phth

In my recent post about initial consonant clusters, I didn’t include one which I know exists, because it’s so rare (but I did include another which is even rarer*). Today in an office supplies shop I spotted a bin of assorted acrylic paints. Alongside lemon yellow and burnt umber were phthalo blue and phthalo green. Wikipedia reportsPhthalates or phthalate esters, are esters of phthalic anhydride. They are mainly used as plasticizers, i.e., substances added to plastics to increase their flexibility, transparency, durability, and longevity. They are used primarily to soften polyvinyl chloride (PVC).” Other uses include in paint pigments and sex toys. I have for some time also seen it on the box for the roll of plastic wrap we use at home: it states that the product is phthalate-free (there are some health concerns about it).

But this may not be a consonant cluster. Wikipedia gives the pronunciation as /ˈθæleɪt/ (US) or /ˈθɑːleɪt/ (UK) (that is, with the ‘th’ of thick and thin.)

The only other word I know of is phthisis (“pulmonary tuberculosis or a similar progressive wasting disease”), and again, that may not have a cluster. The pronunciation of the ancient Greek daimon of rot, decay and putrefaction apparently starts /fθ/, but the pronunciation of the medical term apparently starts with /θ/ or even /t/ (and sounds like thigh or tie, not thistle or tipple.) 

I originally typed “the diphthong /aɪ/”. That’s not diph-thong, it’s di-phthong (Greek δΐς “twice” and φθόγγος “sound” (apparently Ancient Greek – Google Translate to “Greek” gives ήχος íchos)). While we usually talk about diphthongs (note that δΐς + φθόγγος = diphthong, not disphthong), there are also monophthongs, triphthongs, polyphthongs and aphthongs. And even phthong (or at least –phthong) has made it to reddit (in “kind of a cute half-joke”) and The Society for Editing, and Phthong is an IPA font developed by (or at least available at) the University of Toronto. But phonetics and phonology does not include the study of people’s phthongs.

*The rarer cluster is /sθ/, which occurs only in sthenia, sthenic and sthenias, but it is always pronounced as a cluster (to the extent that anyone actually pronounces it).

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