of-the-earth types, or as boorish villains. It would be a typically Ashkenazic Jewish view (based upon typical on-the-ground experiences with antisemitism) to see the peasants as, by and large, a crude and wicked bunch, compared with the more cultured, cosmopolitan aristocracy.

  105. J.W. Brewer says

    @Brett: But it doesn’t sound like peasants-as-boorish-villains music either. It sounds exactly like alienated-urban-intellectual music. But in any event Lars has questioned your gloss of “energico e pesante,” and I guess it does sound “heavy” in some sense, although it lacks the attention to tonal and rhythmic cohesion that one finds on e.g. the heavy-by-definition early Black Sabbath albums.

  106. @J.W. Brewer: What is Ernest Bloch’s Sabbath number, I wonder?

    Pragmatically, I tend to think that using a peculiar tempo and style annotation, like Bloch’s “allegro energico e pesante,” is practically inviting performers to try to puzzle out a deeper or more precise meaning. Relying on the etymologies of the terms is one to do that.

    I have performed this piece (just the first movement actually, not the whole Concerto Grosso), and I remember the conductor bringing Bloch’s annotation to our attention. I don’t recall most of what he said, except that he told us to interpret the “pesante” as, “Like a peasant!” (he exclaimed, puffing out his chest). His enthusiasm on this point is obviously the only reason that I remember that particular “pesante” at all. The conductor was knowledgeable about Bloch and had led performances of the Concerto Grosso No. 1 before. (On the other hand, he also had the weird idea—which corresponded to nothing in the score—that the piano soloist’s last note should be played as a nachschlag; after the strings had reached their final held chord, the pianist should only join the chord later, after a brief pause.)

  107. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Well, pesante is from L pendo = ‘weigh’ (verb) and peasant is from L pagus = ‘rural district’. Allow me to suggest that the etymological connection is illusory. But if Bloch made the connection himself (which your conductor might have sources suggesting) that’s moot.

  108. That Wiktionary entry was edited just two days ago to add the proscribed senses, including the quote from Giradharadas! Is Jnestorius lurking here? Considering that yesterday they also edited small-r republican and small-d democrat, I would bet yes.

    No other dictionary has yet noticed the novel “guttural”, not even urbandictionary. It’s had almost no uptake by the New York media elite: Giradharadas is among the first to get it into the New York Times, I’ve only found one other use there outside of direct quotes:

    Apr 12, 2013 — Most people will have an immediate, guttural reaction to this query, and their responses will fall into one of two camps. (“Ethicist” column)

    Two hits on “guttural feeling” at, both in direct quotes; one “guttural reaction” each in the New Yorker and Wall Street Journal, both in direct quotes.

  109. I was just talking with my my brilliant friend Elena about how doxxing is not big and not clever.

    without prejudice etc,

  110. Why do people spell “doxxing” and “antivaxxer” with two x’s?

  111. I don’t know, and I also don’t understand “not big and not clever.” I googled it and discovered it’s a fixed idiom, but I’m not familiar with it and wonder who uses it and how it came to be.

  112. David Eddyshaw says

    It’s a Brit thing; I hear it mentally as spoken in Londonian, but that may reflect nothing more than the accident that the person on whose lips I first heard it was from there. It is evidently modelled on an admonishment to small children*, and all the more irritating for it when addressed to adults (to be fair, I think it’s generally intended to be irritating.)

    I recall it figuring on notices forbidding things in the ghastly Millennium Dome: “X is not big, it’s not clever and it’s not allowed.” Cool Britannia, one supposes …

    * The person from whom I first heard it, ca. 1992, in fact was using it to admonish small children.

  113. It is evidently modelled on an admonishment to small children

    Ah, now it makes sense — thanks!

  114. “doxx” is classic leetspeak – (post)hacker online slang, which delights in all manner of nonstandard uses of characters (properly, it’s “1337” [“LEET” <— elite], in upsidedown-calculator-display typing). "noob" for "newbie" – properly "n00b" – is a similar example. the doubling is an intensifier, as it is in "thicc" (not leetspeak, but online slang, which all has its roots there).

    "vaxx" – an abbreviation that's become a stem in its own right – is, i think, in origin an interesting nod to the double "c" in "vaccine", partly by analogy to "doxx". i think it has caught on at least partly because "cc" isn't common in english, and either it or "c" would make the intended pronunciation (and the intended meaning) pretty impossible to work out: *vacced, *vaced, *vacc'd, *antivaccer, *antivacer.

    internets weird language in all kinds of wonderful and useful ways, but especially by innovative uses of orthography!

  115. I don’t spell “doxing” with the double letter, and the cites in the OED (mostly from the decade before this one) are all single x forms. Moreover, the OED entry also confirmed that something that I thought I remembered—that when “dox” first appeared as a phonetic respelling of “docs,” it took plural agreement.

  116. Cool Britannia, one supposes …

    Maybe. I always found the various kinds of notices on the London Tube kind of cool. Usually quite witty, unlike the generally unimaginative “Don’t do this or you’ll be fined” that is commonly seen on Australian stations and trains.

  117. “not big and not clever”

    “Some people can be funny without being vulgar, and some people can be both funny and vulgar …”

  118. ooh! thanks, Brett!

    i definitely have the verb in mind as the core form, which i think is a mark of the word reaching me later. but i wonder if the double-x arrived only after it was verbed?

  119. The bilabial must have sexual (or rather sexy) connotations. But what about the cacuminal?

    Spread emphasis to the left, comrades!

  120. January First-of-May says

    “vaxx” – an abbreviation that’s become a stem in its own right – is, i think, in origin an interesting nod to the double “c” in “vaccine”, partly by analogy to “doxx”. i think it has caught on at least partly because “cc” isn’t common in english, and either it or “c” would make the intended pronunciation (and the intended meaning) pretty impossible to work out: *vacced, *vaced, *vacc’d, *antivaccer, *antivacer.

    Indeed; *antivaccer (and all the other options in your list, except *vaced which would rhyme with raced and laced instead) would inevitably get (mis)pronounced with /k/, as had happened with the venerable c-stem abbreviation soccer. [Though admittedly if that’s derived from assoc then it might have had /k/ from the outset.]
    Of course the modern online-slang spellings with cc for final ck /k/ (prototypically thicc, I’ve also seen dicc, succ, and I think a few others) don’t help here either.

    If the stem was originally spread by sound, it would be pronounced “vaks” but ‘course can’t spell it that way (not if we’re pretending to be English) and there aren’t many other options to spell this unambiguously. The best is probably “vax” but a verb “to vax” would probably become “vaxxed” in past tense anyway.

  121. but a verb “to vax” would probably become “vaxxed” in past tense anyway.

    Not at all. It would normally become “vaxed”, just like “faxed” or “fixed” or “boxed” or “flexed”. English normally doesn’t use double “x”.

    And “cc” before “e” or “i” is usually pronounced /ks/, as in “vaccine” and “succeed” and “access” and “accident”. “Soccer” is rare for having /k/. There’s also “flaccid”, where the /ks/ pronunciation seems to have been mostly killed off by /s/ for some reason.

  122. Redd Foxx and Exxon and Nikki Sixx must have had a part in legitimizing the digraph.

  123. Jimmie Foxx’s name was sufficiently unusual that he was nicknamed (mostly early in his career) “Double X.”

  124. “In a time of escalating and cynical right-wing attacks on so-called wokeness, some practitioners I spoke to called for their movements to do better at making space for the still waking. They want a movement that, on the one hand, is clear that things like respecting pronouns and fighting racism and misogyny and xenophobia are nonnegotiable and that, on the other hand, shows a self-interested gentleness toward people who haven’t got it all figured out, who are confused or even unsettled by the onrushing future.”

    Sounds like religion rather than politics. (no, I don’t think that religious movements are worse than political movements). “still waking”

  125. David Eddyshaw says

    It seems like an elaborate paraphrase of “merely confronting bigots is often ineffective.”

    (It probably is, but it’s still enjoyable.)

    Tough on bigotry, tough on the causes of bigotry!

  126. @DE, I mean “still waking” and “gentleness toward people who haven’t got it all figured out”.

    The movement does try to change the world (culture, society) the way religious movements do, but I am not speaking about the change. Just how the author positions himself with respect to people whose hearts he wants to win. It’s the missionary position (the pun was not intended…). A missionary can think the same about converts: that they are “still” opening their hearts to the message and haven’t yet abandoned [sinful practices] but must be forgiven as long as they [perform salah, confess their sins, …].

  127. I am ironising, but not because I disagree with the author (I don’t think that if you stand for somethign and I stand for the same, I shouldn’t ironise about you.).

  128. Yes, it was noted that awokening is just another incarnation of awakenings that happen in America once in a while.

  129. David Eddyshaw: Calling well-intentioned people who are still trying to learn the vocabulary of the Enlightenment culture “bigots” is linguistic and cultural, well, bigotry. When I left the provinces for a big university half a century ago, during a time of great cultural and linguistic change, it was attitudes like that that almost drove me back into my hole. Multiply my experience by millions, and you get one of the causes of the Reagan landslide and its repercussions to this day.

  130. David Eddyshaw says

    This is not a mere question of “learning the vocabulary of the Enlightenment culture.” We’re talking actual bias against people here, and concomitant damaging actions, not just unfortunate word choices.

    (This has nothing much to do with “the Enlightenment” in the historical sense, of course.)

    I am not well disposed to the argument that I should avoid the word “bigot” because it may offend bigots.

    I am certainly prepared to accept that it is unhelpful to call people bigots if you wish to win them over to better opinions; that does not entail censoring my speech in general for fear of offending people with opinions that damage my friends. “Very fine people on both sides”, no doubt …

  131. I’m not talking about people with objectionable opinions, but people who considered themselves liberal back home and then find themselves upbraided for (in my day) saying “colored” or some such word from two years ago. Have you never known any such people? Or did you simply not live through 1964-1974?

  132. Oh, for heaven’s sake. You can’t expect us all to tiptoe around in fear of offending people who considered themselves liberal and then found themselves upbraided half a century ago. People have to grow up and realize some of their ideas and feelings are ill-founded or downright wrong. It happens to all of us.

  133. How did we go from musty vocabulary to “ideas and feelings”? Or am I generalizing too much from my own experience?

  134. David Eddyshaw says

    How did we go from musty vocabulary to “ideas and feelings”?

    Both are right there in the original article:

    They want a movement that, on the one hand, is clear that things like respecting pronouns and fighting racism and misogyny and xenophobia are nonnegotiable and that, on the other hand, shows a self-interested gentleness toward people who haven’t got it all figured out, who are confused or even unsettled by the onrushing future.

    Do you have a better word than “bigots” for racists, misogynists and xenophobes? One which is more sensitive to the feelings of racists, misogynists and xenophobes, perhaps?

  135. J.W. Brewer says

    The phrase “self-interested gentleness” is rather fascinating and revealing.

  136. How did we go from musty vocabulary to “ideas and feelings”? Or am I generalizing too much from my own experience?

    So your position is that despite your use of musty vocabulary like “colored” your ideas back then were so progressive you can state confidently that they haven’t changed a bit since, and you were simply far in advance of almost all Americans in your thinking? I mean, I certainly had some deplorable ideas back then; it’s taken me decades to realize my errors and try to do something about them. If you were that far ahead of the pack, I take my hat off in awe.

  137. David Eddyshaw says

    Perhaps I should make clear that I do not in fact call “bigots” well-intentioned people who are still using vocabulary which has (sometimes retroactively) been declared taboo, but do not in fact subscribe to bigoted opinions themselves; but such people are not actually the subject of Giridharadas’ article. Life would be very simple if our task were no more than suggesting that people change their vocabulary choices.

    I think the concern is that bien-pensant liberals like myself may stupidly mistake such a well-intentioned linguistic throwback for an actual bigot, and that the consequences may not be pretty: I’m sure this has happened and continues to happen, and I agree.

    Though I would also say that actual bigots are themselves fond of blurring the distinction and falsely claiming to be be in the former category; and (the human heart being desperately wicked) some actual bigots may quite genuinely believe this of themselves, too. Life is complicated …

  138. David, thank you, I think we agree entirely. As for Giridharadas’ article, I haven’t read it and didn’t know we were still discussing it in particular.

    My experience was that of someone who nearly got kicked out of his house for supporting the Civil Rights movement and then went off to grad school* not imagining that supporters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People could object to the phrase “colored people.” And of course my views have continued to change in half a century. As for “sympathy with bigots,” if you mean having grown up among them and realizing they’re simply ordinary people with blinders on, I plead guilty.

    *If an Englishman had traveled as far as I did, he wouldn’t be in the same country. And indeed I wasn’t, for I’d crossed the Ohio River.

  139. David Eddyshaw says

    You’re not missing a lot …

  140. Why then, we’re all in agreement! Drinks all around!

  141. Hear, hear! (One more word: Between my first and second semester of grad school, I learned more in practical terms about racial politics and equality in the US Army (with which my association wasn’t my idea) than I ever would have in academe.)

  142. David Eddyshaw says

    Not surprised …

    I’ve often noticed that in my parents’ generation (especially) that quite bloodcurdling expressed opinions about “race” were often found among people who had perfectly real and warm friendships with actual black people. And I’ve known some perfectly nice bigots, with many quite genuine admirable qualities. People are complicated. (Fortunately.)

  143. At any rate, my most traumatic encounters in early (post-Army) grad school weren’t racial (I already knew my way around that), but with newly minted second-wave feminists (with sharp unmilled edges), something I was quite unprepared for. But please don’t let this start another thread.

  144. J.W. Brewer says

    I am generally opposed to military conscription, but I guess I can see the argument for an exception for those intending a career in academia … My second child is currently in her first semester of college, reading Thucydides, Plato, etc. with a professor who apparently (my daughter didn’t mention this but I looked up his CV) spent a two-year break from his graduate studies as an artillery officer in the Greek Army.

    I also learn from the internet that the ancient-seeming fellow who taught me ancient philosophy once upon a time almost four decades ago (I shipped my volumes of Plato and Aristotle from that class up to my daughter so she wouldn’t have to buy her own) served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army Signal Corps during 1943-46 *after* having already completed his Ph.D. But he completed his Ph.D. quite young even for the time period and military service for 1918-born American males was so widespread as to be unremarkable. I guess his dissertation topic had not been sufficiently impressive to the relevant authorities to get him commissioned as an officer?

  145. @J.W. Brewer: It’s not terribly uncommon for draftees to decline commissioning as officers. I had a science teacher in high school who was had been a master chief petty officer, serving on river boats during the Vietnam War. He said he turned down officer candidate school multiple times, because he didn’t want to become an example of the Peter Principle; and I’ve met other men who gave similar explanations for why they remained among the enlisted ranks. For a fictional example, there is David Niven’s character in The Guns of Navarone.

    Franklin: Now this is our Corporal Miller. A professor of chemistry, I believe, in private life, and an absolute genius with high explosives. He’s the man who blew up Rommel’s headquarters without damaging a window of the orphanage next door. They don’t come any better. We’ve tried to make him an officer, but he just won’t wear it.

    … [much later]

    Mallory: If you think that I enjoy this, any of it, you’re out of your mind! I never wanted it. I was trapped into it just like you, just like anybody else in a uniform.
    Miller: Of course you wanted it. You’re an officer, aren’t you? I never let them make me an officer. I don’t want the responsibility for anything.

  146. @J.W. Brewer: It’s not terribly uncommon for draftees to decline commissioning as officers.

    Quite so. One of my best friends did that, and I hope I would have had the sense to do so had I not been a conscie (sp? CO, we said).

  147. That’s exactly what I did too.

  148. My experience of learning through many, many blunders has been that most people affected by said blunders would gently correct me, trying to balance protecting themselves with not hurting my feelings. I have also met a few intent on biting people’s heads off for not being up-to-date on etiquette. They are a minority which is disproportionately noticed.

  149. David Eddyshaw says

    My most mortifying experience of that nature (still vivid after thirty-plus years) actually arose from a complete mishearing of what I said by the offendee, who was perfectly nice about gently correcting what he thought I’d said, specifically saying that he had no wish to humiliate me by so doing. Fortunately realising what had gone wrong more or less immediately, I did at least have the gumption not to make matters worse by … correcting him.

  150. spent a two-year break from his graduate studies as an artillery officer in the Greek Army

    This is not satisfactory at all. Did he fight on the Athenian or on the Spartan side? (I assume he didn’t fight against Persians, otherwise he would have taught Herodotus)

  151. If he was in artillery, he was probably fighting for the Boeotians.

  152. David Marjanović says
  153. I am gutturally speechless…

  154. Guttural = not in my language.

  155. Vs. “nasal” = in my language, but I don’t like it.

  156. David Eddyshaw says

    “nasal” = in my language, but I don’t like it

    Worst of all is “flat vowels.”*
    Somewhere out there, there must be a language in which all the vowels are flat and nasal, and all the consonants are guttural. I imagine that the speakers are all Young People, who probably text too much as well.

    * In the UK, generally further specified as “flat Northern vowels.” I’ve no idea what the users of this term suppose themselves to actually mean by it, and suspect that they don’t either.

  157. In Russian it is clerics….

  158. Stu Clayton says

    Behold “the guttural ‘ü’ sound“.

    Does everyone but me (aka I) know what that sounds like ? In Cologne I hear “Türkiye” pronounced by Turkish people without any weird “ü” (just the plain German ü to the plain German ear). The LL post has no audio clip, on searching I find no audio clip anywhere.

    This is an insider gotcha joke, right ? A Ü versus non-Ü class distinction game ?

  159. Unfortunately, I can no longer locate the original Lingua Franca post referenced here. It discussed how “nasal drawl” was used to refer to numerous accents, with little in common, except that they were being described unfavorably.

  160. “Clicks”, too. Harsh, flat, guttural, nasal clicks.

  161. The Lingua Franca post on “nasal drawl” has been moved to another URL that requires signup, but the Internet Archive has the original.

  162. And then there’s the “soft a.”

  163. Come to think of it, “tense” and “lax” English vowels don’t make much sense either.

  164. David Marjanović says

    This is an insider gotcha joke, right ? A Ü versus non-Ü class distinction game ?

    Heh. No, it’s as Rodger said: it’s just supposed to mean “generically foreign”.

    Come to think of it, “tense” and “lax” English vowels don’t make much sense either.

    They do in an accent like conservative RP where the tense ones haven’t become lax diphthongs…

  165. “Flat a” is defined in dictionaries as /æ/, which is the vowel of the word flat, and maybe that’s why this term has stuck — yet oddly, nobody defines it that way: several dictionaries give a definition of “flat a” as the vowel of bad, cat, bat, had, or hat, but not the obvious flat.

    I might speculate that this usage started out as vaguely related to flatness as in lack of variation: accents with “flat a” don’t distinguish TRAP/BATH, they use the same vowel for both, as well as for flat.

    This usage of “flat a” must be pretty recent, since the OED hasn’t entered it yet, though they entered some other phonetics-related senses in the 1972 Supplement, including “(of a consonant) voiced”; “with the tongue even”; and “characterized by the downward shift of a set of frequencies”. Language Log reviewed these OED definitions: Flat Yanks, sharp Brits? (2004) and called them all obsolete, and Mark Liberman would know. His conclusion:

    However, I think it’s clear that the references to “flat American accents” don’t describe anything at all about the intrinsic quality of the sounds, but are pure social evaluation: “wanting in points of attraction and interest; prosaic, dull, uninteresting, lifeless, monotonous, insipid”. The American middle classes have always had self-esteem problems.

  166. DM: What’s “tense” about a diphthong? The only vowels I might call “tense” are pharyngealized ones, and even that is because I’m not used to producing them.

    ed.: Oh, I didn’t read you carefully. Do they mean “tense” = “more peripheral”?

  167. David Marjanović says

    Yes. More muscle power is required to make them.

  168. Now fortis lenis…

  169. David Marjanović says


  170. Whoops, I shouldn’t have relied on the OED for the history of the term “flat a”. It’s *not* recent, it goes well back into the 19th century; Mencken treated it as a familiar term in 1919. The OED just hasn’t entered it, which surprises me — I would’ve thought that lexicographers, of all people, would take note of pronunciation terminology. Oh well, flat isn’t revised yet, so there’s still a chance. They actually already have “flat a” in a quotation, under accent, n. 7b.

  171. John Wells knows what he means by “flat a”, and he even thinks others do too. From Accents of English:

    The terms ‘flat A’ and ‘broad A’ are sometimes used, particularly in the United States, to refer to the TRAP and PALM vowels respectively, or to their use in the BATH words. (But in Britain the expression ‘flat A’ tends to be used in a quite different sense, to refer to the use of /ʌ/-like realizations of the TRAP vowel.) We shall extend this convenient terminology by referring to flat-BATH accents (with BATH=TRAP) and broad-BATH accents (with BATH=PALM). …

    Wells seems to be taking it for granted that this “flat” is an arbitrary sign that has no metaphorical meaning or connection to evenness, dullness, or low pitch. (However, “broad a” actually is broad, as in wide, i.e. a fully open vowel.)

    Geoff Lindsey also says that “flat a” does have a phonetic meaning in England, i.e. a TRAP that is not fully front:

    I think your father was using ‘flat’ in the traditional sense referring to the non-front TRAP I had in mind. …

    Re flat A and northern TRAP. Wells p.356 describes northern TRAP as “not of the [æ] type, but a fully open vowel somewhere between front and central”. He describes RP /ʌ/ (p.130) as “half open or slightly opener, centralized-back or central”. So a central or nearly central northern TRAP is potentially “/ʌ/-like”.

    Wells also quotes (p.291) from a 1978 newspaper article by the rather posh Jilly Cooper: “All those female interviewers talking about bunk bulences and Ufrica. I suppose they all grew up in the Sixties… when… working class became beautiful, and everyone from Princess Unne downwards embraced the Flat A.” When she talks about the Sixties and the working class, she surely has the north in mind, from pop stars to kitchen sink drama.

    I think that makes a good case that Jilly Cooper did know what she meant by “flat a”, and moreover, even without knowing any phonetics she described it specifically enough that Wells and Lindsey think she was right.

    If British speakers can agree on ranking speech samples by flatness, then the word has communicative meaning. So what if they can’t explain what’s “flat” about it? Nobody can explain what’s “under” in “understand”, but it’s no less a legitimate word for that.

    (Caveat: my ears are American and pretty bad at distinguishing different varieties of TRAP, so I’m not sure if I’ve understood all this correctly.)

  172. David Marjanović says

    Both in Vaguely Northern English (at least some correlation with FOOT=STRUT) and in 1950s U-RP, /æ/ is an actual-factual [a] in the bottom front corner of the vowel chart. This has also happened in some Finnish and Azerbaijani accents. 🙂

    STRUT, when separate from FOOT, is open enough (at least in England) to show up as /a/ in a German accent (and some others).

  173. ktschwarz says

    in 1950s U-RP, /æ/ is an actual-factual [a]

    Source? Every source I can find says you have that backwards: TRAP *used to be* [æ] or even higher in pre-1960 U-RP, and *has now moved* towards [a] in current Standard Southern British. In addition to what I just quoted from Geoff Lindsey and John Wells, here’s another eminent British phoneticist who lived through the change, Jack Windsor Lewis:

    The major and almost universal change of the third quarter of the century was the lowering and often also backing of the “ash” vowel /æ/. In the fifties the average value was not as close as it seems to have been in the early decades of the century but the new opener value was as yet mainly the style of débutantes etc. However, by the mid seventies it had become so normal that the kind of quality Gimson diagrammed as the norm in the first (1962) edition of his Introduction had already by then become quite out of date. Old movies with eg John Mills as a young RAF officer saying things like eg that bad chap suggesting “thet bed chep” came to excite considerable mirth.

    (One of the movies he’s referring to has to be The Way to the Stars (1945), which is free on Youtube, and you can hear the accent throughout; it opens with a voiceover saying what sounds to me like “no more h[ɛ]ppy l[ɛ]ndings” since the war is over and the airfield is closed.)

    More from Lewis on The General British “ash” vowel:

    Many older people in particular could be heard, as BBC archive recordings from the forties and fifties (and sixties in some cases) can remind us, employing values as close as Cardinal 3. Gimson (1962:7.12) labelled this type as “refined”. It was not just socially conspicuous but also beginning to sound rather old-fashioned at the time he was writing and by the end of the seventies had become markedly so. British films made even as late as the fifties now often strike many people as quite droll when they, as so often, abound in characters displaying the quaintly “refained” qualities of this vowel.

    There are indications that a very close ash more like [ɛ] than [æ] was felt to be affectedly posh from various literary sources. In his quasi-autobiographical novel Kipps published in 1905 the Kent originary H. G. Wells represents his eponymous chief character as using the expletive Dash! (eg p.227) initially but, when attempting a more socially elevated style, repeatedly converting it to Desh! (eg pp 229, 231, 252) and using expressions like enegram (p.266), treshy novels and Fency! (p.299), and merried man (p.346).

    For a view of the sociolinguistics, see Geoff Lindsey’s The Year 1962, when Gimson’s Introduction to the Pronunciation of English was published right on the brink of a wave of change that quickly put it out of date.

    Finally, an amusing note from Lewis on W.H. Auden: when he became a US citizen, he signaled his new identity by undoing his BATH-TRAP split!

  174. David Marjanović says

    Every source I can find says you have that backwards:

    Oh – I remembered “Princess Unne” backwards: her accent wasn’t unusually conservative, but ahead of its time.

  175. John Cowan says

    he signaled his new identity by undoing his BATH-TRAP split

    Or perhaps Auden was merely trying to be understood by his new fellow-countrymen.

  176. dropping back in here with a 1965 sighting of “gutbucket” in poul anderson’s The Star Fox. in the first few pages, we hear a bartender use the word to refer to a 12-string guitar. to my ear, this seems like either anderson not having any clear sense of what the word means/meant or a deliberate sfical semantic drift – unlike, say, delany’s use of “axe” (if i remember right) for the mouse’s sensory syrinx in Nova.

    i got to the book via a joanna russ review in the fantastic collection of her essays and reviews that Liverpool SF Texts & Studies put out in 2005; i’m still too close to the start to see whether it’ll be recommendable.

  177. John Cowan says

    My musician friend tells me that axe is applicable to any musical instrument except untuned percussion instruments and non-portable keyboard instruments.

  178. Yes, which is why rozele says Delany’s use of it doesn’t show ignorance.

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