Frequentatives: Crack and Crackle

April 13, 2016

snapcracklepop

CRACK AND CRACKLE

A crack of lightning.
Snap, crackle, and pop.

Crack and crackle are self-clearly close in both form and meaning. They both refer to a loud noise. But what is the exact relationship and the difference between these two words?

crack v. to break … make a sudden, sharp sound…

crackle v. to make slight, sudden, sharp noises, rapidly repeated.

So crack is a one-time sharp noise, whereas crackle is a similar noise repeated in quick succession.

FREQUENTATIVES

Linguistically speaking, crackle is the frequentative derived from crack. Frequentatives are a repetition of the action happening in quick succession.

In English, the morphological devices to form the frequentative are no longer productive. That means we can’t readily make new frequentatives. None-the-less, there are a great deal of frequentatives still found in English and still very much in use. It is/was formed by adding –er or –le to the word. Pat on the head. Patter of tiny feet.

One of my favourite examples: wrest, wrestle. Wrest means grab, pull, or seize: think “wrest control”. Wrestle means to grab, pull, or seize many times in quick succession.

FREQUENTATIVES IN -LE AND -ER ARE EVERYWHERE!

This appaently exotic-sounding form is in fact extremely common in English, although sometimes the non-frequentative and frequentative are slightly different in form. And sometimes the link in meaning between the two forms is no longer close. Here are just a few examples. I invite you to think about the meaning of each of the following pairs.

beat, batter
bob, bobble
chat, chatter
climb, clamber
clot, clutter
crack, crackle
crumb, crumble
dab, dabble / dapple
drip, dribble
daze, dazzle
flit, flitter
gleam, glimmer
gob, gobble
grab, grapple
hack, haggle
jig, jiggle
nest, nestle
nose, nuzzle
pad, paddle
prate, prattle
spit, spittle/spatter
throat, throttle(!)

See here for more.

WHEN -LE, WHEN -ER?

Sometimes –le is added, sometimes –er. Truth be told, I cannot make out a pattern for when one is used or not. Both forms seems to pop up in the same phonetic environments.

If we were to make new words in the frequentative, it might be best to go with whichever ending causes least confusion. For example, let’s invent a new word for to ‘constantly nap’, that is, to go in and out of sleep like an elderly person. The word would be nap plus either –er or –le. However, napper would likely be understood as a noun meaning someone who naps (baker, teacher, drinker). Therefore, we could say napple instead which would not have this ambiguity.

BUT THIS MORPHOLOGICAL DEVICE IS NO LONGER PRODUCTIVELY USED

But for some reason, despite the widespread use and usefulness of –le and –er to form frequentatives in English, this morphological device seems to be underused to the point of nowadays being extinct. Why is this so? Perhaps the common use of –er to form comparatives (taller) and agent nouns (killer) and the general occurence of –le with no discernible meaning (cattle, bottle, tale) took away from the force of these word endings and helped lead to their death.

Yet the frequentative is very useful, and nothing else in English quite captures the frequentative like –er and –le.

NEW WORDS?

The frequentative is used in so many words that still exist. And as you can see, quite often there is a clear link in form and meaning between the non-frequentative and the frequentative forms of a word (for example, crack and crackle). So for me, the frequentative is a classic example of what Project Wrixlings is all about: making use of extant Germanic roots and word-making mechanisms. New words can, and according to this project, should be made.

What words can you think of for new frequentatives? Here are some suggestions with Standard English translations.

nap: napple ‘to nap a lot, to go in and out of naps or sleep like an elderly person sat in their chair in front of the television’

shit: shittle ‘to shit in dribs and drabs like spittle, either solid or watery’

sip: sipple ‘to sip continuously from a cup without pause’ [this is how my wife drinks a lot of the time]

smack: smackle ‘to smack many times, esp. effeminately as in a ‘bitch fight’; to kiss all over as when playing with a child’

think: thinkle ‘to dance from thought to thought’

throb: throbble ‘pulsate, palpitate’

© 2016 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from http://www.silverbearcafe.com/private/08.12/images/snapcracklepop.jpg

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Buttresses

September 15, 2014

buttressedit2

A Problem Outlined

There’s often a great ready-made true English word which could be used instead of the fancier form: can for to be able to, for example. Indeed, when we put can and to be able to next to one another, we might wonder why anyone ever says the latter.

I can speak English or I am able to speak English

However, forms like to be able to get support by being able to seep into territory that the true English words cannot. For example, we can also say “I will be able to” or “I may have been able to”, but we cannot say “I will can” or “I may have could” — at least not in standard varieties of English! Or what about the word absorb? Why not simply say soak (up)? Oh yes, that’s because we can readily say absorbent and absorbency, but we cannot so easily form the related adjectives and abstract nouns from to soak (up): upsoakingness? Yes, upsoakingness is possible (and I quite like it, actually), but it arguably doesn’t sound like an extant English word. For that reason it draws attention to itself and thus discourages its own use.

Forms of the Problem

As you can see, there seem to be two forms of such “seeping”:

(1) defective true English words which cannot be used in all contexts where an Englandish word can be;

(2) related concepts where no such form exists in true English, but it does for the Englandish root.

The existence of forms like (1) may have been able to and (2) absorbency, means that unneeded and un-Anglish words like to be able to or absorb are given extra support and periodically revitalised by association with may have been able to and company. Indeed, utterances such as I am able to speak English are thoroughly buttressed and stopped from ever falling down — despite their ungainliness.

Causes of the Problem

This is unfortunate, and seems to be the result of a few things, including:

1. Defective or unclear English morphology: lung (noun) –> ?lungish (adjective); *upsoaking: adjective or abstract noun or verbal noun or verb?

2. A hesitancy in English, relative to other Germanic languages, to put prepositions at the beginning of a compound: ?upsoakingness.

3. Heavy use of phrasal verbs which, firstly, have been shunned historically as uncouth and thereby discouraged, and secondly, are not wont to form derivatives (see “2”): tolerate –> tolerance and put up with –> ?put-up-with-ness

Part of this problem has been caused by the influx of outland words into English. If we’d never gone so gungho down this borrowing path, we would likely have remained as German and Swedish have, and therefore not have this problem. There would, of course, be the odd time where due to natural process within the language, we would have to borrow a form: I don’t know if we can blame the ungrammaticality of I might have could on the word-borrowing fetish of the English language.

Solutions?

  • Use non-standard forms like I might have could unflinchingly and without remorse.
  • Come up with slightly uncouth forms like upsoakingness — again, unflinchingly and with no remorse — but make sure you aren’t being too clever for your own good. The Anglish Moot, which I helped set up, has some great work on it — and also some of the overclever stuff I am talking about (such as umbethinking).

And that’s all for today, folks…

What!? But it can’t be! Where’s the inspirational ending and summing up?

Well, it seems to me that so long as Anglishers are aware of the problem I’ve outlined in this post, they will be more sensitive to not just oversetting stand-alone words, but rather to taking words as being members of families or groups of words used in many contexts. It’s not enough to simply say, “don’t say to be able to, say can instead” because we simply can’t say can a lot of the time! We need to be attacking the problem holistically, as well. Words exist in the context of other words, and many unfit words are supported by the buttress of far more useful, yet merely derived, words or phrases (such as would have been able to).

 

featured image by Bryan A. J. Parry edited from image at http://passport2design.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/flying-buttressdiagram-batuhijauschool.org_.jpg

© 2014 Bryan A. J. Parry


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