This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Nuts and Bolts: what became of the donkey donkey donkey...?

So, just why don't donkey and monkey rhyme?

Now, it looks as if monkey is the odd word here, but that's actually the wrong way round.

When you think about it, although we're told that an o gives you a sound as in pot, it really doesn't, a lot of the time.

Think of all the very common words like come, done, honey, money, monk, one, some, son, ton, tongue, won, and lots and lots more where the o sounds like - well, like a u as in fun.

Or, more to the point, as in dun.

Yes, the chances are that a donkey is so named because of its dull colour (and perhaps also because its old name, ass, now sounds a bit rude).

Now, this word, donkey was pronounced dunky to start with. But then it changed.

My guess is that this happened because donkey is quite a new word - it only appeared in the 18th century - and so lots of people came across it first in print, and they pronounced the o as, well, an o, without realising it was following a different rule.

So anyway, why are all those common words with o s in them pronounced as if they contain u s?

Well, it's all the fault of the monks. Oh yes. You see, they invented an astonishingly beautiful form of handwriting. It was real work of art, and the only slight problem with it was that no one could read it.

 It was all straight lines and zigzags, you see, and in it a u was so similar to an m or an n that in the end they were forced to use o s instead of u s after those letters to make the thing readable.

I suppose it'd be sensible to change all these spellings back, now -but then we do seem to be getting on quite all right as we are, and it'd upset the poor pedants just dreadfully, so I suppose we're stuck.

Word To Pronounce In The Modern Way Today: donkey.

I've already said where this word comes from, but shall just note that one of my daughters, when small, wanting to cast off the childish doggy and birdy sort of thing, insisted for a some time in calling this creature a donk.

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