Clamoring and Clambering

By Maeve Maddox

Paul Russell calls our attention to confusion between the verbs clamor [klăm’ər] and clamber.[klăm’bər].

I just found the phrase “F1’s sponsors were clambering for a presence in the USA.”

One “clamors” for attention or, in this case, for a presence.

Used as both noun and verb, clamor comes from Latin clamor, “a shout.”

As a noun, clamor means

Loud shouting or outcry, vociferation; esp. the excited outcry of vehement appeal, complaint, or opposition: commonly, but not always, implying a mingling of voices.

As an intransitive verb, clamor means

To make a clamour; to shout, or utter loud and continued cries or calls; to raise an outcry, make a noise or din of speech. Said of persons, animals, and instruments of noise.

Clamber, on the other hand, is related to the verb climb. It means

To climb by catching hold with hands and feet; to creep or crawl up (or down); to climb with difficulty and effort.

Speakers who apparently make no distinction in the pronunciation of the the two words substitute clamber for clamor in contexts intended to convey the idea that people are making an outcry over something.

As the most outspoken yoga advocates clamber for more recognition in the scientific community, it is they who become so much more sure of their own beliefs.

The Girl Scout troops that cover Celina, Prosper and Frisco schools are clambering for members this year.

As we mentioned in our last email, after our speech at Mike’s event, we were surrounded by rings of people clambering for more information…

There are many voices out there today, each one clambering for our attention.

She was making a nice little profit on it and kept selling stuff she wasn’t planning on it because people were clambering for more.

It’s not a surprise that Europeans and Americans are clambering for Asian elements.

Even if one pronounces both words as /klăm’ər/, it’s easy to choose the correct one.

Try substituting the word climb or call and see which one makes more sense:

There are many voices out there today, each one climbing for our attention.
There are many voices out there today, each one calling for our attention.

If “climb” makes sense in the context, clamber is the word you want.
If “call” makes more sense, clamor is the word you want.

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5 Responses to “Clamoring and Clambering”

  • Kathryn

    I was stunned to run across this confusion (which I had never seen before, making it even more horrifying) in Sue Grafton’s latest novel:

    “Climping Academy was richly endowed, and from the day the doors opened, the well-to-do parents in Horton Ravine clambered to enroll their kids.”
    from “U is for Undertow”

    Now, Ms. Grafton produces exceptionally literate and engaging prose for a genre fictionist, and I have been an ardent fan ever since “A is for Alibi.” This isn’t to derogate her, but more as an observation that even Homer nods. . .

    Mind you, a friend of mine suggested that possibly there was actual clambering (out of Horton Ravine) involved, but Ms. Grafton is a sufficiently competent prose stylist so that we can be confident that if she had meant something that odd, she would have made it clear. I think this is just one of those monumentally embarrasssing lapses in proofing. Ouch, ouch , ouch, ouch! Hot coals!

  • Katie

    This usage always makes me giggle.

    ‘As we mentioned in our last email, after our speech at Mike’s event, we were surrounded by rings of people clambering for more information…’

    This makes me think of people climbing over one another in a desperate attempt to get at the information. To be honest I don’t mind the use of the wrong word in sentences like these because the mental image is that much funnier.

    But you won’t catch me using the wrong one…

  • The Real Mr Fish

    I always think that ‘clambering’ sounds like the parties are in a big pile, clambering to get on top of each other.

    That works, for me.

  • Robin

    THANK YOU for this article. I was very well aware of the difference between meanings but just could NOT come up with the correct spelling of “clamor”. LOL I had it “clammor/clamour/clammer<that was a mistake!" and Spellcheck was NO help!

    I appreciate that the original author took the time to write this post. 😀

  • Robin

    I’m sad. I left a very complimentary comment on this site and it’s been deleted. Quite odd.

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