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Brandon Robshaw: English Usage #28

Bilabial Plosives, etc.

I've been musing about bilabial plosives recently, as one does. A plosive is a sound made by releasing pent-up air from the mouth in a sort of mini-explosion. Bilabial ones release the air by briefly closing then opening the lips. In English there are two of them: the unvoiced bilabial plosive p, and the voiced bilabial plosive b. What I was musing about was this: many of the verbs beginning with these bilabial plosives denote vigorous, even violent movements: push, poke, prod, punch; beat, bash, break, batter. Is that just a coincidence, or is a subtle form of onomatopoeia at work here?

Meanwhile, a neighbour recently asked if we'd like to meet for "bin-drinks" recently. Isn't that a great new coinage? It means (obviously) having drinks in the front garden next to the wheelie-bins. Of course we accepted the invitation. Who would turn down bin-drinks? It makes me want to invite the whole neighbourhood over just so I can use that expression. Can't help feeling rather sad that it will lapse into disuse when the Covid-crisis is over...

Dr Brandon Robshaw lectures for the Open University in Philosophy, Creative Writing and Children’s Literature. He has written several children’s books including a philosophical YA novel, The Infinite Powers of Adam Gowers. He and his family starred in BBC2’s Back in Time for Dinner. You can find his website here.

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