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Of psychology, ptarmigans and psittacosis

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tetsabb
1246936.  Mon Aug 28, 2017 11:34 am Reply with quote

How many of us pronounce the 'p' in any of these words?
Should we?
Why has the 'p' become psilent over the years?
suze?
Anyone?

 
crissdee
1246957.  Mon Aug 28, 2017 2:16 pm Reply with quote

psuze?

 
suze
1246962.  Mon Aug 28, 2017 4:14 pm Reply with quote

Sounds almost Wodehousian!

Most words in <pn>, <ps>, and <pt> are ultimately from Greek, and in Greek there is a /p/ sound at the beginning. In English there is not and never has been, basically because the "rules" of English phonology don't allow a word to start /pn/, /ps/, or /pt/. Some of these words have been in use in English for five hundred years by now, and it is perhaps surprising that the silent <p> hasn't disappeared from the spelling.

Ptarmigan is a special case, though. This is a Scottish Gaelic word (tarmachan = a ptarmigan), and the silent <p> is utterly spurious. As far as we can tell, some Oxford chaps in about 1680 thought it would be a wizard wheeze to put in the unnecessary letter by analogy with Greek, and somehow it stuck. The first edition of the OED went so far as to call it "silly", but it's still there.

 
Bondee
1247147.  Wed Aug 30, 2017 10:52 am Reply with quote

Why has no one ever heard a pterodactyl go to the toilet?

<answer whited below>

Because they're extinct.

 
tetsabb
1247394.  Fri Sep 01, 2017 1:14 pm Reply with quote

A ptarmigan was also a firearm favoured by Mobsters during Prohibition in the USA, wasn't it?

 
tetsabb
1302431.  Thu Nov 08, 2018 1:23 pm Reply with quote

Having just watched the 'Piecemeal' episode, I wondered if any of the above conversation, albeit brief, inspired a few minutes of silliness on the show.
And isn't Giles Brandreth annoying, yet entertaining at the same time?

 
GuyBarry
1302436.  Thu Nov 08, 2018 1:41 pm Reply with quote

suze wrote:

Ptarmigan is a special case, though. This is a Scottish Gaelic word (tarmachan = a ptarmigan), and the silent <p> is utterly spurious. As far as we can tell, some Oxford chaps in about 1680 thought it would be a wizard wheeze to put in the unnecessary letter by analogy with Greek, and somehow it stuck.


Supposedly by a false association with pteron, meaning "wing" (as in "pterodactyl"). This always strikes me as unconvincing - why didn't it become "ptermigan" in that case?


Last edited by GuyBarry on Thu Nov 08, 2018 2:00 pm; edited 1 time in total

 
GuyBarry
1302438.  Thu Nov 08, 2018 1:44 pm Reply with quote

tetsabb wrote:
Isn't [Gyles] Brandreth annoying, yet entertaining at the same time?


Have you really only just noticed? :-)

 
tetsabb
1302452.  Thu Nov 08, 2018 2:56 pm Reply with quote

I have had that view of him for decades. One minute, laughing at his bizarre tales and use of the language, the next, wanting to punch his lights out.

 
GuyBarry
1302454.  Thu Nov 08, 2018 3:08 pm Reply with quote

Well he's made a career out of it. When he stood in for Nicholas Parsons as chairman of a couple of episodes of Just a Minute earlier this year I thought he was the perfect choice.

 

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