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Today's Word

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Apr 16, 2001
This week's theme
Words formed by metathesis or transposing letters

This week's words

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with Anu Garg

When you hear someone pronouncing "ask" as "aks" or "pretty" as "purty", do you find yourself looking down your nose? Not so fast! What you're witnessing is the English language busy at work, mutating, evolving, and refurbishing its wordstock, making things easier to pronounce. Known as metathesis, it is the same process that gave us dirt (from drit) and curd (from crud!). If you ever used the word flimsy, you did it: the word is the metathesized form of the word filmsy. It is somewhat like our friend spoonerism, except that here the letters or sounds get transposed within the same word. Many everyday words appear in a form created by such interchange of letters: the word bird came from Old English brid, third from thridda. Going back to "ask," here is an interesting twist. The word "ask" itself came from Old English forms acsian and ascian that co-existed. Eventually the latter won over and became standard. So what we are seeing here is history repeating itself. A few hundred years and who knows, we may be exhorting, "Aks not what your country can do for you ..."

This week we'll look at a few more words that are metathetic forms of former words.


Pronunciation Sound Clip RealAudio

scart (skart) verb tr., intr.

To scratch, scrape or scar.

[Metathetic variation of scrat, to scratch.]

"But despite extensive renovation, traces of barbed wire still scart its walls."
Lisa Nipp, Little Sisters, World & I, Jan 1996.


Content thyself to be obscurely good. When vice prevails, and impious men bear sway, the post of honor is a private station. -Joseph Addison, essayist and poet (1672-1719)

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