Sunday, 2 July 2006

Ock and och

One of the marvellous things about our language is the rightness of our words. Quite often they look or sound like the thing they represent: splodge or splotch, for example, explains itself; French has the feeble grosse tache.

The sound ock (or, in Scotland, och) is unpleasant, so many of the words that end with it have connotations which are either distasteful or, at best, uninteresting. The OED has 2,075 words ending in ock or och; here are a few of the two-syllable ones:
cheslock, a woodlouse; burdock, a coarse, weedy plant; castock, the stem of a cabbage; buttock, a rounded fleshy protuberance of the rump; luddock, another buttock; fussock, a fat, unwieldy woman; hemlock, a poison; pibroch, the sound of the bagpipes, cadlock, wild rape; carlock, which is made from the bladder of a sturgeon; fitchock, a term of contempt; dunnock, a rather dull bird; kittock, a woman of loose character; daddock, rotten or decayed wood; mullock, rubbish; brattock, a tiny brat; lobcock, a blundering fool; ale-pock, an ulcer caused by drinking; gralloch, the offal of a deer or, as a verb, to disembowel……

Nothing among those to give much pleasure to anyone. And, of course, there’s not a lot of joy to be had from pillocks or bollocks, is there?

Perhaps after all this nastiness I should end on a jollier note by mentioning bummock, which according to the OED is “a large brewing of ale for a merry meeting”. Cheers!

[No suggestions for additions to the list or exceptions, please. It was a happy hour with the OED but I’m bored with this topic now.]


doris said...

I think that splodge or splotch look/sound what they represent because that is the meaning we have attributed to such words. I can't remember what the words are but the French words for the sound a dog or cat makes do not sound like woof or miaow and yet for the French that is exactly what they represent. Maybe a dog doesn't actually go woof. Maybe it is actually geruff but some of us don't hear it like that.

Tony said...

Yes, but onomatopoeia is something else; I didn't really mean that.
But since you've raised the matter, you will be happy to know that Wikipedia gives the equivalent of woof, woof in 42 languages.

PerfectlyVocal said...

Just a technical point; a dog can't go "Woof" as his upper front teeth cannot protrude over his lower lip to produce the necessary "f". A dog would produce a bilabial fricative.

Tony said...

Well, of course; I knew this all the time really.

Rethabile said...

I've always been intrigued by the sounds/cries animals make in different languages. We in Lesotho contribute the following to I.B.A.S., the International Book of Animal Sounds:



m-MOO (2 distinct syllables)


PerfectlyVocal said...

I love the concept of the IBAS - in fact, the bilablial fricative comes from the IPA - the International Phonetic Alphabet. How we love our acronyms!