Friday, February 09, 2024

Consonant clusters

I'm not taking Paxlovid. I thought about trying it this time around, but it just didn't feel right to completely wean Phoebe while she's trying to get over COVID as well (though I'm sure she'll finish up weaning in the next few weeks, anyway, and then I might have wished that I had just cut her off and taken the medicine). Andrew is taking Paxlovid, however.

Oh, by the way, Andrew and Alexander tested positive today so obviously we've done a bang up job at containing this virus. 

Anyway, Andrew went ahead and got a prescription for Paxlovid. He just had to take a picture of his positive rapid-test and a random doctor online wrote out a script. 

On the one hand, I think that's approaching accessibility (and that's good). On the other hand, why don't we just make it over-the-counter at this point? I mean, it's not like the doctor is doing any actual safe-guarding in this situation. 

We have so many positive tests sitting on our counter...Andrew didn't have to take a picture of his own test. I mean, he did because...honesty is...good. But, I mean, come on... I guess I'm just team "make it over-the-counter." That said, I have no knowledge of how these decisions are made, so I guess I'll let those more knowledgable than me hash it out (but if they're looking for opinions, there's mine). 


The first time Andrew used it was when we had COVID the first time and I, honestly, was about 100 times sicker than I was this time around. I was miserable. But, I also had a baby who was still nursing full time, so Paxlovid wasn't even a consideration. But it worked really well for Andrew, who hardly got sick (comparatively speaking). 

I called the drug pax-LO-vid. 

He teased me for pronouncing it wrong, telling me it sounded far too Russian—pax-LO-vid, with a rich liquid /l/ following the tricky /sk/ of the x. Because here's the thing: you look at the word paxlovid and you think to yourself that there's only an "xl" consonant blend, just two little letters. And how hard can that be to pronounce? We have a billion consonant blends in English. I'll share some examples of blends below from this very paragraph:

sounded: nd
tricky: tr
think: nk
consonant: nt (and kind of ns, I guess, though that's a syllable break, so...I dunno)
blend: bl and nd
hard: rd
pronounce: nc
from: fr
paragraph: gr

English: Now, that one is pretty tricky since it looks like "ngl" is three consonants together, which is a somewhat unusual occurrence in English. However, the /ng/ is technically a single sound (/ŋ/ in the IPA), so it's still just a two-consonant blend. Think is technically /ŋ+k/, so that is two sounds.

Tricky, on the other hand, clearly has a two-consonant blend at the beginning of the word /tr/, but although it looks like that /ck/ at the end is another consonant blend, it's really not, phonetically speaking. We've just doubled the orthography representing one's not any different from any other /k/ sound and is not a phonetic blend; it's a digraph.

Same thing with that /ph/ in paragraph. That's a digraph, not a consonant blend. /Th/ is also a digraph—two letters coming together to form a single sound. 

X is tricky in English because it is a single letter representing two sounds /k+s/, so it alone qualifies as a consonant cluster, phonetically speaking, even though it's made up of a single letter.

I'm getting to the story, guys, I promise. 

But first, let me tell you that three-letter (or three sound) consonant clusters are relatively rare in the English language. They do exist, however, and the ones that exist are easy for English speakers to say. 

Strive: /str/

I don't know what that was the first word that popped into my head.

Street is a pretty common word. That also has the /str/

Spring /spr/. Spring is almost here!

Scream /scr/. I almost screamed when Zoë tested positive for COVID. 

Splat /spl/. Splash /spl/. Good onomatopoeias. 

A lot of our three-consonant clusters feature /s/. 

Other examples are harder to think of, but I found sixty. Not that I found sixty examples (I'm not sure that there are that many). Sixty is the example. There's that tricky /x/ standing in for two sounds /ks + t/. Three constants right in a row.

But those words get tricky to say. 

Asks. Desks. 

Who hasn't had trouble pronouncing those words ever? It's just awkward to say.

Texts. Even harder with /ksts./ That's four consonants.

Glimpsed has also has four consonant sounds in a row: mpst.

Ironically, one word that was rather tricky for me to learn how to say in Russian (rather, to spit it out in a timely manner while singing in Russian choir) was взгляд, which means "sight" in English. I guess that only feels ironic to me because "glimpsed" is a tricky four-consonant cluster word in English and it has a close meaning to "sight." 

Anyway, transliterated взгляд is "vzglyad." So, yeah: /vzgly/. That's five consonants in a row (or, at least, I'll count it as 4.5 because the y is a glide, which if I were really doing IPA here would be represented /j/, and it's a semi-consonant). 

That's relatively unheard of in English. Like, we just don't do it. We can do it. We could do it. We just...don't. We have no words that use so many consonants in a row. 

Russian tends to use more consonants clusters, I feel, than English does. Indeed, according to Wikipedia, "Russian has fewer phonotactic restrictions on consonants than many other languages, allowing for clusters that would be difficult for English speakers..." However, "outside of two morphemes that contain clusters of four consonants: встрет-/встреч- 'meet' ([ˈfstrʲetʲ/ˈfstrʲetɕ]), and чёрств-/черств- 'stale' ([ˈtɕɵrstv]), native Russian morphemes have a maximum consonant cluster size of three."

So, in reality, three-consonants are pretty standard. And three-consonant clusters are not abnormal in English, though I would stay they are absolutely less common than in Russian. As we saw, most of our three-consonant blends are with an /s/ sound, which is basically a write-off consonant. 

Anyway...the story.

Andrew insisted that Paxlovid was pronounced PAX-lovid. Like PAX-luh-vid. And he made such a huge deal about it that I caved and told him that he could be right. That's fine. 

So at our house it was PAX-luh-vid. 

But then! Well, then I saw this little ad pop up somewhere:

which keeps repeating the line: "If it's COVID, Paxlovid" and I realized, Paxlovid rhymes with COVID

Duh. I don't know why neither of us thought of that before.

So, now it was Andrew's turn to admit that he was wrong. It's not PAX-lo-vid. It's pax-LO-vid. 

Granted, that lovely liquid /l/ comes right at a syllable break: /paks-lo-vid/ so I'm not sure this quite counts as a three-consonant cluster...but it kind of does...maybe. Like, if sixty counts as an example of a three-consonant cluster that doesn't begin with s, then surely Paxlovid does as well, since the -ty of sixty is on the other side of a syllable break. And it's just...a relatively unusual find in the English language, that's all.

PA-ksl-OVID. PAX-lo-vid. Pax-LO-vid. 

That's probably why they wrote the commercial this way, isn't it?

They realized no one could say the name. 

See, and that's why you consult a linguist before naming a product...I'm looking at you, Vivint, because you can't just combine words like that! You didn't combine "'vive' (meaning to live) and 'intelligent,'" friends. You combined 'vive' (meaning to live) and 'inter' (meaning between)—you took the prefix not the root for intelligent!


Congratulations, your name has no meaning (other than the meaning you insist it has).

And that's fine. You do you.

Has it low-key bothered me since 2011 when you renamed yourselves? Sure. But I don't think about it all that often. ...Only every time I think someone else has made an...interesting...choice when naming a product/brand.

On the plus side, Paxlovid has made it just *that much* easier for us all to start speaking Russian. 

Awkward consonant clusters for the win!

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