Gollum, Epenthesis, and Haplology

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As I watched holiday re-runs of the Lord of the Rings movies, I wondered if there might be a term for the way Gollum adds syllables to words.

Note: Gollum is a fictional character in The Hobbit and its sequels by J. R. R. Tolkien. In Peter Jackson’s movies, Gollum is played brilliantly by Andy Serkis.

Gollum frequently adds a sound or syllable to words, especially plurals. For example:

Sneaky little hobbitses.
Put out his eyeses, make him crawl.
What has it got in its nasty little pocketses?
Master tricksed us. 
Wicked, tricksy, false!

There is a term for adding sounds to words: epenthesis /ee-PEN-thih-sis/.

In phonology, epenthesis is the addition of one or more sounds to a word, usually within the word, but not always. The term combines Greek epi, “in addition to,” en, “in,” and thesis, “putting.” The addition of a consonant is called excrescence and the addition of a vowel is called anaptyxis.

Here are some common examples of epenthesis sometimes heard in conversation:

/I-dee-r/ for idea
/drawr-ing/for drawing
/fil-um/ for film
/ath-a-leet/ for athlete
/somp-thing/ for something

Haplology, on the other hand, is dropping a sound or syllable from a word. The term combines Greek haplos, “simple” and logos, “speech.”

Here are examples of haplology:

/feb-u-ree/ for February
/lye-bree/ for library
/prob-ly/ for probably

The examples I’ve given are all nonstandard pronunciations, but sometimes the processes of epenthesis and haplology result in alterations that eventually become standard.

Epenthesis gives us England and thunder. The name England derives from the earlier form Engla land. An earlier form of thunder was thunner.

Haplology is at work in the pronunciation of the British place name Worcester, which is still spelled with three syllables, but pronounced with two: /WOOS-ter/. Some regional speakers pronounce Mississippi as /mis-SIP-ee/. A similar process in spelling is called haplography: “Missippi” for Mississippi. (Also called misspelling.)

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4 thoughts on “Gollum, Epenthesis, and Haplology”

  1. The timing of this is perfect. I just made up a little rhyme telling our 6 month-old about putting on his “sockses”. I had no idea how to justify it with proper technical terminology! I am saved from accusations of silliness! (for a minute, anyway.) MM saves the linguistic day again!

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