Thursday, May 23, 2019

Where's my R?

Where’s my R?

We English speakers aren’t very good at keeping track of our Rs. 

Sometimes we lose our Rs through regional dialects. Though Bostonians are famous for dropping their Rs, R-dropping (known in linguistic circles as non-rhoticity) happens in various dialectical ways throughout Britain, the American northeast, the American South, India, Australia, & New Zealand. 

And - over time - we lose our Rs in standard English.

Curse showed up in Old English meaning to wish evil. By the 1300s it picked up the meaning to swear profanely or blasphemously. By the 1800s, that tricky R faded away in what was considered a “vulgar” pronunciation of curse, & voila! The word cuss was born.

Also appearing in Old English was the word burst, to shatter suddenly as a result of pressure from within. Then somehow in 1806 we lost track of that R & found ourselves using the word bust to mean exactly what the word burst means.

The Old English word meaning the tail end of an animal, was arse. In time, this word broadened to mean the tail end of anything/anyone. When it ran up against ass, the entirely unrelated word initially meaning donkey, a bit of a smash-up occurred, & they somehow became synonyms, giving us what appears to be one more lost R.

The word parcel came to English in the 1400s from Latin through French, meaning a small portion of something. Soon, it picked up the meaning a  piece of real estate, or a lot. It appears there may have been some confusion with that meaning a lot, as soon afterward, parcel began to not only mean a small portion, but also a large number. Then after a century or two parcel lost its R, giving us the word passel (a bunch) in 1835.

Thanks for coming by, & thanks to those of you who comment. I still can’t comment on my own blog, but please know I’m in the apparently long, drawn out process of addressing the issue.


  1. It's interesting that even though the words without the "R's" came into use, the originals are still used. Well...maybe not "arse", but maybe it should be.

  2. Passel is such a great word. I think it deserves to be used more often. :-)