When -OT is [ət]

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In reading some instructions for building a 3-tier strawberry bed, I came across the word spiget.

At first I thought it was some specialized gardening term. Then I figured out that the writer was referring to a spigot.

Spigot is one of several English words in which the spelling -ot is pronounced [ət] at the end of the word.

spigot [spĭg’ət] – faucet, like the one your tap water comes out of, or the one you attach your garden hose to. It also refers to the projection on a cask or box of wine that the liquid comes through.

bigot (bĭg’ət) – originally a religious fanatic, but now any “person characterized by obstinate, intolerant, or strongly partisan beliefs (OED).”

In cruising the web I came across the expression bigot spigot. Apparently the term has been coined to describe purveyors of intolerant partisan opinion.

faggot, fagot [făg’ət] – both spellings are seen, but the first is more common. The word is used with various meanings. The original meaning is “a bundle of sticks.” Now it is also used to refer to a bundle of herbs. The word became associated with religious heretics because bundles of sticks were used to burn them at the stake. “To fry a faggot” was to burn a heretic. Before faggot became a derogatory term for a homosexual, it was used as an insulting term for a woman: ‘Urry up wi’ that glass o’ beer, you lazy faggot! (example from OED)

maggot (măg’ət) – fly larva. There is an English word spelled magot, but it is pronounced [mă-gō’] and refers either to a type of ape or to “a fanciful, often grotesque figurine in the Japanese or Chinese style rendered in a crouching position (answers.com).

Some other examples: ballot, carrot, idiot, parrot, pilot, riot, and zealot.

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9 thoughts on “When -OT is [ət]”

  1. The history of “faggot” (and its long-obsolete variation, “fagot”) is interesting and informative, but reveals little about common modern-day usage.

    In British English, “faggot” has about a dozen meanings, most of which are now rare, obsolescent, dialectical, or in specialized use. The only one in widespread use is “a kind of rissole or meatball made of minced pig’s liver or other offal mixed with bread or suet, herbs, etc.” (originally dialectical, now in common use).

    In recent decades, however, with the ever-increasing influence of American English in the U.K., the use of the words “faggot” and “fag” to refer to (or, more often, to insult) a male homosexual (especially an effeminate one) is now becoming widespread, particularly among teenagers (most of whom have wholly rejected school in favour of T.V., the Internet, iPods, mobile phones, peer-group pressure, and collective ignorance).

    Other, rarer, meanings of “faggot” are: 1) a bundle of sticks tied together as fuel (becoming rare, dialectical or literary); 2) a bunch of herbs (also becoming rare, dialectical or literary); 3) figuratively, a collection of (especially immaterial) things (rare); 4) a bundle of iron or steel rods bound together for reheating, welding, and hammering into bars (specialized use); and 5) an objectionable (old) woman, child, animal, etc. (dialectical, used as a term of abuse).

    The word “fag”, on the other hand, usually means either “a cigarette” (originally a cheap one), or “a junior boy in a public school who performs menial tasks for a senior”. Here we find a possible source, other than that already suggested by Maeve, of the use of “fag” as “homosexual”. It is widely alleged that the menial tasks performed by public-school fags may often extend to providing homosexual favours. In other words, the junior boys, it is suggested, become catamites to the senior boys. (A British public school, by the way, is actually a private school. Don’t ask me why. I vaguely remember that there is some historical reason for it, but the term remains a curiosity, guaranteed to confuse foreigners.)

    The word “fag” also has several other rare, dialectical and specialized meanings, such as a knot in cloth, a sheep-tick, a last remnant (also called a fag-end), and a fatiguing or unwelcome task (source: Shorter O.E.D.).

  2. I think all unstressed vowels in English are pronounced with the schwa sound, which sounds similar to a short”uh” and is written “ə.”

    For example, the “i” in “office” has this sound, as does the second “a” in “parachute.”

    In the case of “spigot,” the issue isn’t so much that the word ends in “-ot” but that the “o” is unstressed. So, while “spigot” is spelled with “-ot,” it would be pronounced the same if it were spelled with “-ed.”

    At least I think so. Many years have passed since my last cultural linguistics course. 🙂

  3. PreciseEdit, I think the pronunciation, certainly in the UK, is very much dependent upon regional accent and dialect.
    Where I am, in Scotland, spigot is pronounced ‘-et’ at the end, whereas parachute is very much pronounced as it is written with the ‘ah’ sounded twice in a similar way.

  4. CMDWEB: Very true. Regional dialects will make a difference in how words are pronounced. However, if we go with the phonetic spelling (using that funny upside-down “e” character that symbolizes the schwa) in the examples above, you will, indeed, get that “uh” sound that characterizes unstressed vowels. Of course, not everyone in every place will pronounce words according to the “official” phonetic spelling.

    I am not familiar with the word “spicket.” Is that a regional spelling for “spigot”? The US English word for a tap or faucet is “spigot.”

  5. Perhaps in South Africa or New Zealand the word “office” would be pronounced as PreciseEdit suggests. Alas, the example is an unfortunate one, as the letter i is, of all the vowels, the one that resists the schwa pronunciation more than any other, except, perhaps, as I have suggested, in certain English-speaking countries with very “clipped” accents – i.e., with very short and often indistinct vowel sounds. Interestingly, in the two countries mentioned, the word “clipped” would normally be pronounced something like /kləpt/, where the central vowel sound is the very schwa sound we’re discussing.

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