Cluster Luster   Leave a comment


Some words are more fun to say than others. That’s just a fact. It sprinkles flavor into a phrase when you say “snatch” instead of “catch” or “scream” instead of “shout”.

One way to achieve such an effect is to use flashy consonant clusters, which is just when you put two consonant sounds together like the “tr-” in “trump” as opposed to the singular “b-” in “bump” (note: “chump” starts with two consonants, but they fuse into one symbiotic sound, and so is not considered a consonant cluster, but a digraph). I want to explore the use of consonant clusters as it occurs at the beginning of words with the purpose of spicing up phonetic appeal.

Here, listed in bold is a quick alphabetic list of consonant clusters that occur at the beginning of words (some can also occur at the end of words, all can occur in the middle): blue, brick, click, cram, drip, flip, frail, glee, growl, pluck, prance, qu(/kw)ick, scold, screech, slick, smash, snap, spell, spring, squeak, stack, stream, swat, trick, twin.

I think these consonant clusters really add a dazzle factor to the monosyllabic words shown above, generating a snappy and slick effect. The letters “l” and “r” are the most common second consonants in these consonant clusters making them overall less spectacular. The especially high-wattage consonant clusters to me are the “s-” family, especially the “sn-” and “sm” clusters. The letter “s” is a very versatile and smooth sounding letter to begin with and the effects of the clusters in “snarl” or “smolder” impress me.

Consonant clusters allow you to pack more phonemes into a syllable, but in general, the number of syllables should be limited. Punctuated monosyllabic interjections or punchy adjectives constitute the consonant cluster fun zone. Disyllabic words like “snuggle” and “sparkle” can still benefit from consonant clusters, but multi-syllabic words with multiple consonant clusters such as “claustrophobia” become a burden for the tongue and lack phonetic grace. Limit the syllable count and number of consonant clusters per word to maintain the edge they provide.

Deft use of consonant clusters, especially in smaller words, give your vocabulary some attitude and help provide a slicker flavor. They aren’t necessarily tools to increase the literary depth of your term paper, but can add flashy emphasis to parts you want to highlight. Remember that overall, consonant clusters are most effective in spoken speech and can appear more comic-bookie or A.D.D. in print. Representing a conflict as a clash or an obstacle as a snare help keep down the syllables and keep up the ear-catching consonant clusters. So remember to smack things instead of merely defeating them and to do with with spunk as opposed to merely with energy. Alright, I’ve snagged enough of your time, span out and put those consonant clusters to use.

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Posted April 11, 2010 by Wada in Uncategorized

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