The Phonosemantic Effect of Syllabification


Margo's Magical Letter Page

by Margaret Magnus
copyright 1998
all rights reserved


To study syllabification, I've chosen to look at two-syllable words that have main stress on the first syllable and no stress on the second. On this page I'll go over only those that end on '-le' and '-er'. I include only those where the '-er' is not a suffix in the normal sense. That is, I exclude words like 'musher', 'smoocher', 'mad hatter', 'hotter' and 'faster', but I include words like 'shatter', 'bummer' and 'blubber'. I call these light second syllables 'tags'. In English, tags ending on a dental consonant are particularly common. Besides '-le' and '-er', the tags '-ed', '-et', '-en', '-a/ah/e' , '-ow' and '-om' are very common. There are also a fair number of words ending on '-ock/-ic', and '-iff'. I define tags by how they are pronounced, not by how they are spelled, so I see the tag '-el' as the same as the tag '-le' when they are pronounced the same. Quite universally, a tag has a reduplicating effect on word semantics. This does not mean that every word ending on an '-le' tag is reduplicative (April, beagle, bottle,...), but that a much high percentage of words with a tag are reduplicative than in the vocabulary otherwise. In other words, adding a second unstressed syllable to a word tends to make it repetitive. The nature of the reduplication varies with the tag. There are quite a number of words ending on -er that concern one things which follows another: after, border on, latter, former,... This is rare in words ending on -le. There are many words of eating ending on -le,but not -er. And so forth...

You may be wondering at this point why I don't consider all these '-le' tags to be suffixes, given that they have a defineable element of meaning associated with them For you, I have provided a brief discussion of issues surrounding morphology.When I say I have not included words with suffixes in this list, what I mean is that I have included words in this list, for which I expect most people will not be conscious of the meanings of the '-le' and the '-er'. If someone prefers to call them suffixes, that's seems to me fine, as long as they're aware of the definition they're using and use it consistently.

In addition to the particular effect that the '-er' or '-le' tag has on its stress-bearing companion syllable, an '-le' or an '-er' has certain affections for certain types of companions. For example, the 'cuddle, snuggle, nuzzle, fondle' class is really in '-le', not '-er'. The corresponding class ending on -er concerns physical and moral support rather than cuddling. There are a number of other aspects of '-le' and '-er' that lie fairly deep and that are therefore harder to point out, but which you eventually become convinced of as you hang out with the data more and more. For example, there's a rigidity to /r/. Where it has rules and regulations imposed from without, /l/ has natural laws implicit within. /r/ has this energy within itself, and is therefore more opinionated about how things should behave, whereas /l/ is more preoccupied with how things in fact do behave. /r/ is the one that reasons things out. /l/ feels into them. There's a specific type of passivity to /l/, but there's an active side to it on another level. /r/ forces, but /l/ does not. On the other hand, /r/ 'hears', but it doesn't necessarily 'listen'. This manifests itself in these words, for example, in that the 'bungle/fuddle/garble' class in /l/ tends to be much more oriented around a general state of confusion, whereas the corresponding words in the '-er' class tend to refer to an actual error (boner, blunder), a concrete violation of a concrete boundary. That boundary doesn't exist in /l/ for it to be violated. But it does lie implicit in /r/.

I could talk like this at some length about the sounds, and feel confident that what I said was true. In my experience, by reading words sorted in various ways, you become acquainted with the sounds, much as you become acquainted with a person. You become better and better at guessing how they would react in various situations, how they would opine on certain issues. I have found it very satisfying to go through this process with respect to the sounds in English. The most beautiful realizations happen in this domain where it's hard to convince anyone of anything unless they're already convinced. The deepest realization of this nature that I have had is this: The voiced sounds come from the viewpoint of the One, and address the many. The unvoiced sounds come from the viewpoint of the many and address the One. The unvoiced sounds are secular, calculating, manipulative. The unvoiced sounds have an element of the inevitable and eternal about them. The natural laws and processes hang out with them. They are uninterested in results. Unvoiced sounds care a whole lot about results. I can't prove this. The closest I can come to proving anything is to sort words and present them in tables and charts. I can increasingly feel how the various sounds in a given word are playing off against one another to form a unique dynamic or pattern of energy. I can feel what result the use of string of sounds within a particular semantic class (as a verb of motion or a type of food) has. Each sequence of sounds comes through in a given context with a specific flavor. You can begin to experience this, just as you can begin to feel what various patterns of sounds are all about by practicing a musical instrument. If you don't practice an instrument, you're much less likely to be able to feel what the key of D is all about as opposed to the key of B flat, and what is going on when you change to the dominant. We all know about the sounds subconsciously, because we can talk. But it's rare that we bother to become aware consciously of the dynamics of word semantics. Similarly, we all understand the dynamics of music subconsciously, because we all enjoy listening. But relatively few of us internalize and make conscios the rules which govern rhythm and harmonics to the extent that we can compose or improvise competently.

Although there is no 'right' phonosemantic classification, there are certainly better and worse classifications. A classification scheme reflects an interpretation of the data. A more accurate representation of this type of data would be multidimensional. Presenting a classification scheme on two-dimensional Web Pages as opposed to in a multi-dimensional database, for example, inherently imposes unnatural limitations, and therefore inaccuracies. Eventually I intend to post my dictionary on the Web as a database, but I haven't gotten around to it yet. This particular classification is relatively fresh, and as such is one of the weaker at this site. It will be improved with time and repeated visitations. An example of an area of weakness is the classification dwindle/muffle, protect/store, and hamper/fetter. The relationship between these classes has not been made as obvious as I'd like.

But enough about me... let the words now speak for themselves:


Phonesthemes which Reflect the Effects of the Syllable

Effect Change: /l/ - 69, 15%, /r/ - 43, 9%
Further/Sequel /l/ - 10, 2%, /r/ - 40, 9%
/l/ - 234, 50%, /r/ - 253, 54%
Repeated Back-Forth, Up-Down Motion:
/l/ - 108, 23%, /r/ - 125, 27%
Things Involving Repeated or Back-and-Forth Motion:
/l/ - 72, 15%, /r/ - 110, 24%

Phonethemes Typical of -le, -er

Dangle/Dribble: /l/ - 29, 6%, /r/ - 31, 7%
/l/ - 33, 7%
/r/ - 35, 8%
/l/ - 9, 2%, /r/ - 14, 3%
/l/ - 15, 3%
/l/ - 6, 1%

Large, Amounts, Wealth, Power, Fuel: /l/ - 24, 5%, /r/ - 45, 10%
/l/ - 19, 4%, /r/ - 24, 5%
/l/ - 4, 1%, /r/ - 19, 4%
/l/ - 6, 1%, /r/ - 6, 1%
/l/ - 9, 2%, /r/ - 13, 3%
/r/ - 33, 7%
/r/ - 14, 3%

Unite: /l/ - 24, 5%, /r/ - 11, 2%
/l/ - 5, 1%, /r/ - 6, 1%
/l/ - 5, 1%, /r/ - 7, 2%
/l/ - 11, 2%, /r/ - 6, 1%
/r/ - 27, 6%

Countainers/Holders/Holes: /l/ - 39, 8%, /r/ - 43, 9%
/l/ - 7, 1%, /r/ - 7, 2%
/l/ - 61, 13%, /r/ - 22, 5%
/l/ - 5, 1%
/r/ - 20, 4%
Period of Time:
/r/ - 10, 2%

Cover: /l/ - 25, 5%, /r/ - 42, 9%
Animals with Shells:
/l/ - 4, 1%, /r/ - 2, .4%
Cover with Color/Light:
/l/ - 16, 3%, /r/ - 18, 4%
/l/ - 20, 4%, /r/ - 21, 5%

Battle: /l/ - 42, 9%, /r/ - 31, 7%
/l/ - 25, 5%, /r/ - 35, 8%
/l/ - 13, 3%, /r/ - 12, 3%

Chisel/Nibble/Pommel: /l/ - 33, 3%, /r/ - 32, 3%
/l/ - 32, 7%, /r/ - 23, 7%
/l/ - 31, 7%, /r/ - 44, 9%

Bramble/Petal: /l/ - 18, 4%, /r/ - 19, 4%
/l/ - 17, 4%, /r/ - 11, 2%
/l/ - 6, 1%
: /r/ - 22, 5%

Confusion/Chaos/Error/Uncertainty: /l/ - 66, 14%, /r/ - 56, 12%
/l/ - 9, 2%, /r/ - 15, 3%
/l/ - 9, 2%, /r/ - 9, 2%

Little: /l/ - 13, 3%, /r/ - 11, 2%
/l/ - 23, 5%, /r/ - 8, 2%
/l/ - 16, 3%, /r/ - 11, 2%
/l/ - 9, 2%
/r/ - 11, 2%

Noble/Reverent: /l/ - 29, 6%, /r/ - 21, 5%
/l/ - 17, 4%, /r/ - 13, 3%
/l/ - 19, 4%, /r/ - 15, 3%
: /r/ - 10, 2%

Sounds: /l/ - 20, 4%, /r/ - 13, 3%
Petty/False/Confused Talk:
/l/ - 34, 7%, /r/ - 21, 5%
Other Language:
/l/ - 23, 5%, /r/ - 11, 2%
/l/ - 7,1%, /r/ - 7, 2%
/l/ - 5, 1%, /r/ - 2, .4%

Liquid: /l/ - 31, 7%, /r/ - 37, 8%
/l/ - 12, 3%, /r/ - 9, 2%
/l/ - 12, 3%, /r/ - 13, 3%

Classes not Specific to -le, -er, Exceptions

Concrete Exception Words: /l/ - 19, 4%, /r/ - 21, 5%
/l/ - 27, 6%: /r/ - 40, 9%

Phonesthemes which Reflect the Effects of the Syllable

Effect Change:

/l/ - 69, 15%: able, angle, bevel, bottle, bristle, bubble, buckle, bundle, cobble, crinkle, crumble, crumple, curdle, darkle, dazzle, drabble, draggle, dwindle, fizzle, fossil, frazzle, frizzle, fuddle, fuel, garble, gargle, griddle, grizzle, gruel, hustle, jangle, joggle, jumble, kindle, label, level, mangle, marshal, mingle, model, mottle, muddle, muffle, rankle, rattle, ravel, riddle(v), riffle, rimple, ruffle, rumple, settle, shackle, shrivel, shuffle, speckle, spoil, startle, stifle, stipple, swaddle, table(v), tackle, tangle, topple, tousle, trammel, trample, wangle

/r/ - 43, 9%: alter, butcher, cinder, clobber, cloister, clutter, collar, color, cover, father, fetter, foster, goffer, lather, launder, litter, lower, master, molder, murder, neuter, plaster, plunder, pucker, purger, render, scatter, sever, slaughter, smother, solder, sour, splinter, stagger, sunder, tamper, tatter, temper, tire, trigger, tucker, water, wither

Further/Sequel (related to the comparative for adjectives):

/l/ - 10, 2%: able, cycle, double, equal, level, model, sequel, total, triple, uncle

/r/ - 40, 9%: after, better, border(on), brother, daughter, eager, either, enter, ever, farther, father, former, further, hanker, hither, latter, layer, ledger, letter, major, mother, neighbor, neither, nether, number, order, other, over, prior, rather, render, roster, sister, super, thither, upper, utter, whether, whither, yonder


/l/ - 234, 50%: amble, babble, bangle, barrel(v), bobble, battle, brabble, bramble, brattle, brindle, bristle, brittle, bubble, bumble, burble, bustle, cackle, chisel, chortle, chuckle, cobble, cockle, coral, crewel, crinkle, crumble, crumple, cuddle, cudgel, curdle, dabble, daddle, dandle, dangle, dapple, dartle, dial, dibble, diddle, dimple, doodle, drabble, draggle, dribble, drivel, drizzle, duel, fickle, fiddle, fizzle, flannel, fondle, frazzle, freckle, fribble, frizzle, fuddle, gabble, garble, gargle, giggle, gobble, grabble, grapple, gravel, grumble, gurgle, guzzle, haggle, handle, hassle, heckle, higgle, hurdle, hustle, jangle, jiggle, jingle, joggle, jostle, journal, juggle, jumble, knuckle, ladle, mangle, marble, meddle, mingle, missile, mogul, mottle, mumble, muscle(v), needle, nibble, niggle, nimble, nipple, noodle, nostril, novel, nubble, nuzzle, paddle, panel, pebble, pedal, peddle, people, petal, piddle, piffle, pimple, pixel, pommel, prattle, prickle, pupil(eye), puzzle, quarrel, quibble, rabble, raffle, ramble, rankle, rattle, ravel, reel, riddle(v), riffle, rimple, ripple, rubble, ruffle, rumble, rumple, rustle, sample(v), schedule, schnitzel, scrabble, scramble, scribble, scuffle, scuttle, sepal, sequel, settle, several, shamble, shingle, shovel, shuffle, shuttle, sidle, signal, sizzle, skittle, smuggle, sniffle, snivel, snorkel, snuffle, snuggle, spangle, sparkle, speckle, spindle, spittle, sprinkle, squabble, squiggle, stencil, stickle, stipple, straggle, struggle, stubble, stumble, suckle, swaddle, swivel, table(numbers), tackle, tangle, tassel, thistle, throttle, tickle, tingle, tinkle, tinsel, tipple, tittle, toddle, toggle, tonsil, tootle, total, tousle, trammel, trample, travel, treadle, tremble, trestle, trial, trickle, triple, truckle, trundle, tumble, tunnel, tussle, twiddle, twinkle, vandal, vigil, waddle, waffle, waggle, wangle, warble, wheedle, whiffle, whittle, wiggle, wobble, wrangle, wrestle, wriggle, wrinkle, yodel

/r/ - 253, 54%: after, alter, answer, antler, badger, banter, barber, barter, batter, bicker, blabber, blather, bleacher, blister, blubber, bluster, bolster, bother, boulder, breaker, briar, broider, buffer, bugger, butcher, canker, canter, caper, center, chapter, charter, chatter, checker, chigger, chipper, chitter, cinder, clamber, clatter, clobber, clover, cluster, clutter, copter, corner, cover, cower, cracker, crater, dicker, dither, doctor, dodder, dollar, eider, either, farther, father, feather, fester, fetter, fiber, filter, finger, flatter, flicker, flipper, flitter, flounder, flour, flower, fluster, flutter, foster, founder, fritter, further, garner, gather, gender, geyser, gibber, glimmer, glister, glitter, glower, goffer, hammer, hamper, hanker, hinder, holler, hour, hover, hunger, hyper, jabber, jitter, ladder, lather, latter, launder, layer, lecher, ledger, letter, lever, limber, litter, lower, lumber, luster, master, maunder, member, meter, mirror, molder, monger, mortar, mother, motor, murmer, mutter, neighbor, neither, nether, number, offer, order, other, over, palter, pamper, pander, paper, patter, pepper, pester, peter, picture, pilfer, plaster, plunder, poker, ponder, poster, powder, prior, proffer, psalter, pucker, putter, quaver, quiver, rafter, rather, razor, render, river, roster, rudder, saunter, scamper, scatter, scissor, scutter, seltzer, sever, shatter, shelter, shimmer, shiver, shower, shudder, shutter, simmer, sister, skitter, slaughter, slipper, slither, sliver, slobber, smatter, smolder, smother, snicker, soccer, solder, spatter, sphincter, spider, splatter, splinter, splutter, squander, stagger, stammer, stutter, succor, suffer, sunder, super, swagger, swelter, tabor, tamper, tanker, taper, tatter, teeter, temper, tether, thither, thunder, timber, tinder, tinker, tire, titter, totter, tractor, trailer, tremor, trigger, tucker, twitter, udder, upper, usher, utter, vector, wafer, wager, wander, water, waver, weather, welter, whether, whimper, whisker, whisper, whither, wicker, wiener, winter, wither, yammer, yonder, zephyr, zither

Repeated Back-Forth, Up-Down Motion:

/l/ - 108, 23%: bobble, chisel, cudgel, dabble, daddle, dandle, dapple, dartle, dial, dibble, diddle, doodle, duel, fiddle, frazzle, gargle, grabble, heggle, hurdle, jangle, jiggle, jingle, joggle, jostle, juggle, ladle, level, mumble, muscle(v), nibble, nuzzle, paddle, panel, pedal, pommel, prattle, quarrel, quibble, rankle, rattle, ravel, reel, riffle, rimple, ripple, ruffle, rumble, rumple, rustle, sample, scrabble, scramble, scribble, scuffle, scuttle, settle, shovel, shuffle, shuttle, sidle, sizzle, smuggle, sniffle, snivel, snorkel, snuffle, snuggle, sprinkle, squabble, stencil, stickle, stipple, struggle, suckle, swaddle, swivel, tackle, throttle, tickle, tipple, toddle, toggle, tootle, tousle, trammel, trample, tremble, trundle, tunnel, tussle, twiddle, twinkle, waddle, waffle, waggle, wangle, warble, weasel, wheedle, whiffle, whittle, wiggle, wobble, wrangle, wrestle, wriggle, wrinkle, yodel

/r/ - 125, 27%: anchor, answer, banter, barter, batter, bicker, blabber, blather, bluster, bother, broider, buffer, butcher, canter, caper, center, chatter, chitter, clamber, clatter, color, copter, cover, cower, dicker, dodder, either, filter, flicker, flitter, flounder, flutter, garner, gather, geyser, gibber, glimmer, glister, glitter, goffer, hammer, hither, hover, hyper, jabber, jitter, lacquer, lather, launder, layer, lever, limber, litter, lower, lumber, maunder, miter, murmer, mutter, neither, offer, order, palter, pander, patter, pepper, pester, pilfer, plaster, plunder, powder, proffer, pucker, putter, quaver, quiver, saunter, scamper, scissor, scutter, shatter, shimmer, shiver, shower, shudder, simmer, skitter, slither, slobber, smatter, smolder, soccer, spatter, splatter, splinter, splutter, squander, stagger, stammer, stutter, sunder, swagger, tatter, teeter, tether, thither, thunder, tinker, titter, totter, tremor, trigger, twitter, usher, utter, wager, wander, water, waver, welter, whether, whimper, whisper, whither, yammer

Things Involving Repeated or Back-and-Forth Motion:

/l/ - 72, 15%: anvil, axle, chisel, cudgel, cymbal, dial, gavel, grapnel, griddle, hurdle, kettle, kindle, knuckle, ladle, level, mammal, marble, minstrel, missile, mogul, muscle, mussel, needle, nipple, nostril, novel, paddle, pencil, pestle, phial, pistol, pizzle, pupil(eye), puzzle, rattle, reel, riffle, rifle, rubble, saddle, sandal, scalpel, scuttle, sequel, shovel, sickle, signal, skittle, snivel, spindle, spittle, squiggle, stable, stencil, stubble, table, tackle, tendril, thimble, throttle, timbal, tonsil, towel, treadle, trowel, truckle, trundle, tunnel, vandal, vessel, vial, wimple

/r/ - 110, 24%: anchor, antler, barber, batter, beaker, binder, bladder, bleacher, blister, breaker, buffer, bugger, bumper, bunker, butcher, butter, camber, canker, caster, chapter, charter, checker, chigger, copter, dagger, diaper, dinner, dresser, eider, feather, femur, fender, fetter, fiber, filter, finger, flipper, flour, fodder, gaiter, geyser, glacier, hammer, hangar, harbor, hunger, jigger, lacquer, ladder, larder, laser, lather, layer, leather, ledger, letter, lever, liver, lyre, manger, mirror, molar, monger, mortar, motor, oyster, panzer, paper, pecker, pepper, pitcher, plaster, platter, poker, polder, quiver, razor, river, rubber, rudder, saber, saucer, schooner, seltzer, sewer, shutter, slipper, sliver, snifter, soldier, sphincter, spider, summer, supper, tabor, tanker, thunder, timber, tinder, tire, tractor, trigger, udder, water, weather, whisker, wicker, winter, zephyr, zither

Phonethemes Typical of -le, -er


/l/ - 29, 6%: channel, dangle, drabble, draggle, dribble, drivel, drizzle, fumble, funnel, grapnel, nostril, nozzle, piddle, pizzle, riffle, ripple, rubble, sniffle, snivel, tangle, tassel, tendril, tinkle, tinsel, topple, tousle, trickle, tumble, wimple

/r/ - 31, 7%: anchor, banner, bladder, breaker, bugger, flipper, geyser, gutter, lather, liver, lower, patter, pecker, pitcher, river, rudder, seltzer, sewer, shower, slobber, snifter, spatter, spider, splatter, splutter, timber, totter, udder, water, weather, whisker


/l/ - 33, 7%: amble, barrel, dribble, gambol, hobble, hurdle, hurtle, hustle, minstrel, nimble, pedal, peddle, ramble, rattle, rumble, scramble, settle, shuffle, shuttle, sidle, smuggle, snorkel, stubble, stumble, tackle, toddle, trammel, trample, travel, treadle, trundle, waddle, waggle

/r/ - 35, 8%: canter, caper, charter, clamber, clatter, copter, flipper, flitter, flounder, flutter, hover, ladder, lumber, maunder, motor, patter, putter, rudder, saucer, saunter, scamper, schooner, scutter, skitter, slither, stagger, swagger, tanker, thither, tire, tractor, trailer, usher, wander, whither


/l/ - 9, 2%: hurtle, juggle, missile, pistol, rifle, skittle, spangle, sprinkle, straggle

/r/ - 14, 3%: bunker, geyser, laser, litter, mortar, scatter, shower, skitter, soccer, spatter, splatter, splutter, stagger, trigger


/l/ - 15, 3%: bundle, coddle, cradle, cuddle, dandle, fondle, gentle, handle, huddle, nestle, nipple, nuzzle, snuggle, swaddle, tickle


/l/ - 6, 1%: gargle, gobble, guzzle, ladle, suckle, tipple

Large, Amounts, Wealth, Power, Fuel:

/l/ - 24, 5%: ample, barrel, bushel, camel, castle, chattel, crystal, dazzle, fuel, gobble, googol, jewel, laurel, metal, muscle, nickel, opal, riddle(v), several, staple, supple, tackle, total, triple

/r/ - 45, 10%: acre, amber, blubber, clover, cluster, clutter, coffer, copper, dollar, ever, farther, fodder, further, hour, liter, lumber, major, matter, meter, monster, nectar, never, number, ogre, order, over, pewter, power, river, roster, savor, scepter, shower, silver, squander, super, swagger, tender, timber, tinder, tuber, upper, utter, vigor, whopper

Acquisition (related to Unite):

/l/ - 19, 4%: burgle, channel, funnel, gamble, hustle, peddle, raffle, rifle, rustle, scrabble, shackle, shuttle, single, smuggle, suckle, swindle, vandal, weasel, wheedle

/r/ - 24, 5%: barter, corner, dicker, garner, gather, hanker, hunger, launder, lecher, miser, monger, offer, order, pander, pilfer, plunder, poker, polder, proffer, render, savor, shower, skitter, wager


/l/ - 4, 1%: bristle, bubble, double, triple

/r/ - 19, 4%: better, bluster, bolster, cancer, canker, center, fester, fever, flower, foster, further, goiter, lather, master, shower, smolder, swagger, thunder, tumor


/l/ - 6, 1%: cattle, council, gaggle, people, rabble, several

/r/ - 6, 1%: cluster, litter, number, order, roster, splinter


/l/ - 9, 2%: couple, double, duple, equal, level, model, signal, stencil, symbol

/r/ - 13, 3%: after, cipher, either, former, latter master, mirror, neighbor, neither, other, picture, poster, prior

Protect/Store: (related to Support)

/r/ - 33, 7%: buffer, bumper, bunker, cellar, coffer, cover, diaper, doctor, fender, filter, gaiter, garner, hangar, harbor, kosher, larder, ledger, liver, manger, martyr, miser, mother, pamper, panzer, polder, purger, savor, shelter, shutter, succor, sugar, tower, tuber


/r/ - 14, 3%: chapter, feather, gender, hour, letter, manner, meter, number, odor, tenor, timbre, vector, water, weather

Unite (related to Acquisition):

/l/ - 24, 5%: axle, bridle, buckle, bundle, cable, channel, couple, crewel, double, equal, funnel, grapnel, gristle, mingle, mongrel, reel, riffle, shackle, single, straddle, tangle, tendril, total, trestle

/r/ - 11, 2%: cluster, enter, fetter, gather, member, miter, mortar, rafter, solder, tether, wicker


/l/ - 5, 1%: curdle, fossil, gruel, stable, treacle

/r/ - 6, 1%: butter, ester, glacier, mortar, rubber, solder


/l/ - 5, 1%: apple, lentil, kernel, pistil, pizzle

/r/ - 7, 2%: anther, bulger, father, flower, goober, mother, tuber


/l/ - 11, 2%: equal, kernel, lentil, level, mettle, middle, navel, stable, staple, straddle, vowel

/r/ - 6, 1%: center, fiber, nadir, neuter, pillar, proper

Support (related to Protect/Store):

/r/ - 27, 6%: bolster, buffer, bumper, bunker, center, charter, collar, femur, fender, fiber, foster, further, garter, ladder, lever, martyr, mother, pamper, pillar, rafter, render, shelter, shower, succor, tender, usher, water


/l/ - 39, 8%: barrel, bottle, carrel, channel, cockle, crackle, cradle, creel, easel, funnel, girdle, grapnel, griddle, gristle, gunwale, kettle, ladle, mantel, muzzle, nostril, nozzle, phial, pimple, pistol, rifle, saddle, satchel, scuttle, shackle, shovel, table, throttle, trestle, trowel, truckle, trundle, tunnel, vessel, vial

/r/ - 43, 9%: antler, beaker, bladder, bleacher, blister, bunker, caster, chamber, coffer, collar, corner, crater, diaper, dresser, fetter, filter, gaiter, garter, gutter, halter, jigger, ladder, larder, lever, liter, litter, liver, manger, mortar, paper, pitcher, platter, quiver, rafter, rubber, saucer, snifter, sphincter, tanker, tower, trailer, tuber, tumor


/l/ - 7, 1%: brothel, castle, chapel, hostel, hovel, kennel, temple

/r/ - 7, 2%: bower, cellar, center, chamber, cloister, hangar, manor


/l/ - 61, 13%: apple, axle, bagel, barrel, boodle, bottle, bubble, bugle, bustle, candle, circle, cockle, cycle, cymbal, dial, dowel, frizzle, girdle, goggle, gravel, kernel, kettle, ladle, marble, mogul, mussel, navel, nickle, nipple, nostril, nozzle, nubble, ogle, opal, oval, pebble, pedal, pencil, pestle, petal, pimple, pixel, pizzle, pretzel, pupil, reel, scuttle, sepal, spangle, speckle, steeple, swaddle, swivel, thimble, throttle, timbal, tittle, tonsil, trundle, tunnel, vessel

/r/ - 22, 5%: beaker, bladder, blister, boulder, caster, checker, collar, crater, gaiter, garter, jigger, mortar, pitcher, quiver, saucer, snifter, sphincter, spire, tire, tower, tuber, wafer


/l/ - 5, 1%: bundle, bustle, duffel, parcel, swaddle


/r/ - 20, 4%: acre, altar, border, bower, buffer, center, chamber, checker, cloister, corner, crater, ether, harbor, nadir, nether, over, pasture, polder, shire, yonder

Period of Time:

/r/ - 10, 2%: after, chapter, Easter, ever, hour, never, over, prior, summer, winter


/l/ - 25, 5%: cobble, duffel, flannel, gravel, label, mantle, muzzle, panel, pebble, people, petal, pistil, riddle(v), saddle, sandal, scuttle, sepal, settle, shingle, straddle, swaddle, thimble, towel, treacle, vinyl

/r/ - 42, 9%: banner, binder, border, buffer, bumper, bunker, caster, cover, diaper, feather, fender, flower, gaiter, garter, hover, jumper, lacquer, layer, leather, litter, luster, over, panzer, paper, plaster, powder, render, rubber, saucer, scatter, shelter, shower, shutter, slicker, slipper, smother, stagger, super, sweater, tire, vapor, water

Animals with Shells:

/l/ - 4, 1%: beetle, mussel, turtle, weevil

/r/ - 2, .4%: lobster, oyster

Cover with Color/Light:

/l/ - 16, 3%: brindle, dapple, freckle, grizzle, mottle, mural, petal, pixel, spangle, sparkle, speckle, sprinkle, stencil, stipple, stubble, tinsel

/r/ - 18, 4%: broider, checker, color, glitter, lacquer, luster, mirror, ocher, pallor, paper, picture, poster, powder, render, shimmer, smolder, spatter, whisker


/l/ - 20, 4%: bangle, bauble, buckle, coral, dapple, jewel, mantel, medal, opal, ruffle, spangle, sparkle, sprinkle, squiggle, steeple, stencil, tassel, tinsel, tittle, wimple

/r/ - 21, 5%: banner, broider, clover, coffer, collar, feather, flower, garter, glitter, goffer, lacquer, mirror, paper, picture, pillar, poster, powder, scepter, silver, spire, tower


/l/ - 42, 9%: battle, brabble, bridle, bristle, duel, grapple, gruel, haggle, hassle, higgle, hustle, jostle, juggle, knuckle, libel, mangle, marshal, meddle, missile, muscle, needle, pommel, quarrel, quibble, rabble, rankle, scuffle, squabble, stickle, struggle, tackle, tattle, tickle, trammel, trample, trial, tussle, wangle, weasel, wheedle, wrangle, wrestle

/r/ - 31, 7%: badger, banter, bicker, bolster, bother, buffer, bugger, bunker, buster, butcher, clamber, corner, cumber, dicker, fester, martyr, mortar, order, over, panzer, pester, plunder, purger, saber, slander, slaughter, soccer, soldier, squire, trigger, wager


/l/ - 25, 5%: bristle, bustle, dazzle, gamble, goggle, hustle, marvel, ogle, peril, pickle, pistol, raffle, revel, rifle, ruffle, scandal, scramble, sidle, sizzle, smuggle, startle, tingle, tremble, trial, trouble

/r/ - 35, 8%: after, bitter, bluster, cower, danger, dither, eager, flutter, glower, hanker, holler, hyper, jitter, martyr, matter, monster, murder, ogre, pallor, quaver, quiver, savor, shiver, shudder, specter, stagger, stammer, swagger, terror, thunder, tremor, trigger, vigor, whopper, wonder


/l/ - 13: battle, bridle, bristle, duel, haggle, quarrel, quibble, rankle, sizzle, squabble, tussle, wrangle, wrestle

/r/ - 12: anger, bitter, bluster, choler, dander, danger, glower, mutter, slander, smolder, temper, thunder


/l/ - 33, 3%: bevel, cancel, chisel, cudgel, duel, frazzle, gobble, hurtle, level, needle, nibble, paddle, pestle, pistol, pommel, prickle, rankle, riddle(v), rifle, rubble, scalpel, shovel, sickle, skittle, spindle, strangle, thistle, tingle, trammel, trample, trowel, tunnel, whittle

/r/ - 32, 3%: batter, bluster, bumper, bunker, butcher, canker, chatter, chigger, clobber, dagger, dribble, fester, finger, gutter, hammer, miter, molar, mortar, pasture, razor, saber, scissor, sever, shatter, sliver, soccer, splinter, sunder, tabor, taper, tatter, tractor


/l/ - 32, 7%: crackle, crinkle, cripple, crumble, crumple, drabble, draggle, frazzle, frizzle, fuddle, gruel, hobble, jangle, level, libel, mangle, nettle, rankle, rifle, rumple, scandal, shrivel, spoil, strangle, table, tackle, tangle, throttle, topple, trammel, trample, wrinkle

/r/ - 23, 7%: better, butcher, canker, cinder, clobber, corner, Easter, master, molder, murder, neuter, over, plunder, sever, shatter, slander, slaughter, smother, sour, sunder, tatter, timber, wither

Hamper/Fetter/Filter: (related to Dwindle/Muffle)

/l/ - 31, 7%: addle, bottle, baffle, boggle, dazzle, frazzle, fuddle, garble, hassle, heckle, hustle, jumble, marshal, meddle, muddle, muffle, muzzle, needle, niggle, rattle, ruffle, scuttle, stifle, strangle, swaddle, tackle, tangle, tattle, trial, trouble, wheedle

/r/ - 44, 9%: badger, bother, bumper, collar, corner, cover, cumber, diaper, fender, fetter, filter, fluster, gaiter, halter, hamper, hinder, hover, kosher, liver, lower, lumber, miser, murmer, neuter, never, order, panzer, pester, shelter, shutter, smother, sphincter, stammer, swelter, tamper, taper, temper, tether, tire, tucker, vapor, water, whisper, winter


/l/ - 18, 4%: basil, bramble, bristle, chervil, fennel, grapnel, hazel, laurel, maple, myrtle, needle, nettle, petal, prickle, sepal, sorrel, tendril, thistle

/r/ - 19, 4%: alder, antler, arbor, aster, bower, briar, bulger, caper, cedar, clover, eider, elder, feather, finger, flower, heather, poplar, tinder, wicker


/l/ - 17, 4%: angle, ankle, axle, bevel, crystal, dimple, easel, gable, knuckle, level, missile, mussel, oval, sickle, topple, treadle, tumble

/r/ - 11, 2%: breaker, camber, corner, goffer, ladder, lever, miter, rafter, rudder, timber, vector


/l/ - 6, 1%: brittle, buckle, cockle, coral, crystal, feeble


/r/ - 22, 5%: adder, bitter(taste), blister, canker, castor, cider, fester, ginger, goiter, leper, molar, odor, pepper, powder, sour, spider, splinter, sulfer, tartar, tumor, viper, vulture


/l/ - 66, 14%: addle, babble, babel, baffle, battle, boggle, bumble, bungle, dazzle, double, drivel, feeble, fickle, foible, fuddle, fumble, gabble, garble, grabble, grapple, hassle, jumble, jungle, mangle, mongrel, mottle, muddle, muffle, mumble, pencil(v), pickle, prattle, pupil, puzzle, quarrel, quibble, rabble, rattle, ravel, riddle, riffle, rubble, ruffle, scrabble, scramble, scribble, scuffle, scuttle, shamble, shuffle, shuttle, spiel, squabble, startle, stumble, tangle, tickle, tipple, topple, tousle, trial, trouble, tumble, wobble, wrangle, wrestle

/r/ - 56, 12%: blabber, blather, blooper, blubber, blunder, boner, bother, bugger, butcher, caper, cipher, clutter, dither, dodder, duffer, either, error, falter, fester, fever, flounder, fluster, founder, gibber, liquor, litter, lubber, maunder, neither, pallor, plaster, ponder, quaver, quiver, scamper, scatter, slobber, smatter, splutter, stagger, stammer, stutter, sucker, sunder, teeter, titter, totter, tremor, vapor, wager, wander, waver, welter, whether, whither, zephyr


/l/ - 9, 2%: double, fable, hustle, jackal, libel, signal, smuggle, swindle, symbol

/r/ - 15, 3%: cipher, clever, corner, cover, doctor, flatter, launder, monger, palter, pander, paper, poker, purger, slither, snicker


/l/ - 9, 2%: cruel, devil, mongrel, rascal, scandal, scoundrel, trouble, vandal, vile

/r/ - 9, 2%: butcher, lecher, monger, monster, nigger, ogre, slaughter, specter, suffer


/l/ - 13, 3%: feeble, little, morsel, nihil, pupil, sample, simple, single, subtle, tittle, trickle, trifle, twinkle

/r/ - 11, 2%: meager, minor, never, pauper, slender, sliver, smatter, splinter, squire, vapor, zephyr

Dwindle/Muffle (related to Hamper/Fester):

/l/ - 23, 5%: bottle, crumble, drabble, draggle, darkle, dwindle, fizzle, frazzle, gamble, gargle, muffle, mumble, muzzle, scuttle, shrivel, sniffle, snivel, snuffle, stifle, strangle, subtle, swaddle, tumble

/r/ - 8, 2%: lower, peter, taper, temper, tire, tucker, water, whisper, wither


/l/ - 16, 3%: dabble, daddle, dangle, dawdle, diddle, doodle, fribble, frivol, idle, piddle, piffle, quibble, straggle, tranquil, twiddle, vigil

/r/ - 11, 2%: fritter, leisure, linger, loiter, pasture, putter, saunter, savor, slumber, tinker, wander


/l/ - 9, 2%: chattel, grovel, humble, little, simple, subtle, truckle, vassal, yokel


/r/ - 11, 2%: blather, blubber, bummer, dolor, dour, nadir, somber, sour, suffer, whimper, yammer


/l/ - 29, 6%: angel, bible, castle, chapel, colonel, damsel, eagle, equal, gentle, gospel, idol, jewel, level, marshal, missal, model, moral, noble, purple, quetzal, real, rule, sable, scruple, sibyl, stable, temple, title, tranquil

/r/ - 21, 5%: altar, boyar, brother, cloister, Easter, father, friar, kaiser, kosher, martyr, master, mister, pastor, scepter, sister, somber, super, tender, upper, utter, vicar


/l/ - 17, 4%: counsel, fumble, grapple, label, level, marshal, puzzle, rule, schedule, settle, sibyl, stable, table, tackle, tranquil, trial, weasel

/r/ - 13, 3%: answer, charter, cipher, clever, cover, doctor, Easter, kilter, master, order, picture(v), ponder, wonder


/l/ - 19, 4%: able, ample, angel, dazzle, equal, gentle, level, marvel, mettle, model, moral, muscle, nimble, noble, real, rule, scruple, sparkle, title

/r/ - 15, 3%: answer, better, clever, eager, kilter, kosher, limber, master, order, power, proper, scepter, sober, super, temper

Chipper (related to Chuckle)

/r/ - 10, 2%: blooper, boner, bolster, chatter, chipper, chitter, clever, clover, dapper, flitter


/l/ - 20, 4%: brattle, bumble, burble, crackle, crinkle, gargle, gobble, grumble, gurgle, rumble, rustle, sniffle, snuffle, tinkle, tootle, trickle, vowel, warble, whistle, yodel

/r/ - 13, 3%: chatter, chitter, clatter, hammer, holler, murmer, patter, quaver, splutter, thunder, twitter, whimper, yammer

Petty/False/Confused Talk:

/l/ - 34, 7%: babble, babel, brabble, cackle, drivel, fable, fizzle, frizzle, gabble, haggle, hassle, heckle, higgle, hustle, jingle, libel, moral, mumble, needle, niggle, piffle, prattle, quarrel, quibble, scandal, snivel, spiel, squabble, stickle, tattle, treacle, wangle, wheedle, wrangle

/r/ - 21, 5%: banter, bicker, blabber, blather, blooper, blubber, boner, chatter, dicker, flatter, gibber, jabber, maunder, mutter, palter, purger, slander, smatter, splutter, stammer, stutter

Other Language:

/l/ - 23, 5%: bible, cable, channel, counsel, gospel, journal, level, missal, moral, novel, pencil(v), puzzle, raffle, riddle, rule, scribble, settle, sibyl, signal, symbol, title, vowel, yodel

/r/ - 11, 2%: answer, chapter, charter, cipher, corner, cover, ledger, letter, psalter, utter, whisper


/l/ - 7,1%: bugle, carol, fiddle, gospel, minstrel, timbal, treble

/r/ - 7, 2%: lyre, major, master, minor, quaver, tabor, zither

Chuckle: related to Chipper)

/l/ - 5, 1%: cackle, chortle, chuckle, giggle, revel

/r/ - 2, .4%: snicker, titter


/l/ - 31, 7%: barrel, bottle, channel, coddle, dribble, drivel, drizzle, funnel, gargle, gruel, ladle, nipple, nozzle, phial, piddle, pimple, puddle, riffle, ripple, sniffle, snivel, snorkel, snuffle, spittle, suckle, tipple, towel, treacle, trickle, vessel, vial

/r/ - 37, 8%: anchor, beaker, bladder, breaker, bugger, bunker, castor, chowder, cider, flipper, geyser, glacier, gutter, harbor, lager, lather, launder, liquor, liter, nectar, river, rudder, saucer, schooner, seltzer, sewer, skipper, slicker, slobber, snifter, spatter, splatter, splutter, udder, vapor, water, welter


/l/ - 12, 3%: candle, crackle, fizzle, frizzle, griddle, kettle, kindle, mantle, missile, pistol, shrivel, sizzle

/r/ - 9, 2%: cinder, ember, fever, simmer, smolder, solder, summer, swelter, tinder


/l/ - 12, 3%: candle, dazzle, goggle, jewel, kindle, nickle, ogle, opal, spangle, sparkle, tinsel, twinkle

/r/ - 13, 3%: ember, flicker, glimmer, glister, glitter, glower, lacquer, laser, luster, mirror, pewter, shimmer, silver

Classes not Specific to -le, -er, Exceptions

With few exceptions, the words that don't fit in any classes, all fit in the concrete classes (people, body parts, titles, articles of clothing, periods of time, animals, plants, plant parts, food, buildings, rooms, containers, vehicles, furniture, tools, weapons, musical instruments, colors, symbols, units of measurement). As mentioned throughout the site, this is a very common phenomenon. Concrete reference interferes with sound-meaning. Although words for people occur throughout the lexicon, they are unusually frequent among words ending on -le and especially -er, even in the cases where the -er would not normally qualify as a suffix.

Concrete Exception Words

/l/ - 19, 4%: april, beagle, gerbil, joule, mackerel, mescal, pickle, poodle, pretzel, purple, quetzal, sable, schnitzel, spaniel, squirrel, strudel, truffle, uncle, weasel

/r/ - 21, 5%: azure, badger, beaver, bister, boxer, cracker, flounder, gander, gopher, hampster, heifer, jasper, lemur, miser, otter, panther, schnauzer, spider, tiger, vulture, wiener


/l/ - 27, 6%: angel, cardinal, chattel, colonel, coucil, counsel, couple, damsel, devil, idol, jackal, marshal, minstrel, model, noble, people, pupil, rabble, rascal, scoundrel, sibyl, squirrel, uncle, vandal, vassal, weasel, yokel

/r/ - 40, 9%: barber, boyar, brother, buster, butcher, codger, critter, daughter, doctor, duffer, father, friar, geezer, kaiser, lecher, leper, lubber, major, martyr, master, member, minor, miser, mister, monger, monster, mother, neighbor, nigger, ogre, pastor, pauper, satyr, sister, skipper, soldier, specter, squire, sucker, vicar

Other Non-Conformists

cower, hunker
treble, tenor
steeple, spire, tower

I'm tempted to mention that as I go through these lists, I find many aspects of sound meaning that aren't represented in them. For example, the -er in the word 'slender' has a specific effect that is not obvious from a list such as this. The gracefulness that one feels in 'slender' vs. 'slim' comes from the '-er' and is related to its effect in words like tender, master, nectar, silver, somber, father, slumber, etc.. If the word were 'slend' or 'slendle', or 'slendom', the implication of gracefulness would not be there. The other sounds also contribute to the gracefulness of this word. For example, none of the following words work either to convey anything like the same meaning: slonder, slenker, slerder, blender, snender.

When you strip the -le or -er, sometimes the remainder is an English word, which has a meaning similar to the original. By looking at these words, you can often see more clearly what the -le and -er are doing to the word. They often change a noun to a verb. They often reduplicate an action. And they often introduce a cause-effect relationship. The temptation is to say, 'well the -le is just as suffix with the meaning 'iterate-cause-effect'. This, however, is an effect of every such tag in the English language. It is not unique to -er and -le. And the nature of the reduplication varies with the consonant that appears in the tag. In addition, in hundreds of cases where a tag has a reduplicating effect, the word remaining after you strip the tag has little in common with the word containing the tag. (jug-juggle, psych-cycle, die-dial, fun-funnel, etc.) More frequently, the remainder desn't even exist as an independent word (grumble, gurgle, guzzle, hassle,...) It seems to me that the only way to catch this quite pervasive and obvious generalization is to admit that a much higher degree of iconic meaning is active in language than we have hitherto on the whole admitted.

bat-battle, bob-bobble, bog-boggle, buck-buckle, bung-bungle, cirque-circle, crack-crackle, crumb-crumble, curd-curdle, dab-dabble, dark-darkle, dart-dartle, dub-double, drab-drabble, drag-draggle, frizz-frizzle, gab-gabble, gent-gentle, grab-grabble, grid-griddle, grist-gristle, hand-handle, jig-jiggle, jog-joggle, mid-middle, mud-muddle, muff-muffle, nest-nestle, prick-prickle, ruff-ruffle, set-settle, sniff-sniffle, snug-snuggle, spark-sparkle, speck-speckle, spit-spittle, start-startle, stick-stickle, suck-suckle, tack-tackle, toot-tootle, top-topple, tramp-trample, tread-treadle, wag-waggle, wrest-wrestle

aft-after, bat-batter, bind-binder, blab-blabber, break-breaker, bug-bugger, bum-bummer, bump-bumper, chart-charter, chat-chatter, crack-cracker, dress-dresser, flick-flicker, flip-flipper, flit-flitter, glim-glimmer, glow-glower, halt-halter, low-lower, pat-patter, peck-pecker, pep-pepper, pest-pester, pitch-pitcher, shut-shutter, slick-slicker, slob-slobber, sock-soccer, splat-splatter, up-upper

And these are the words which can end on either -le or -er and which have a somewhat similar meaning:

battle-batter, cancel-cancer, crackle-cracker, dapple-dapper, jiggle-jigger, level-lever, paddle-patter, simple-simper, table-tabor, tinkle-tinker, toddle-totter, twiddle-twitter

Margo's Magical Letter Page