Yesterday we were listening to the Mike Waters morning radio program on one of Iowa’s great radio stations, KOKZ. It’s called the Waters Wake-Up Call. He always has something funny to ask listeners about and encourages them to call in with an opinion.
We heard him say he wanted listener feedback on the word “diphthong.” I wasn’t sure whether he wanted legitimate comments on maybe the definition of the word or suggestions on how to use the word differently.
Sena thought she heard Mike say he is a former schoolteacher, and that would make sense for his mentioning the word “diphthong.” She might be right, although I can’t find anything on the KOKZ website which verifies or even mentions that.
We switched stations before we heard anything more from listeners about diphthongs.
But it made me curious about the whole diphthong thing, so I googled the definition. I knew it had something to do with two vowel sounds in words. I don’t remember Mike saying what the definition is. Anyway, Merriam-Webster and other sources on the web define it as the sound formed by the combination of two vowels in a single syllable. The best example is the word “toy.” The vowel combination of “oy” makes you say o which glides into e. There are several diphthongs in English, but other languages have them as well, such as Spanish.
You can read about the conventional definition if you want. After checking out the web for something maybe more humorous or weird about diphthongs, I discovered that it’s sometimes used as an insult, “Get lost, you diphthong!”
There’s this web site called Language Log that I’ve linked to on my blog a while ago about another word, “splooting,” which refers to an animal (like a squirrel) lying flat on the ground with its limbs splayed out in order to cool off on hot days.
It turns out Language Log also has a lot of comments about “diphthong.” It’s a word that does sound like an insult. One guy wrote a column on the web about it, entitled “Oy, You Diphthong!”
The Urban Dictionary defines it as a vowel combination combining a weak vowel with a strong one, and also says, “It is more commonly used as an insult, seeing as it is a legitimately funny word.”
I wonder if that was what Mike Waters was fishing for?
It does sound funny. If you substitute it for certain lyrics in a song, like, for example, “You Are My Sunshine,” you get,
“You are my diphthong, my only diphthong…You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you, please don’t take my diphthong away.”
Or maybe “Camptown Races,”
“Gwine to run all night, gwine to run all day, I bet my money on a diphthong nag, somebody bet on the bay.”
The Grinch song?
“You’re a diphthong, Mr. Grinch.”
The expletive possibilities are probably endless:
“Are you diphthonging me?”
“I don’t give a diphthong what you say!”
Have we done enough diphthonging language skills discussion for today?