WOTD: Euphony

April 18, 2007

What with all the internet buzz surrounding our humble endeavors, it seemed like the correct time to undertake a good old-fashioned, proper word of the day column. Today’s word (more likely: today’s first word) is euphony. Euphony has two meanings. The primary is, “The quality of having a pleasant sound; the pleasing effect of sounds free from harshness.” The word comes to us from Greek, which is true for almost all English words beginning with “eu” not of modern scientific origin. This sense of the term, as well as a good jab at the word’s origins, is conveyed, viz.:

1680 DALGARNO Didascol. 114 (T.), Had the Grecians been as careless of euphony..in the terminations, as they have been in the initial syllables.

The second meaning, and the one we’ll explore a little more in depth, is, “The tendency to greater ease of pronunciation, as shown in those combinatory phonetic changes formerly ascribed to an endeavour after a pleasing acoustic effect.” Wikipedia has a nice article on euphony in general, although not much to offer on euphony in the English language except for an admittedly interesting discourse probably written by a porn-obsessed teenage classicist about the changes undergone in the Latin prefix “cum.” Although, if one were to truly inquire with any rigour as to wikipedia’s authorship, one would probably find that the appellation “porn-obsessed teenage ____” could be applied to a sizable percentage of wikipedia authors, perhaps somewhere between 10 and more than 10 percent. Another good example of euphony in English would be the change of the indefinite article from “a” to “an” before a vowel (except “eu” or “u” when it sounds like “you”) or h’s. This feature is common in Germanic languages.

Of more interest than our euphony article is the wikipedia article on elision. Elision means, “The action of dropping out or suppressing: a. a letter or syllable in pronunciation; b. a passage in a book or connecting links in discourse. Also, an instance of either of these.” Elision comes from Latin, and is connected to the English verb elide, meaning, “To strike out, suppress, pass over in silence,” in addition to, “To omit (a vowel, or syllable) in pronunciation.” The elision article contains a very unhelpful chart about changes in English speech. Here’s an example:

temperature: [ˈtɛm.pə.ɹə.tʃɚ] [ˈtɛm.pɚ.tʃɚ], [ˈtɛm.pɹə.tʃɚ]

Or, to rewrite, “tem.pe.ra.ture–tem.pe.ture, tem.pre.ture”

Other good examples are “mashed potatoes” becoming “mash potatoes” (Sadly not an upcoming Altman Film), and “listen” whose silent T shows the mark of historical elision.

This concludes today’s installment of our ongoing series, “They should have taught me grammar in school.”

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One Response to “WOTD: Euphony”

  1. Pornobsessedteenageclassicist Says:

    You forgot to point out that elision happens all the time in Greek and Latin, as its a way of making Latin or Greek poetry fit into meter. Next time dont dis my diatribe on the evolution of cum.


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