Wednesday, May 23, 2012


This is a new word to me. I came across it while researching the origins of "germane" for the last post. The Online Etymology Dictionary talks of the the Latin germen, meaning sprout or bud, being dissimilated from the ProtoIndoEuropean *gene(e)-men- . I didn't quite know what to make of that "dissimilated". I couldn't quite help reading it as "dissimulated", which I thought meant "not simulated" and so unrelated.

It doesn't mean that.


You have no idea how hard I had to battle Google over this one, which kept automatically changing my word to "disseminate". But no, Google, dissimilate is what I wanted, and to my mind a fun and interesting concept. According to Wikipedia, dissimilation in language is when two similar sounds in a word are made to be less similar. The examples given there have to do with what I call an "r" sound, but which they call a rhotic sound (which merely means it comes from the Greek rho (Ρρ)), because not even all English speakers pronounce this letter the same way. For instance I would say "hard" but to my ears, a British person might sound as if they were saying "hod". They leave out the rhotic sound.

But we "hard r" types tend to leave out the r too when it gets close to another r. Examples: "beserk" for berserk, "supprise" for surprise, "paticular" for particular, and "govenor" for governor. One idea about why this is is that certain sounds spread out across a word and so people may have a hard time telling whether there is one "r" sound or two. They may tend to filter a second one out.

I also happened upon a paper which thinks it cuts both ways for these sounds, and that sometimes people hear, and subsequently pronounce too many 'hard r's. Examples of what is known as assimilation are "farmiliar", "perservere", "Christerpher", and "intergral".

Also, "sherbert."


  1. Love the "sherbert," which is always what I thought it was, growing up. You don't know how hard I've tried to convince my kids that's it's sherbet!! (They're not convinced.)

  2. I'm all in favor of sherbert being added to the approved variations list. As that article I linked to pointed out, unlike some of the other ones, it is one of the few that has been become a written word, rather than just a "differently pronounced one." The only other one they list is frustrum instead of frustum which of course means... oh, dear.

    Sherbert to rhyme with Herbert does just sound better than sherbet to rhyme with turbot.

  3. I always said orcherestera growing up, making it much too hard on myself!

  4. Nice anecdotal case in point, Julie. Too hard on yourself, yes, but then you always were an overachiever.

  5. I downloaded that clip Peter, because I'm in the laundromat using their wireless. My landline is down. But I'll check it out.