lengthy, hefty

Did you know that lengthy is not only an Americanism, but a much-protested one? Early on in its life, lots of American patriots used the word; John Adams seems to have coined it, and Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and (though English) Thomas Paine all used it. But here's what they thought of it in the Philadelphia magazine The Port folio (1801):
 [Lengthy] is a vicious, fugitive, scoundrel and True American word. It should be hooted by every elegant English scholar, and proscribed from every page.
Port folio, though published in the US, was "remarkable chiefly for close adhesion to established English ideas" [Henry Adams]. The authors complained that if lengthy makes sense, then so must breadthy, but since no one's saying breadthy, that shows how ridiculous lengthy is.

They didn't like it in England either (from the OED):
1793   Brit. Critic Nov. 286   We shall, at all times, with pleasure, receive from our transatlantic brethren real improvements of our common mother-tongue: but we shall hardly be induced to admit such phrases as that at p. 93—‘more lengthy’, for longer, or more diffuse.
At some point in the 19th century, the British (and everyone else) seem to have stopped minding it. While some still note it as an Americanism, some authors use it without comment:

From the OED
Nowadays, it seems to be used by the British even more than by Americans (from GloWBE):

None of the style guides on my shelf even mention it, except for Fowler's (3rd edn, by Robert Burchfield, 1996), which says "not a person in a thousand would regard it as anything other than an ordinary English word." To quote their definition of it, it is not simply a synonym for long but 'often with reproachful implication, prolix, tedious'. It was a useful word, so people used it.

I was thinking about the 'we don't have breadthy' anti-lenghthy argument. We don't. But we do have weighty, which goes back to the 1500s. It doesn't just mean heavy (for "languages abhor absolute synonyms just as nature abhors a vacuum"--Cruse 1986:270) , it has additional implications, usually of importance or seriousness. One suspects that the authors of the Port folio complaint noticed weighty but decided to (orig. AmE) keep it under their hats.

And then there's hefty, which the OED considers to be 'originally dialectal and US'. I like the word hefty and the noun heft to mean 'weight', which the OED marks as 'dial. & U.S.'. They seem slightly onomatopoetic to me. I can imagine exhaling 'hft' as I lift something with heft.

Again, according to the web-English corpus GloWBE, the 'American' adjective hefty gets more hits in Britain (1,954) than in America (1,366) in corpora of about 387 million words each. The noun heft is a bit more common in the US (224 v 200). What's remarkable about all that is that the word hefty is first cited in 1867, more than 100 years after the first use of lengthy. By the turn of the 20th century, English writers are using hefty, and no one's commenting on it as being an Americanism as they did for lengthy. Did acceptance of lengthy make hefty non-controversial? I don't know, but I found it interesting.

Still, there's no heighty and no breadthy. Go on. Start using them. I dare you. 


  1. Heft is from heave, which is an intensified form of have in its original sense 'grasp': to lift something we must grasp it. Onomatopoeia may have reinforced the word, but it is the product of Grimm's Law from PIE *kap-yo-. Heft is to heave as theft, weft to thief/thieve, woof/weave.

    It's true there is no heighty, but there is highty-tighty, a variant of hoity-toity influenced by height, from the idea of snobbishness. (Hoit is an obsolete verb meaning 'romp'.)

  2. I think, to me, heft suggests (inertial) mass more than weight per se. I imagine swinging a hammer.

  3. "Heighty" may not be a word, but heighth is one that is frequently used in high-end restaurants, especially when plating food. One would craft a salad in a way to give the leaves and toppings enough loft to give them "heighth," so that they would look like an artfully disheveled pile. Or plate a dessert with a cookie perched into/on top of a piece of cake to give it a more vertical eyeline, and more visual punctuation.

    The OED says it's a word, albeit one that's been out of popular usage for a few centuries, and has taken on new meaning.

  4. I did actually know that lengthy was originally American, but hadn't really ever thought about hefty! I do like the way our mutual dialects enrich each other. English has always adopted new words with delight, and I notice that all dialects continue to do so.

  5. Challenge accepted: When we moved into our new apartment, our 'heighty' wardrobe didn't fit in the lift and instead had to be carried up the stairs.

  6. "Heft" as a verb is National Geographic language.

  7. I'm English in my sixties. Both 'lengthy' and 'hefty' have been normal usage all my life, and not colloquially assumed to be an Americanism or anything else other than normal usage. I don't think I've ever heard 'heft', whether used as a noun or a verb. If I heard it, I'm not sure what I'd guess it meant. But I'd probably assume it was a back-formation from 'hefty'.

    The noun from 'high' is 'height'. I've never heard 'heighth' and my computer's built in spellchecker (probably originally from the US) rejects it.

    I've also, incidentally, never heard of 'plating food'. Plating is something one does when building a ship or putting a thin layer of a more valuable metal over something made with a cheaper but probably stronger metal.

  8. How about "chunky" in AmE? Sure, it's used for peanut butter, but for people its a euphemism for overweight. As Dennis Miller said of Bill Clinton: "How can someone so chunky be so damn smooth?"

  9. Thank you for that depthy analysis!

  10. "Heighty" may not be a word, but heighth is one that is frequently used in high-end restaurants, especially when plating food.

    And, of course, Anthony Burgess uses heighth repeatedly in his dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange, always with respect to fashion, e.g.:

    "The four of us were dressed in the heighth of fashion, which in those days was a pair of black very tight tights with the old jelly mould, as we called it, fitting on the crutch underneath the tights ..."

    Kirk Poore: never heard Miller's witticism about Clinton. Very amusing!

  11. @Dru - "plating" food is restaurant-speak for dishing up, in the kind of restaurants where all your food is brought to you on one plate, usually sprinkled with parsley or criss-crossed with a dribble of some sauce or other which would probably be delicious if there were enough to actually taste....

  12. Dru: 'Plating food' is what is done in restaurant kitchens before the food is carried out to your table. It entails arranging the food items on the plate in a way that is pleasing to the eye.

    Eww....Heighth is a word that sounds unpleasant to my ears and I've only ever heard it used by people who also tend to say 'acrost' rather than across. The 'th' sound on the end of heighth seems absolutely unnecessary.

  13. The link in Laurie's post is not to the OED but to somebody quoting it. And they've missed out the interesting fact that height used to be the Northern preference. Heighth or highth

    'were abundant in southern writers till the 18th cent., and are still affected by some.'

  14. Of course "heft" is also an obsolete past tense for "heave" -- but not in the nautical sense (heave into view, heave to, etc) where it is (still) "hove", although many landlubbers have adopted that as the present tense when using it figuratively. It even emanated from the lips of the pedantic Will Self in a recent BBC Radio4 broadcast on the life of physicist James Clerk Maxwell when he spoke of a building "hoving into view", so I guess it has achieved a measure of respectability.

    Tim May: your comment suggests you are not aware that weight is directly proportional to mass: a hammer with twice the mass of another is also twice as heavy (and hefty?). Mass is a property of the matter composing the hammer, weight a measure (in Newtonian terms, at least) of the attractive force* between the hammer and the Earth. Although there is a more sophisticated, Einstenian, explanation of the relationship in terms of the curvature of the space-time continuum, it would not affect how you felt the hammer's heft; it would just create waves...

    *W = GMm/d^2 (d squared)
    W = weight of hammer
    G = the universal gravitational constant
    M = Earth's mass
    m = hammer's mass
    d = distance between their gravitational centres

    1. See also the (apocryphal but still funny) badly translated Japanese car rental brochure, the earliest reference to which seems to be a Canadian newspaper from the 1930s: "When passenger of foot hove in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at first, and if he continues to obstacle your passage tootle him with vigour." My mother was very taken with that and adopted "tootling melodiously" as slang for sounding a car horn in general.

  15. I knew someone in college who said 'heighth.' He also pronounced length without the g -- 'lenth.' But he grew up in a small town somewhere in the Fens, so it's a wonder he could speak English at all.

  16. People who say "heighth" also say "haitch".

  17. Zouk Delors: "Tim May: your comment suggests you are not aware that weight is directly proportional to mass: a hammer with twice the mass of another is also twice as heavy (and hefty?)."

    I suspect that he is rather referring to a combination of the inertia nad the moment arm of hammers (for example). The increased resistance to acceleration from the typical grip point of a hammer acts much like inertia in a practical way but is affected by size (specifically by handle length) and mass.

    So "heft" would refer to that sort of resistance to acceleration, not necessarily only to inertia.

    Pedantry: a game all can play. 8-)

  18. Zouk, your description of weight and mass reminds me of a difference, not so much linguistic than conceptual, that there seems to be between British and American.

    Back in the sixties, both in school physics and in an A-level topic called Applied Maths, we were taught the derivation of a system of units in mechanics. You start with Newton's laws, which says that force is directly proportional to the product of the mass and the acceleration of an object. Therefore, given a unit of mass and units of time and distance, you can define a unit of force, using the formula F=ma, taking the constant of proportionality as 1 for convenience. (Actually, in the sixties, we were still using P for force and f for velocity: P=mf.)

    We were still being taught in three different sets of units back then, the foot pound second (fps), the centimetre gram second (cgs) and the metre kilogram second (MKS). So, in MKS we have the Newton, the force needed to accelerate one kilogram mass at one metre per second per second. In cgs it's the dyne and in fps it's the poundal. From these units you can then define the units of work or energy. The Joule is the work done by one Newton acting over one metre, with the erg in cgs and the foot-poundal in fps.

    But in America, they seem to use the pound as a unit of force and work backwards to derive a slug as the unit of mass, the mass that one pound force accelerates at one foot per second per second. This is about 32 pounds mass in the British system. The unit of work or energy is the foot-pound.

    This can cause problems when discussing weight. I would say, "I weigh 16kg on the Moon." But on a newsgroup once, somebody said you can't say that as the kilogram is a unit of mass and weight is a force. Weight has to be given in Newtons. However, I was taught that weight is the force of gravity divided by a standard acceleration due to gravity, 32 feet per second per second or 9.81 metres per second per second, and is given in units with the same name as the unit of mass. To distinguish, if necessary, you say pounds weight or kilograms weight.

    Incidentally, there was a Mars probe that made a power dive into the Martian atmosphere a few years ago. Turned out that the rocket manufacturers were giving the thrust provided by their rockets in pounds force. The scientist steering the probe were assuming these figures were in Newtons.

  19. Mars Climate Orbiter 1999

    However, on September 23, 1999, communication with the spacecraft was lost as the spacecraft went into orbital insertion, due to ground-based computer software which produced output in non-SI units of pound-seconds (lbf s) instead of the metric units of newton-seconds (N s) specified in the contract between NASA and Lockheed. The spacecraft encountered Mars on a trajectory that brought it too close to the planet, causing it to pass through the upper atmosphere and disintegrate.

    The poundal-as-force, pound-as-mass system is contrasted with an alternative system in which pounds are used as force (pounds-force), and instead, the mass unit is rescaled by a factor of roughly 32. That is, one pound-force will accelerate one pound-mass at 32 feet per second squared; we can scale up the unit of mass to compensate, which will be accelerated by 1 ft/s2 (rather than 32 ft/s2) given the application of one pound force; this gives us a unit of mass called the slug, which is about 32 pounds mass.

  20. Doug Sundseth:

    I suspect you're right; that occurred (Am: occured?) to me soon after I posted. Still, pedantry: what larks!

    Paul Dormer:

    By the time I came to Physics, in the sixties in the UK, MKS had been adopted as the official units prescribed in the school syllabus, cgs having fairly recently stopped being the "modern system".

    I suppose the Mars mission underlines the importance of mutual understanding between us speakers of "a common language". Although metric measures are the official norm in the UK, imperial units are still very widely used by the general public and one sees such anomalies as groceries such as coffee sold in, e.g., "227gram" (1/2lb) packages.

    Btw, the Cassini Saturn mission is going to make a similar (?) dive to the planet's surface at mission end, so let's hope the scientists learnt the lesson!

  21. Spelling things wrong doesn't make them American! :P

  22. By the time I went to school in the US (late 4th grade in 1991), all physics was done in metric (kg / meter / second), though we had to convert the initial units in word problems from other metric units (grams, km, hours), but not imperial units if I remember correctly. As for slugs, don't recall ever using those. Pound was good enough until Physics where like I said, we used metric.

    Back in Russia we used kilograms for weight (force) as well as mass, abbreviating it kG instead of KG for mass. This unit was not used in physics, but only in general parlance.

  23. Back to the original words - hefty seems to describe something really substantial with a good deal of inertia. Gosh, that has heft - it is difficult to budge.

    Weighty, on the other hand, seems just heavy, but it can be used metaphorically to refer to speech or words, unlike hefty.

  24. Lynne:

    Heh! Heh! Were you referring (Am: refering?) to "occured"? I had the idea there was a "rule" that final l or r is doubled in -ing and -ed verb forms in British spelling but not American.


    Looking again at your problem with weight on the moon: 9.81m/s/s is only the acceleration due to gravity on Earth; it's less on the Moon because the Moon is smaller. Your mass remains the same, but the acceleration due to gravity is less (~1.6m/s/s), so you feel lighter (less pressure on the feet, standing) and so do objects when lifted. (A hammer would still need the same effort to accelerate it horizontally, though: Tim May's "heft", above -- possibly). When we speak of our "weight in kg", we mean the gravitational force which acts on a mass of so many kg here on Earth (also known, technically, as "kilogram-force" or kgf ... I think); so you could properly say: "On the Moon I would weigh only as much as16kg does on Earth" (assuming a weight on Earth of about 100kg ) ... and if you took a set of kg bathroom scales with you, they should confirm that.

  25. I finally looked up heft in the OED. They take a different line from John Cowan (the very first comment above).

    They recognise the same process leading to weft, but consider heft to be a late formation by analogy with weave~weft, possibly also influenced by the word heavy.

    Theft, which John also mentions, is different in two ways: the vowel is different from that of weave and heave; more interestingly, the final consonant wasn't originally /t/.

    It used to be thiefth, like depth, width, breadth and, indeed, heighth. But although our ancestors had no trouble with fifth, they just couldn't get their tongues around /fθ/ in *thefth.

    In most accents of English, /θ/ (the THE sound in thick) is easy to pronounce before or after a vowel sound. But none of us can easily pronounce it before a consonant sound, and some have difficulty after consonant sounds.

    Hence the frequent difficulty with heighth and the blanket difficulty with thefth. And hence the more widespread difficulty with ⅙ .

    I know from my time as an English teacher how difficult this is for foreigners, but listen to the middle of Desert Island Discs. Just occasionally, Kirsty Young manages to ask about your sixth record, but most weeks it's /sikθ/ (SICK-TH).

  26. American has a regular consonant-doubling rule. British gets weird about L. See here.

  27. Cheers, Lynne -- now I'm really confused!

  28. "It should be hooted" made me giggle.

  29. Zouk, leave aside any rationales or generalities — at least for now.

    Just think of — let's say — fur and sure. They don't rhyme. There's no room for confusion.

    It's no different basically when you have two verbs like occur and obscure.

    But that difference gets clouds over when you add inflections: occurring, occurred, obscuring, obscured.

    It looks as if we simply double the R for obscur- forms. And yes that could be the sort of thing that might be done in British spelling and not American. Fortunately that's not the case, so you don't have to learn two spellings.

    The CURR element is from the Latin word meaning 'run' and the spelling is constant in all words with this source: current, curriculum, incurring etc. The only spelling rule to learn (very easily) is that CURR becomes CUR at the end of a word; hence occur, incur, concur.

    Now fur and furry might seem to call for a different explanation, but they don't really. Fur came from Old French forre, which is related to Modern French fourrure. The English spelling was furre, then furr before finally changing to fur in the eighteenth century.

    I suppose we could have changed the spelling of the -y adjectives as well — except that the spelling fury is reserved for something else; the word meaning 'rage' and rhyming with jury.

  30. David:

    Thanks for that, but it wasn't really what I found confusing. The idea that a vowel after a single consonant gives the preceding vowel a "long" pronunciation (and the implications for "-ing" and "-ed" forms) was one I received whilst still a nipper. The best rule-of-thumb I took from the post Lynne directed me to was in respect of where the stress lies in a word -- a rule I clearly breached with my "Am: occured" and "refering". The confusion actually arose from the many exceptions highlighted in the comments ("focussing" etc). I was also convinced by that post that e.g. "travelling" is irrational and the American way makes more sense.

    PS I wish to coin a " -y" adjective from "cur", to mean "in the manner of a dog" and rhyming with "furry". How do you suggest I spell it?

  31. David Crosbie: There's a bit of a problem in your examples, in that they rely upon your pronunciations.

    For example, in my dialect, "fur" and "sure" are very tight rhymes. And "occur" and "obscure" rhyme almost exactly as well as "fury" and "jury" (which is to say, "loosely").

    And it's not as though RP represents all British dialects better than American Talking Head represents all American dialects.

    English spelling (all sorts) arises from a collection of historical accidents, planned patterns, changes in fashions for importation from other languages, changes in transliteration preferences, geographical divergence and convergence, etc. that is impossible to completely rationalize.

  32. Doug, the argument still stands without the appeal to pronunciation.

    Stems with -RR- spelling have single -R when word final.

    This is true for British spelling and American spelling. There is, of course, a connection with how the words used to be pronounced, but not necessarily with any contemporary pronunciation.

  33. Zouk

    Cur is like fur; it used to be spelled curr.

    There's no adjective formed with -Y, but there used to be a word formed with -Y suffix meaning 'for the dogs', specifically the portion of a hunters' kill that was fed to the hounds.

    It was spelled as you might well expect: curry.

  34. David

    Ah! Interesting word (and one that reminds me I once knew the word for a forester's [right to his] portion of the fruits of the forest, now forgotten again).

    It is in my Chambers as curry(3) (after the dish and what grooms do to horses) along with currie, being an obsolete form of quarry(2) -- in turn an obsolete word for "a deer's entrails on a hide, given to the dogs". Unfortunately, no pronunciation is given. Do you say it rhymed with "furry" (unlike the other curries, in my accent at least)?


    Would that be a variety of Scottish accent, then?

  35. Zouk

    Alas! the etymologies of curry and cur are entirely different. Curry is from Old French; cur is Germanic. It was a nice thought.

    I suppose there could have been a bit of folk etymology. They could have decided that the French word was in fact a derivation of curr and spelled it accordingly.

    Both curry and quarry are from variants in Old French based on the word for hide (cuir in Modern French) because what the dogs got was the unwanted entrails served on the animal's hide. Of course, quarry almost completely lost this meaning.

    (The quarry you get stone from is a different word. As is the quarry that's a diagonal window pane of a square tile.)

    Could your forgotten word be turbary? This was, and still is in the New Forest, the right to cut turf for fuel.

  36. Doug Sundseth

    For example, in my dialect, "fur" and "sure" are very tight rhymes.

    How about occurring and obscuring?

  37. David:

    No, not turbary. It was a limited exception, accorded to Foresters, from the Norman Forest Laws (more about which here and here, and which the Forester was appointed to enforce). It included the right to hunt as well as gather, as I recall, and possibly to cut wood, all of which were generally the sole prerogative of the King.

  38. Zouk Delours: My accent is a bit complex, given that my family moved quite a bit when I was young, but it's mostly a western US accent, so sure and fur are both quite flat.

    David Crosbie: The for me, occurring and obscuring are loose rhymes. The sound of the "u" is different, but not wildly so.

  39. "One would craft a salad in a way to give the leaves and toppings enough loft to give them "heighth,""

    Presumably if they have a certain amount of "loft" they could be called lofty, which doesn't seem to have been mentioned in this discussion yet, but seems to fit in a loose set with hefty, weighty and lengthy. As a heightier-than-average man it's one I've heard a few times.

  40. Doug Sundseth

    Let's not lose sight of the spelling issue we began with.

    For most speakers, the URR vs URE spelling distinction is a handy mnemonic which chimes with pronunciation. Even in your accent the parallel distinctions exist in some form — except when the sound is word-final.

    The spelling shows a good deal more regularity than you suggest and a closer relationship to pronunciation.

    • Basically the UR~URR spellings reflect the time when English spelling regularised:
    — UR for 'long U' + R
    — URR for 'short U' + R (a special case of U + CONSONANT + CONSONANT)

    • By a spelling change RR was reduced to R at the end of a word. (With exceptions like purr.)

    • By a sound change 'short U' changed to merge with other short vowels before R in the NURSE sound. In most contexts, that is, but not before a vowel sound within the stem.

    obscure — 'long U' (GOOSE vowel) + R
    occur — NURSE sound
    occurrence — 'short U' (STRUT vowel) + R

    All of this took place before RP emerged as an accent, and before English speakers crossed the Atlantic.

    In Britain, if I understand correctly, pretty well all accents retain that three-way distinction, even 'rhotic' accents like Irish, Scottish and West of England — that is to say accents which don't 'drop their Rs'. Some Irish accents may fail to have a distinct NURSE sound. And some East of England accents may have a CURE sound like a NURSE sound. But most accents follow the same pattern — not necessarily through any influence by RP.

    Such is what I understand from John Wells' Accents of English. In the same work he posits the same three-way split for the reference accent General American: different vowels in
    — STRUT words with URR+VOWEL spelling within the stem
    — NURSE words URR (or UR+CONSONANT) spelling elsewhere — as well as word-final UR spelling
    — CURE words with UR+VOWEL spelling

    He relates how American accents may modify the sound of CURE words and others that combine 'long VOWEL' + R. One such modification is the way your accent pronounces CURE words.

  41. For most speakers, the URR vs URE spelling distinction is a handy mnemonic which chimes with pronunciation. Even in your accent the parallel distinctions exist in some form — except when the sound is word-final.

    I think this is highly debatable for most American accents. The biggest issue, I think, is that for Americans in general, the STRUT vowel is not nearly as high and back (I think I have that right) as it is for British speakers. As a result, the distinction you are focusing on is not nearly as strong.

    No doubt there are regional differences, but I can easily hear (in my head) an American speaker for whom the vowels in STRUT/NURSE/CURE are just about the same (rhoticity complicates matters, of course).

  42. David L

    rhoticity complicates matters, of course

    Actually, no. I can't find any significant difference between rhotic and non-rhotic accents. If anything, rhoticity simplifies matters. Some speakers of rhotic Scottish and Irish accents have only two vowels here — descendants of Middle English short and long U.

    I'll read John Wells' account more closely, but my reading so far is that he recognises these three distinctions in most American accents.

    The biggest issue, I think, is that for Americans in general, the STRUT vowel is not nearly as high and back ... as it is for British speakers.

    But this not an issue at all. Differences between accents are totally irrelevant. All that matters is whether or not the vowels (or vowel+R combinations) are the same or different within a given accent.

  43. Hmmm...In my California accent, STRUT cannot be followed by an r. Sure and nurse have the same vowel. Sure and shirr are perfect homophones. Cure is usually different only in having a little y after the c (kyerr) although I might rarely pronounce it with a long u. I'd normally use the same "err" vowel in obscure and occur, but not in tour. And being a Californian, I do sometimes say "fer sure." It rhymes that way, although I'm just as likely to shorten it to "f'sure."

  44. Doug, David,, Julie

    What John Wells concludes is that:

    • in General American
    CURE words have a different vowel from the GOOSE vowel

    'throughout the northern and north midland parts of the General American area'
    it's the FOOT vowel — transcribed ʊr

    'the south midland [of the area] (like the south)'
    usually has the GOAT vowel — like FORCE words (but not NORTH words, which is strange to many BrE speakers)
    transcribed or

    'Another possibility is' [He doesn't specific a region]
    'is for CURE words to have the NURSE vowel; this seems particularly common with the words your and sure, so that surely becomes a homophone of Shirley /ˈʃɜri/'

    The discussion on this blog might suggest that that last possibility is more common than John Wells supposed — or has become more common. Or you might just be an unrepresentative sample.

    Anyway, in his summary of vowel+R in General American he recognises six sound-combinations reduced by mergers from eight

    ɪrnear, spirit (two sounds in my accent)
    ɛrfairy, fairy, marry (three sounds in my accent
    ɑrbar, sorry (two sounds in my accent)
    ɔrwar, bore, orange (two sounds in my accent)
    ʊryou're, poor (one sound in my accent but two in conservative RP)
    əʴ [r-coloured ə] — current, furry (two sounds in my accent)

    For this who have followed everything apart from the symbols,
    ə is the obscure little vowel sound at the end of of the word comma
    'r-coulo(u)red' means that you hold your tongue ready to make a following r-sound, but then don't actually make it

    For many or few American speakers — John Wells may be misleading about the proportion —

    Combination ʊr corresponds to UR spellings (as well as to unrelated words with different spellings)

    Combination əʴ corresponds to URR spellings and word-final UR spellings (as well as to unrelated words with different spellings)

  45. Those six sound about right to me. I don't use ʊr in either of those words, but I do use it in tour and lure. For me, to use anything other than the NURSE vowel in words like cure is to hyperpronounce them--not completely impossible, but not usual, either. Sure with ʊr is very obviously a regional thing...when I hear that I think "you're not from here, are you?"

  46. Julie:

    That's odd: I would have expected (but what would I know?) lure and cure to rhyme in any accent, as they do in mine (Southern England). Sure is a special case, where the combination of initial s followed by the effective "y" sound has degenerated into a "sh", as in sugar. In fact, in my accent sure sounds the same as shore (and Shaw, being non-rhotic).

    Hope my pseudo-phonetics work,, as I'm not too good with IPA, and wouldn't know how to produce the characters here anyway.

  47. Zouk

    Only highly trained phoneticians and dialect specialists should write about accents until Joh Wells made it possible for the rest of us with his invention of lexical sets.

    These are collections of words which — on the whole — have the same vowel sound (or diphthong or combination with R) in any given accent.

    That qualification one the whole is necessary because some words stray from the expected lexical set in one or other accent. The most common variation in the SURE lexical set is a handful of words with OUR spelling Bourbon, bourgeois, tournament, tourney, tourniquet which shift to the NURSE set for many American speakers.

    Your pronunciation of sure is like mine. In many accents of England OO-uh is shifting towards AW. The 'yod' (little Y-sound) in sure isn't responsible. The same thing happens when moor sounds like more. For me, and I think for many speakers, the trend is resisted with the word dour. OK, some people make it rhyme with hour but I (and I think many others) say DOOuh, not DAW (my pronunciation of door — unless of course followed by a vowel).

  48. We seem to be straying ever further from the original topic, but I just want to say that for me (born and raised in Southern England starting in the late 50s) moor/more and dour/hour have always been perfect homophones. DOO-uh for dour sounds Scottish to me (although any true Scotsman would make something of the 'r'), and MOO-uh for moor sounds, I'm afraid, both antique and somewhat affected.

    On American pronunciation of your examples, I can't imagine anyone saying 'bourgeois' with the NURSE vowel -- it rhymes with COARSE for most people, I would say. Of course, it's not a word I hear very often, although that may change under President Sanders.

  49. Definitely "hour" and "dour"; for me, I say "moor" slightly differently on its own than when I say Dartmoor or Exmoor.

  50. I fear I am going senile - I don't at all rhyme hour and dour; I pronounce dour to rhyme with moor.... blame the leap year or something.

  51. I don't pronounce 'moor' either 'moo-uh' (I think that's Yorkshire) or 'mew-er' and 'mure' both of which I think might be Scots. But I'm not sure whether I pronounce it quite the same as 'more' or not. Someone would have to listen to me. I think I usually pronounce 'dour' the same way as 'doer' rather than 'hour'.

  52. The 'yod' (little Y-sound) in sure isn't responsible.

    I take that back, I think.

    The more I think of it, the surer I am that yod in GOOSE and SURE words is associated (mostly) with the spelling U+single consonant + vowel — including, of course., the spelling URE. Not in all accents, of course, but surely in the accent shared (with minor variations) by David L, Mrs Redboots and me.

    This could be a superficial effect of allowing the visual spelling to affect our inner ear. I prefer to think that it's a deep-seated reflection of the history of English sounds.

    Broadly speaking, my GOOSE set divides into what I'll call a COOT set and CUTE set. And my SURE set divides into POOR set and a PURE set.

    COOT words include move, prove, loose, whose but most of them are spelled with OO or OU or OUGH
    In my accent, none of these have a preceding yod, except, of course, when there's a Y spelling you, youth

    CUTE words are mostly spelled with U+single consonant + vowel, but also include spellings in EU (feud etc) EW (few etc), UI (nuisance etc), IEW (view etc) and EAU (beauty etc).
    In my accent the majority of these have a yod. Like many speakers I drop the yod
    • after palatal consonants e.g. chew, chute
    • after R e.g. rude, crew
    • after consonant+L e.g. blue, blew, glue
    I also have no yod in suit

    POOR words we are spelled with OOR or OUR.
    No yod sound, unless there's a regular Y as in your.

    PURE words are spelled URE word finally or UR+vowel within a word.
    In my accent, as with GOOSE words, there's a yod except
    • after palatal consonants e.g. insurance, adjure
    • after R e.g. Truro
    • after consonant+L e.g. plural

    In my accent, it's the POOR words which tend towards the FORCE-NORTH sound. So for me poor, pour and pore are homophones, along with paw provided that it's not followed by a vowel. All, at least they're homophones in casual speech; I suspect I may sometimes make a distinction in careful speech.

    However, the PURE words are, on the whole, resistant in my accent to any tendency towards AW. So I stand by my original claim that words like obscure with URE spelling have a predictably different vowel from words with URR spelling.

    There is one exception to all this. Like David L, I treat sure not (usually) as a PURE word but as POOR word.

    As for dour, It's easy to assign a spelling pronunciation which makes it homophonous with dower. Otherwise, there's a pressure in accents like mine to make it sound like door and (with the usual reservations) daw. This somehow doesn't attract. And the adjective almost always goes with the noun Scot (or so it seems). So a Scottish-like pronunciation sound appropriate.

    Personally, I don't mind if my moor sounds like more, but I can see why some speakers like to make the distinction— which I take to be Mrs Redboots' motivation. Or do you have the same vowel (with and without yod) in POOR and PURE, Annabel?

  53. Does anyone in Britain pronounce 'poor' and 'pure' the same? I'm not even sure Bernard Matthews of the turkeys would. The vowel in 'Poor' is either as in paw (with or without an 'r') or a quick 'oo-uh', no yod. The vowel in 'pure' is as though it were spelt 'pyure'. There may well be some places where it's pronounced 'poo-uh' but would any of them be the same places as pronounce 'poor' that way rather than 'paw', or even 'pah'?

  54. David, when you wrote:
    "In my accent, it's the POOR words which tend towards the FORCE-NORTH sound. So for me poor, pour and pore are homophones, along with paw provided that it's not followed by a vowel."

    I got a chuckle out of this one, since I also say poor, pour, and pore alike. But I'm pretty confident I don't say them like you say them. And, with my last name, I kind of think I have a dog in this fight.:) (And "paw" is nothing like them.)

  55. David Crosbie asked: Or do you have the same vowel (with and without yod) in POOR and PURE, Annabel?

    Absolutely not, one rhymes with "more" or "door", and the other with "manure" (sorry, simply couldn't think of another rhyme - "mature", perhaps?

  56. Dru

    John Wells gives only a brief description of East Anglian accents.

    Many speakers there say pure the same as purr, and I expect that includes Bernard Matthews. (It sound like the way you and I say purr.)

    I'm not sure whether poor sounds the same. I think they say it like paw. I've got recordings of folk singers from there. I'll see if I can hear anything relevant.

  57. I've just heard a caller from Newcastle talking to Jeremy Vine on BBC Radio2's news and views show (~12.55 GMT http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006wr3p -- may only be available in the UK), talking about how footballer Adam Johnson broke the law when he used his celebrity to lure a fifteen-year-old. The caller pronounced the first almost exactly how Vine pronounced the second!

  58. Zouk, John Wells has a sort section on Geordie. He relates...

    Tyneside used to have but has lost the 'Northumbrian burr' — a pronunciation of R back in the throat It's like French R but without the trill. Also it's like German R but more laid back. The burr affected sound like NURSE and CURE before it was dropped with the result that
    work sounds a bit like RP fork, similarly FAWST (first, SHAWT (shirt)
    cure ends in a WAH sound

    But perhaps that caller's lure had a NURSE vowel — the same as work, first, short above.

    Only some THOUGHT words are pronounced AH as in the Geordie joke

    DOCTOR Do you think you can walk a little?
    GEORDIE WAWK? I can hardly WAHK, man!

    So it's possible that the caller pronounced law as LAH.

    However, my interpretation of what he said is

    The lowest of the low is that

    And sure enough, John Wells gives ʊə as one of the possibilities for a Geordie GOAT vowel. And those two symbols ʊə are what we'd use to represent Jeremy Vines's pronunciation of lure.

    (Yes, I know the people of Sunderland aren't Geordies, but that caller proclaimed himself a Newcastle supporter.)

  59. Hmm.. yes, listening again, I think he said, "that's the lowest of the lowest, that". I'd received it originally as "the law's the law", so apologies if I've wasted anyone's time.

    (Yes, a Newcastle supporter in Sunderland would at best be run out of town in five minutes; the caller was definitely a Geordie, not a Maccam).

  60. "Heighth", "acrost", "haitch" ... also "chimley" (for "chimney"). These were all usages of my parents when I was growing up in Hampshire in the Fifties. They gave me yet another reason to be snotty about my parents.

  61. Back to the thread...

    To heft a tool often means to test its balance on picking it up, maybe shaking it or tossing it carefully and moving it up or down the hand so that it can be wielded, or handled.

    The heft of a tool is its handle, but really only used about heavy tools.

    You can heft something in the sense of heave: I'm thinking hammers, axes, spades. It can shade into throw: "He hefted it onto the roof."

    A person may be hefty: possibly used to describe well-built women.


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