Consonant Cluster Ice Cream

It’s time I commented on an alarming trend. Not only are we Americans more sedentary and obese than ever, nowadays we even have lazy tongues. You’d think with all the public exercise they get they’d be regular Jack la Langues, but no, they’re slacking off just like the rest of us. And written English is feeling the effect.

I’m talking, of course, about the increasing tendency towards consonant cluster reduction. When some pairs of words are run together quickly, the tongue must be particularly nimble if it is going to articulate the connection properly. Particularly difficult are dentals running into dentals, as in “iced tea”, and sibilants joining sibilants, as in “chef’s salad”. But others are tricky as well.

What most people do in conversational speech is simply to eliminate one consonant. “Iced tea” then sounds like “ice tea”. What I’ve been noticing the past few years, though, is how casually we are altering the written language as well. “Box set” has almost completely replaced “boxed set”. I see “Chef Salad” on every coffeeshop menu. “Whip Cream”. “Can Tuna”. “Broil T-bone Steak”. “Handicap Facilities”. It all looks downright illiterate to me.

There’s nothing that can be done, of course. This is what happens to languages. It only bothers the old folks, mostly, or usage curmudgeons. And me.

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  1. chloe says

    We just talked about something very similar in my linguistic anthropology class; it probably would have driven you crazy. I’m bringing you a book when I come home, it’s called Language Myths, and you’ll probably hate it. You’re going to read it anyway.

    Posted February 10, 2006 at 1:32 am | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Sounds interesting, Chloe, and I look forward to reading it!

    Posted February 10, 2006 at 9:19 pm | Permalink