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sough

Printable Version Pronunciation: sæw, sêf Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A rushing, susurrous sound like the rustling wind over leaves or water over stones. 2. A soft murmuring soothing sound; a sigh.

Notes: Today's Good Word is used so seldom, we have forgotten how to pronounce it. The problem is with the orthographic confusion raised by the silent GH cluster that still clogs so many English words; sometimes it is ignored (though), sometimes it is pronounced [f] (laugh). The first example in the Pronunciation is probably the preferable one despite the fact that it is identical to the rather unattractive word sow. It comes with a positive (soughful) and negative (soughless "soundless, noiseless) adjective, both of which may be converted to adverbs the usual way—by adding -ly.

In Play: Soughful sounds need not be natural: "When the sough of traffic on the expressway near Dr. Lansing Boyle's house no longer kept him awake at night, he knew he had found his home." I should also mention that today's Good Word may be used as verb: "The soughing trees were such a lullaby above Rita Book that she fell asleep halfway through the first chapter of her new novel."

Word History: Today's Good Word goes way back to Proto-Indo-European (s)wagh- "sound", probably of imitative (onomatopoeic) origin. Notice the initial S is the Fickle S that vanished in some languages over the course of history. Greek didn't like the S or the W, so both these sounds vanished in that language, leaving ekho "echo". English borrowed the Latin borrowing, echo. Latin dispensed with the S, too, but then converted the W to V, giving rise to vagitus, the cry of a new born child. (Let us all now utter a sough of gratitude to Luke Javan, now a Grand Panjandrum of the Alpha Agora, for suggesting today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword, alphaDictionary.com

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