First there was a log, a cylindrical portion of wood from a tree. Then someone tied a knotted rope to one and used it to calculate the distance and speed of ship. (These were later refined and standardised.) Then someone recorded distances and speeds, along with other relevant data, in a book. Then someone recorded any recurring data. Then someone recorded it on the world wide web (a world wide web log > blog). Then someone added video (a video world wide web blog > vlog (which I think is a horrible word, not least because vl- is not an allowable initial consonant cluster in English)). Then someone made one about their travels on a motorcycle (a motor bicycle video world wide web log > motovlog) and Youtube suggested that I watch it. The activity and word is common enough that Wikipedia has a short article about it.  

Along the way, log, blog and vlog (and probably motovlog as well) also became verbs. Pages for Mac doesn’t like vlog, autocorrecting it to blog and red-underlining it when I change it back, or motovlog, which it doesn’t autocorrect to anything.

There is some variation between motor– and moto– in these kinds of words, but motorhome, motocross and motovlog seem to be more common than their alternatives. 

(Surprisingly related to logarithms and their tables and books, being log + arithmós number (compare arithmetic).)



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.)

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Abbreviation on the menu

Two items on the menu of almost every Australian pub are schnitzel (veal unless otherwise specified, or chicken) and parmigiana (chicken unless otherwise specified, or veal). Partly because of lack of space on signboards, and partly because Australians abbreviate almost everything we can, these are often abbreviated to schnitz, schnitty or schnittie, and parmi, parmie, or parmy. Google reports:
schnitz 337,000 – schnitty 104,000 – schnittie 5,490
parmi 233,000,000 – parmie 166,000 – parmy 1,990,000

The result for parmi are skewed by the fact that it’s the French word for among. In fact, the translation appeared at the top of Google’s search results, before any reference to food.

For plurals, schnitz must become schnitzes, schnitty can become schnitties or schnittys, and schnittie must become schnitties. Parmi can become parmis or parmies, parmie must become parmies and parmy can become parmies or parmys:
schnitzes 4,5000 – schnittys 4,730 – schnitties 5,190
parmis 200,000,000 (again skewed by the French word) – parmies 241,000,000 (I can’t explain this result) – parmys 1,670,000 (there’s something very strange going on here – the results for plural schnit– are much lower than for the corresponding singulars, but the results for plural parm– are way higher. 

We have to take these numbers with a large amount of caution. I was prompted to write this post because I spent a wet weekend sorting through old documents, and found a piece of note paper with numbers from approx 2(?) years ago, which are way different from these. 

Does anyone know? No (partly because both words are borrowed from other languages). Does it matter? No (but I can imagine some people getting pasDo I have a choice? If I had to stick my neck out, I’d go for -ie(s) in both cases, if only because these spellings are more common in Australian abbreviations.

(By the way /ʃn/ is another initial consonant cluster not found in English which English speakers encounter in other languages. We generally have no trouble with it, partly because of familiarity and partly because it is phonetically very similar to /sn/.)

PS some Facebook friends mentioned parma, which I hadn’t included because I’d never heard or seen it. Google’s numbers for that are skewed by the Italian city. Some of the sources I read while preparing this post also have parm, which is just wrong. The first result for parm is parmesan cheese, which I have never heard or seen, either.

Consonant clusters

Posting about Sprite recently, specifically mentioning consonant clusters, reminded me that I have not fully explored these in this blog. Some time ago I posted a list of common words with the possible clusters of English, but didn’t analyse the clusters themselves.

All of the two-phoneme initial consonant clusters in English start with /s/ and/or finish with /w/, /l/, /r/ or /j/ (the ‘y’ sound in you, not the ‘j’ sound in jewel). Starting with: 
/sw/ switch, suede
/sl/ sleep, slow

The other ones starting with /s/ are:
/sm/ small, smile
/sn/ snow, snap
/sp/ speak, spend
/st/ state, still
/sk/ school, scale, skin
the rare, Greek /sf/ (sphere, sphinx)
and the very rare, Greek /sθ/ (sthenic (I don’t know what this means, but it appears on lists of consonant clusters)

The ones ending in /w/ are:
/tw/ twenty, twelve
/dw/ dwell, dwarf
/kw/ question, quite
/gw/ guava, Guam
/θw/ thwart

The ones ending in  /l/ are:
/pl/ place, play
/bl/ black, blood
/kl/ close, clear and scientific words starting with chl
/gl/ glass, glance
/fl/ floor, flat

The ones ending in /r/ are:
/pr/ problem, provide
/br/ bring, break/brake
/tr/ try, train
/dr/ draw, drive
/kr/ create, cross and many Christian and scientific words (chrome, chrono-)
/gr/ great, group
/fr/ from, phrase
/θr/ three, through
/ʃr/ shrug, shrink

Finally, the ones ending in /j/ are:
/mj/ music, museum
/nj/ new/knew, nuisance
/pj/ pupil, pure
/bj/ bureau
/tj/ tune, tube
/dj/ during, duty
/kj/ queue/cue, curious
/fj/ future, fuel
/vj/ view
/hj/ huge, humour

In table form:

switch, suede sleep, slow

m small, smile

music, museum
nsnow, snap

new/knew, nuinsance
pspeak, spend
place, playproblem, providepupil, pure

black, bloodbring, break/brakebureau
tstate, stilltwenty, twelve
try, traintune, tube
dwell, dwarf
draw, driveduring, duty
kschool, scale, skinquestion, quiteclose, clearcreate, crossqueue/cue, curious
guava, Guamglass, glancegreat, group
fsphere, sphinx
floor, flatfrom, phrasefuture, fuel

three, through

shrug, shrink

huge, humour

(I tried to make a table unambiguously showing which combinations are possible and which aren’t, but couldn’t make one that is both complete and clear.)

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A travel video blogger’s video contained a brief shot of a can of Sprite, labelled in hangeul as 스프라이트 (seu-peu-ra-i-teu). So one syllable of English becomes five syllable blocks (jamo) of hangeul. There are three reasons for this. 

The first is that the phonotactics of Korean do not allow for initial consonant clusters. The s and p must be extracted to their own syllable, completed with the most neutral vowel ㅡ (eu). This is not quite as reduced as the English schwa, but performs many of the same tasks. 

The second is that there is no single letter corresponding to the English vowel in Sprite, but it can be approximated by using ㅏ and ㅣ. Compare the IPA symbol /aɪ/, which clearly shows that the English vowel is a diphthong. I know of two Korean words which use this combination of vowels: 아이 (a-i, child) and 아이고 (a-i-go, approximately ‘gosh!’, most often used by middle-aged women).

The third is that only a few consonants can occur at the end of a syllable. While ㅌ occurs at the end of 밑 (mit, bottom), this is rare, and as far as I know is never used in transliterations of English words. So the t must also be extracted to its own syllable. Whenever you see a long string of Korean syllables, with the first and last containing ㅡ, it is almost certainly a transliteration of an English word. Some common English loanwords are 스트레스 (seu-teu-re-seu, stress) and 스포츠 (seu-po-cheu, sport(s)). 

I can’t remember seeing Sprite in Korea; the ubiquitous soft drink is Chilsung cider.

There is considerable variation in the names for carbonated soft drinks in English. To me, in standard Australian English, the neutral/slightly lemony drink is lemonade, the distinctly lemony drink is lemon squash or squash (sometimes with real lemon (which might be called traditional lemonade, sometimes only with flavouring), and cider is apple unless otherwise specified (eg pear cider). Other terms include soda, soda pop, pop, coke and cola. There is also soda water, which I would categorise separately. Koreans also use ade and chino either by themselves or attached to part of other drinks.


English syllables can start with a cluster of up to three consonants and end with a cluster of up to four (but rarely do). It follows that two adjacent syllables (less likely in the middle of one word, more likely between two words) can conglomerate a cluster of up to seven consonants (but rarely do). Clusters of six or five consonants are not uncommon. This morning’s anthem contained the cluster /mftgl/ (or really / in the sentence ‘Sing ye to the Lord, for he has triu*mphed gl*oriously’.

It is possible to construct a sentence which conglomerates a seven-consonant cluster across two words. There is a Sherlock Holmes story in which Holmes deduces someone (?Watson/a client)’s life story by examining his pocket watch. Part of his deduction was based on the fact that he gli*mpsed scr*atches around the hole into which the winding key was inserted.

“I ate Madonna for breakfast”

My college is around the corner from a branch of a well-known fast-food restaurant chain (no name, no free publicity, even though it’s perfectly obvious who I’m writing about). Several years ago, a student arrived in class and told us “I ate Madonna for breakfast”.

The pronunciation issue is consonant clusters. All languages have rules about what consonants and consonant clusters can occur at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of a word. Some languages allow none, some a very limited number and some many. English allows a moderately high number of consonant clusters, so most of my students speak languages which allow fewer.

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