“There are in English often long trains of words allied by their meaning and derivation” (Samuel Johnson)

There are in English often long trains of words allied by their meaning and derivation; as, to beata batbatoona battlea beetlea battledoreto batterbatter, a kind of glutinous composition for food, made by beating different bodies into one mass. All these are of similar signification, and perhaps derived from the Latin batuo. Thus taketouchtickletacktackle; all imply a local conjunction from the Latin tangotetigitactum.

From two are formed twaintwicetwentytwelvetwinstwinetwisttwirltwigtwitchtwingebetweenbetwixttwilighttwibil.

The following remarks, extracted from Wallis, are ingenious but of more subtlety than solidity, and such as perhaps might in every language be enlarged without end.

Sn usually imply the nose, and what relates to it. From the Latin nasus are derived the French nez and the English nose; and nesse, a promontory, as projecting like a nose. But as if from the consonants ns taken from nasus, and transposed that they may the better correspond, sn denote nasus; and thence are derived many words that relate to the nose, as snoutsneezesnoresnort,snearsnickersnotsnivelsnitesnuffsnufflesnafflesnarlsnudge.

There is another sn which may perhaps be derived from the Latin sinuo, as snakesneaksnailsnare; so likewise snap and snatchsnibsnubBl imply a blast; as blowblastto blastto blight, and, metaphorically, to blast one’s reputation;bleatbleak, a bleak place, to look bleak, or weather-beaten, blackblaybleachblusterblurtblisterblabbladderblewblabber lip’tblubber-cheek’tblotedblote-herringsblastblazeto blow, that is, blossombloom; and perhapsblood and blush.

In the native words of our tongue is to be found a great agreement between the letters and the thing signified; and therefore the sounds of the letters smaller, sharper, louder, closer, softer, stronger, clearer, more obscure, and more stridulous, do very often intimate the like effects in the things signified.

Thus words that begin with str intimate the force and effect of the thing signified, as if probably derived from στρωννυμι, or strenuous; as strongstrengthstrewstrikestreakstrokestripestrivestrifestrugglestroutstrutstretchstrait,strictstreight, that is, narrow, distrainstressdistressstringstrapstreamstreamerstrandstripstraystrugglestrangestridestradale.

St in like manner imply strength, but in a less degree, so much only as is sufficient to preserve what has been already communicated, rather than acquire any new degree; as if it were derived from the Latin sto; for example, standstay, that is, to remain, or to prop; staffstay, that is, to oppose; stopto stuffstifleto stay, that is, to stop; a stay, that is, an obstacle; stickstutstutterstammerstaggersticklestickstake, a sharp, pale, and any thing deposited at play; stockstem,stingto stingstinkstitchstudstuncheonstubstubble, to stub up, stump, whence stumblestalkto stalkstepto stamp with the feet, whence to stamp, that is, to make an impression and a stamp; stowto stowto bestowsteward, orstowardsteadsteadystedfaststablea stablea stallto stallstoolstallstillstallstallagestagestill, adjective, and still, adverb: stalestoutsturdysteadstoatstallionstiffstark-deadto starve with hunger or cold; stonesteel,sternstanchto stanch blood, to staresteepsteeplestairstandard, a stated measure, stately. In all these, and perhaps some others, st denote something firm and fixed.

Thr imply a more violent degree of motion, as throwthrustthrongthrobthroughthreatthreatenthrallthrows.

Wr imply some sort of obliquity or distortion, as wryto wreathewrestwrestlewringwrongwrinchwrenchwranglewrinklewrathwreakwrackwretchwristwrap.

Sw imply a silent agitation, or a softer kind of lateral motion; as swayswagto swayswaggerswervesweatsweepswillswimswingswiftsweetswitchswinge.

Nor is there much difference of sm in smoothsmugsmilesmirksmite; which signifies the same as to strike, but is a softer word; smallsmellsmacksmothersmart, a smart blow properly signifies such a kind of stroke as with an originally silent motion, implied in sm, proceeds to a quick violence, denoted by ar suddenly ended, as is shown by t.

Cl denote a kind of adhesion or tenacity, as in cleaveclayclingclimbclamberclammyclaspto claspto clipto clinchcloakclogcloseto closea cloda clot, as a clot of blood, clouted cream, a cluttera cluster.

Sp imply a kind of dissipation or expansion, especially a quick one, particularly if there be an r, as if it were from spargo or separo: for example, spreadspringsprigsproutsprinklesplitsplinterspillspitsputterspatter.

Sl denote a kind of silent fall, or a less observable motion; as in slimeslideslipslipperslysleightslitslowslackslightslingslap.

And so likewise ash, in crashrashgashflashclashlashslashplashtrash, indicate something acting more nimbly and sharply. But ush, in crushrushgushflushblushbrushhushpush, imply something as acting more obtusely and dully. Yet in both there is indicated a swift and sudden motion not instantaneous, but gradual, by the continued sound, sh.

Thus in flingslingdingswingclingsingwringsting, the tingling of the termination ng, and the sharpness of the vowel i, imply the continuation of a very slender motion or tremor, at length indeed vanishing, but not suddenly interrupted. [31]But in tinkwinksinkclinkchinkthink, that end in a mute consonant, there is also indicated a sudden ending.

If there be an l, as in jingletingletinkleminglesprinkletwinkle, there is implied a frequency, or iteration of small acts. And the same frequency of acts, but less subtile by reason of the clearer vowel a, is indicated in jangletangle,spanglemanglewranglebrangledangle; as also in mumblegrumblejumble. But at the same time the close u implies something obscure or obtunded; and a congeries of consonants mbl, denotes a confused kind of rolling or tumbling, as in ramblescamblescramblewambleamble; but in these there is something acute.

In nimble, the acuteness of the vowel denotes celerity. In sparklesp denotes dissipation, ar an acute crackling, k a sudden interruption, l a frequent iteration; and in like manner in sprinkle, unless in may imply the subtilty of the dissipated guttules. Thick and thin differ in that the former ends with an obtuse consonant, and the latter with an acute.

In like manner, in squeeksqueaksquealsquallbrawlwraulyaulspaulscreekshriekshrillsharpshrivelwrinklecrackcrashclashgnashplashcrushhushhisse,  fisse,  whistsoft,  jar,  hurl,  curl,  whirl,  buz,  bustlespindledwindletwinetwist, and in many more, we may observe the agreement of such sort of sounds with the things signified; and this so frequently happens, that scarce any language which I know can be compared with ours. So that one monosyllable word, of which kind are almost all ours, emphatically expresses what in other languages can scarce be explained but by compounds, or decompounds, or sometimes a tedious circumlocution.

(From Samuel Johnson’s A Grammar of the English Tongue).

André Maurois’s Climates (Book Acquired, 12.11.2012)


This one looks pretty cool—André Maurois’s 1928 novel Climates. Here’s publisher Other Press’s blurb:

Written in 1928 by French biographer and novelist Andre Maurois, Climates became a best seller in France and all over Europe. The first 100,000 copies printed of its Russian translation sold out the day they appeared in Moscow bookstores. This magnificently written novel about a double conjugal failure is imbued with subtle yet profound psychological insights of a caliber that arguably rivals Tolstoy’s. Here Phillipe Marcenat, an erudite yet conventional industrialist from central France, falls madly in love with and marries the beautiful but unreliable Odile despite his family’s disapproval. Soon, Phillipe’s possessiveness and jealousy drive her away. Brokenhearted, Phillipe then marries the devoted and sincere Isabelle and promptly inflicts on his new wife the very same woes he endured at the hands of Odile. But Isabelle’s integrity and determination to save her marriage adds yet another dimension to this extraordinary work on the dynamics and vicissitudes of love.

I haven’t had time to dip into Climates yet, but it got a compelling write-up in The New Yorker last month. Excerpt:

At first sight, “Climates” is a simple fable. It tells of Philippe Marcenat, the heir to a provincial paper-mill business, who falls in love with the woman of his dreams, Odile Malet. He loses her, but is later loved in turn by Isabelle de Cheverny, a woman not of his dreams at all, although he tries (“Vertigo”-ishly) to make her so. We follow first Philippe and then Isabelle as they reflect on their love. There is a happy ending of sorts, though not for Philippe. Maurois has summarized his first vision of the story, in its bare-bones form, as:

Part 1. I love, and am not loved.

Part 2. I am loved, and do not love.

Put that way, it sounds like a perfectly balanced diptych. In fact, it is neither balanced nor anywhere near simple. Each of these four “love” and “non-love” elements conceals some complication, something moving at cross-purposes to it. Beneath what seems to be love, there lurks tyranny or submission, or a mixture of both. Beneath what seems to be non-love, there is… it’s hard to say what, but something indefinable that looks very much like love.

Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2012/11/the-two-loves-of-andre-maurois.html#ixzz2FKDinsNq