by Margaret Magnus


The Largest Collection of English Phonesthemes Available
900 pages of sound symbolism

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Ever notice how some words sound like what they mean?


In fact, all words sound like what they mean.

In fact, each of the consonants and vowels has a meaning that is based in how it's pronounced. It's a fundamental and pretty thoroughly overlooked fact of language. More than anything, these letter meanings influence how we feel about words, how we react to personal names and brand names, what subliminal effect the sounds in slang and jargon terms have on us. This is the first thorough, scientifically written reference that allows the reader to see what the emotional, mythological and intellectual content of words is.

In this dictionary, all the common English monosyllabic words are classified into sound/meaning groups. For example, these are the common monosyllables that begin with /r/ and refer to running or walking.

Initial Position:
race, raid, range, reach, rip, roam, roar, romp, rove, run, rush.

Notice that these words all concern fast movement or movement over a large area or distance. These themes of high energy, high speed run throughout all the words that contain /r/. But the running and walking words that contain /b/ all begin with /b/ and concern departure:

All Positions:
back(off), bail(out), beat(it), blast(off), blow, board, bolt, book, boot, bounce, bow(out), break, brief, brush(off), buck, bus, butt(out), bye

The theme of release from an enclosure runs through all the /b/ words as well. Notice that most of these are also slang expressions. Can you think of any other monosyllabic running or walking words that contain a /b/ or start with /r/? Let me know. Otherwise, it's interesting, isn't it?

Of course, not all aspects of word meaning are determined by sound. The fact of running or walking isn't determined by the sound, but the type of running and walking is to some extent determined by sound.

Look now at /r/ in second position:

Second Position:
break, crawl, creep, cross, cruise, drag, drift, drop(by), frisk, prance, press, prowl, thread, trace, track, trail, tramp, tread, trek, tromp, troop, trot, trudge

Notice how the ones that start in 'c' often have a sort of crookedness or corneredness about them, either because the person walking is bent over, or because the walking itself is at an angle. Did you know that 24% of words containing that /k/ sound in English have at least one sense that refers to a container, corner closure or a cover? Another 17% have at least one sense that refers to corners, inclines, crinkles or curls... Notice how the /d/ words all have a downward directedness to them. Did you know that 33% of monosyllables containing /d/ have at least one sense referring to downwardness such as in cavities, dirt, foundations, digging, submerging, dripping, dangling and decreasing? Notice that nearly half the words start with /t/. Did you know that 18% of monosyllables containing /t/ have at least one sense referring to travel?

If you'd like to see more about sound-meaning in words, visit my Web site.

Margo's Magical Letter Page


I'm also author of a popularized account of sound meaning in language:

The dictionary is divided into three parts.

* In Section A, you find a classification of the type given above of all senses of all monosyllabic words according to all the consonants they contain.

* In Section B, you find only those monosyllables that fall into the following classes sorted first by these classes, then by initial consonant and then by sound-meaning classes. These are more or less what linguists call 'concrete nouns':

people, body parts, clothing, games, animals, plants, plant parts, food, materials, containers, vehicles, buildings, rooms, tools, weapons, musical instruments, furniture, color, symbols, titles and units

Why Section B???

Very concrete reference makes it harder to see the effect of sound on meaning. For this reason, there were 114 words of the 6580 monosyllables which didn't fit in the type of classification in Section A. But they do all fit in one of these concrete noun classes. Of course, a lot of words fit in both Section A and Section B. Section B gives a better sense of how concrete reference and sound-meaning interact.

* The Index is the last section. It cross-references each word with the classes in Sections A and B.

Who needs it?
Writers, poets, linguists, psychologists, psychiatrists, English teachers, English learners, anthropologists
Or if you're interested in NLP, mythology, symbology, linguistics, English language acquisition
Use it to learn what connotations your personal name or your brand name evoke... or what the subtle distinctions are between English words

Or join in on solving the puzzle

To me, these correlations between sound and meaning in language are like a magical puzzle. You don't require extensive training to understand them and play with them, to figure out what words really mean and how they work. Some of the most fruitful research in the field has been done by people with no training at all. The reason for that is that most trained linguists avoid the field for reasons too complicated and irrelevant to discuss. If you think that means the field must be unviable, don't worry. Some of the greatest linguists of all time devoted a great deal of energy to research in sound-meaning correlations: Leonard Bloomfield, Otto Jespersen, Edward Sapir, J.R. Firth, and Roman Jakobson, to name a few. So as a budding phonosemanticist, you're in good company. It seems to me to be an area that is potentially very fruitful with many possible applications, and also largely unexploited, an area in which great progress could be made by people with no training in linguistics at all... just curiosity, a love of language and a love of solving puzzles.

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This dictionary has been taken off line.
If you are interested in it,
Contact Me.


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Margo's Magical Letter Page