David Appleyard's English Language User Guides and References
Page Contents
Introduction 12 Interesting Initial Sounds

 

Introduction

Sometimes it is possible to have associations about a word in English merely by looking at it or hearing it spoken. On this page I'd like to draw your attention to certain initial sounds that help convey the general gist of some words you may not have met before.

J. K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" stories have captured the imagination of children all over the world. In the first book of the series, Harry enrolls at Hogwarts school where the naughty boys' team is called Slytherin and the most dreaded teacher is a certain Professor Snape. Native speakers of English automatically associate these names with something bad because experience has taught them that words beginning with sl- and sn- are overwhelmingly pejorative in meaning.

By listing selected vocabulary items according to their initial-sound associations, I hope to arouse your interest and facilitate memorization.

David V. Appleyard

 

12 Interesting Initial Sounds

cl-  fl-  gl-  gr-  sl-  sn-  sp-  st-  str-  sw-  wh-  wr-

 

 

cl- words are often related to the hands or to holding
claim to want to get your hands on something
clamber climb with hands and feet
clamp device for holding things together
clasp hold tightly or closely
claw animal nails; to scratch with claw-like nails
clench grasp firmly
climb move up or along by grasping or clinging
clinch grasp firmly
cling maintain a grasp on or keep hold of something
clip device for holding things
clout heavy blow with the hand
club a heavy hand-held stick used as a weapon
clutch seize eagerly

 

cl- also introduces a number of onamatopoeic sound words
clack the sharp sound made by two pieces of wood being knocked together
clamor, clamour as with a large number of people shouting, or similar noise
clang the loud and resonant metallic sound made by a large bell
clank the rattling of a heavy chain, or heavy pieces of metal knocking together
clap sound made by striking the palms of one's hands together
clash when two metal objects such as cymbals are being struck together
clatter rattling sound of many hard objects knocking together at the same time
click the short, sharp sound made by a switch or computer mouse
clink the sharp ringing sound emitted by two glasses being knocked together
clonk the sound of a sudden, heavy impact
cluck the gutteral cry of a hen

 

cl-   fl-   gl-   gr-   sl-   sn-   sp-   st-   str-   sw-   wh-   wr-

 

fl- words often convey a sense of unimpeded movement for or in air or water
flag piece of cloth that moves freely in the air
flagon large bottle with handle and spout from which cider or wine can flow freely
flail (v.i.) wave or swing wildly
flap move wings up and down while flying
flask narrow-necked bottle from which drinks can flow freely
flee run away to freedom
fleeting transient, i.e. time passing swiftly
flexible pliable, adaptable, versatile
flick sudden release of bent finger to propel a small object through the air
flip flick something like a coin so that it spins in the air
flit make short leisurely flights like a bee between flowers
float rest or move on the surface of a liquid without sinking
flop sway about loosely and heavily like uncombed hair over one's face in a breeze
flotsam wreckage found floating around freely
flow glide along in an unimpeded stream; proceed smoothly
flue duct or channel in a wall to convey smoke or hot air
fluency the smooth and easy flow of speech or writing
fluid liquid able to flow and alter shape freely
flush clean by using a rushing flow of water
flute a wind instrument
flutter the same as to flap but usually with smaller or less confident wings, like those of a butterfly
flux a continual process of ebbing and flowing
fly move freely through the air in a controlled fashion

 

cl-   fl-   gl-   gr-   sl-   sn-   sp-   st-   str-   sw-   wh-   wr-

 

gl- words often relate to the behavior of light or the shade of one's mood
glad happy, pleased, as if you had sunshine in your heart
glamour looks or beauty eye-catchingly beaming or radiant
glance   a flash or gleam of light; sunlight glances off a knife
glare   of light that is dazzlingly and uncomfortably bright
glass a material that allows light to pass through it
glaze a smooth, light-reflecting surface
gleam of a light source that shines faintly or intermittently
glee sunny feeling things are not going well for your foes
glim  a weak light; archaic English for a lantern or candle
glimmer a weak or intermittently shining source of light or hope
glimpse (v.i.) shine faintly or intermittently; in poetry, to dawn
glint cause or reflect a quick flash of light  
glisten shine and sparkle like snow in the sunshine
glister [archaic] sparkle or glitter
glitter sparkle and shine with showy brilliance
glitz [slang] a superficial display of showy brilliance
gloaming [poetic] dusk or twilight
gloat have a bright, triumphant feeling after gaining some advantage
— probably at someone else's expense!
gloom partial darkness; a dismal situation or feeling of despair
gloriole a circle of light around the head of a sacred person
glory a bright experience of honor, fame or exaltation
gloss a bright sheen or lustre on a surface
glow emit a steady light and heat without flame
glum feeling or looking gloomy; having dark thoughts

 

cl-   fl-   gl-   gr-   sl-   sn-   sp-   st-   str-   sw-   wh-   wr-

 

gr- words often depict something unpleasant or miserable
grate make a harsh, discordant, irritating sound
grave very serious or threatening
grief deep sorrow or mourning
grievance a cause for complaint
grievous causing pain or suffering
grim joyless, stern or forbidding
grimace a look of displeasure or disgust
grime ingrained dirt
grimy dirty
gripe complaint
grisly causing horror
gristle the tough, inedible part of a piece of meat
grit particle of stone or sand that can casue damage or discomfort
grizzle complain continually in a whining manner, like a child
groan an extended low-level sound expressing pain or unhappiness
gross coarse in manners, or repulsive in appearance
grotty nasty or of poor quality
grouch a fit of grumbling or sulkiness
grovel lower oneself to floor level; show excessive respect toward someone in the hope of winning their favor
growl   make a deep, rough, threatening sound
grub insect larva
grubby dirty or grimy
grudge persistent feeling of resentment or ill will toward someone
grueling punishing or exhausting
gruesome horrible, horrific, shockingly ghastly
gruff of a low voice that is rough or harsh
grumble complain about something in an annoyed manner
grumpy of a person hard to please and easily annoyed
grunge dirt or grime
grunt the low, gutteral noise made by pigs, or a sound resembling this

 

cl-   fl-   gl-   gr-   sl-   sn-   sp-   st-   str-   sw-   wh-   wr-

 

sl- words have overwhelmingly pejorative connotations
slack  not taut; negligent, remiss
slag [slang] a prostitute or promiscuous female
slam throw shut
slammer [slang] prison
slander defame someone falsely
slang very informal or unofficial language
slanted biased
slap hit with the palm of the hand
slapdash rushed and careless
slap-happy treating serious things lightly
slash cut with random, sweeping movement
slate scold
slaughter kill in a ruthless manner
slave person forced to work for nothing
slaver dribble; servile flattery
slay kill
sleaze sordid details
sleazy dirty and probably dishonest, sordid
sleepy drowsy
sleet mixture of snowfall and rainfall
sleight [archaic] cunning; deceptive trick
sleuth prying detective
slick insincere
slide slip along, slither
slight insult
slime thick slippery mud or similar goo
slimy disgustingly dishonest or flattering
sling throw quickly and carelessly
slink sneak
slip slide unintentionally
slit cut or tear lengthwise
slither slide with an irregular motion
slob [colloq.] coarse person
slobber slaver
slog hit wildly
slogan short, easily remembered phrase, not usually objective
sloppy   careless
slosh [slang] hit hard
sloth indolence, laziness
slouch droop
slough swamp
slovenly careless
slow unhurried; laggardly; tedious
slub warp or fabric of uneven thickness
sludge mire, slush
slug slimy mollusc and garden pest
sluggard lazy person
sluggish slow-moving, inactive or inert
slum squalid living quarters
slumber sleep; be drowsy, idle or inactive
slump sudden decline in trade or business
slur pronounce indistinctly; insult someone
slurp drink noisily
slush mire, mud or dirty melting snow
slut [slang] a prostitute or promiscuous woman
sly crafty, cunning, wily

 

cl-   fl-   gl-   gr-   sl-   sn-   sp-   st-   str-   sw-   wh-   wr-

 

sn- words also have a pejorative tendency, but are not quite as negative as sl- words
snag unexpected obstacle
snail very slow-moving mollusc
snake long, limbless, often poisonous reptile
snap break suddenly or unexpectedly
snare trap
snarl angry growl
snatch seize suddenly and impolitely
sneak go or convey something furtively
sneer derisive smile or remark
sneeze sudden involuntary expulsion of air from the nose and mouth
snicker whinny or neighing sound
snide slyly derogatory; mean, underhand
sniffy [colloq.] inclined to sniff; disdainful, contemptuous
snigger half-suppressed secretive laugh
snipe hide and fire shots at long range
snit  rage or sulk
snitch [slang] steal or inform on someone
snivel cry while sniffling with a runny nose
snob person who looks down on those (s)he regards as social inferiors
snook [slang] type of contemptuous gesture
snoop [colloq.] pry
snooty   supercilious, conceited
snore breathing with a grunting or snorting sound while asleep
snort sound made by suddenly forcing breath out through the nose
snot [slang] nasal mucus
snotty [slang] contemptible or conceited
snout [slang] derogatory term for a nose or an informer
snub rebuff
snuff it [slang] die
snuffy annoyed, irritable or contemptuous

 

cl-   fl-   gl-   gr-   sl-   sn-   sp-   st-   str-   sw-   wh-   wr-

 

sp- words can relate to the movement of liquids and powder-like substances
sparge moisten by sprinkling
spate [BrE] a river flood
spatter scatter mud, paint, etc., here and there
spew forcibly expel liquid; vomit
spigot tap or device for controlling liquid flow
spill inadvertently cause a liquid to run or fall out of a vessel
spit forcibly eject saliva from the mouth
splash cause drops of liquid to scatter about
splatter make wet or dirty by splashing
splosh move with a splashing sound
spout column or jet of liquid
spray fine drops of liquid flying around under the force of air or gas
sprinkle scatter liquids in small drops or solids in fine particles
spurt gush out in a jet or stream

 

cl-   fl-   gl-   gr-   sl-   sn-   sp-   st-   str-   sw-   wh-   wr-

 

st- words often signify a general lack of movement, or activity that is confined
stab deep, sharp cut in one place
stable steady, unwavering; place of confinement for horses
stack pile or heap in one place
stage  fixed place or point
stagger hesitate, waver
stagnant motionless
stagnate become motionless
stain a mark that won't budge
stake pole to mark fixed position; fixed sum of money as a wager
stale of food left untouched for too long
stalemate position where you're unable to make any new move
stalk pursue and so not move away from someone
stall stop suddenly
stamina staying power
stammer get stuck on the same sound when speaking
stamp bring something down hard on one particular place
stance fixed attitude or position
stand remain upright in one place
standard fixed value or norm
staple fixed main element
star a fixed point in the sky
starch fabric stiffener
stare look fixedly
startle shock someone so their heart skips a beat
starve no movement in the digestive system
stash [colloq.] keep something safe or hidden in one particular place
state fixed condition
static unchanging, not moving
station place where a train stops
stationary of a vehicle standing still and no longer moving
statistics established figures or data
statue static figure of a living being
status fixed condition or social position
statute fixed regulation
stay not move away
steadfast constant, unwavering
steady firm, persistent, unfaltering
stealth indiscernible movement
stench foul smell that sticks around
stencil holed sheet of plastic to create a fixed design with a pencil on paper
step fixed position on the way somewhere
sterile barren
stern with a rigid severity
stew cook slowly in one place for a long time
stick affix something so it doesn't move
stiff rigid, inflexible
stifle suppress development
stigma discredit that won't go away
still not moving
stilted stiff and unnatural
sting sharp wound from insect in one particular place
stingy mean, i.e. no hand movement toward one's wallet
stink emit foul smell that won't go away easily
stipend regular fixed allowance
stipulate establish as a fixed rule or condition
stock stationary supply of goods
stodgy of food, heavy and indigestible
stoical unmoved emotionally
stomp walk with heavy, noisy steps, especially when angry; put a foot down heavily in one spot
stooge compliant person who sticks to instructions
stop suspend movement
store keep a stationary supply of goods
stow pack goods tightly into one place so they don't move
stubborn exhibiting no movement in one's thinking
stud male horse kept primarily for breeding rather than riding or racing
study hold head still over a book for a long time
stuff pack material tightly into one place so it doesn't move
stuffy of a room with no air movement or a person unwilling to change diehard conservative thinking
stump puzzle, i.e. render someone's brain cells inactive
stun knock someone senseless so they can't move
stunt retard growth or development
stupefy
stop someone's brain cell activity
stupid exhibiting little or no brain cell activity
stupor dazed state preventing normal bodily activity
sturdy strong and robust so it stands still in a storm
stutter get stuck on the same sound when speaking
sty pen to prevent pigs from moving about too much
style a fixed appearance or form of something
stymie cause an obstruction to bring someone to a halt
styptic pencil stick with chemical to stop small cuts bleeding

 

cl-   fl-   gl-   gr-   sl-   sn-   sp-   st-   str-   sw-   wh-   wr-

 

str- words mostly convey narrowness, but sometimes a dispersion or spreading out in space or time
straddle stand across something with your legs spread out in straight line
straggle trail behind in race or line of people; become dispersed/sporadic
straight extending unvaryingly in the same direction
strain stretch tightly; apply sustained pressure to something
strait narrow stretch of water separating two seas
strake continuous line of plates or planking from stem to stern of a ship
strand [poetic] the margin of a lake, river or sea
strangle narrow the windpipe, freedom of expression, etc.
strap long narrow strip of leather or other material used for fastening
strategy series of calculated plans implemented over a period of time
stratum, strata layer of rock or the atmosphere; sometimes even a social class
straw long thin dry cut stalk of grain; thin tube to suck up drinks through
stray wander off course into a wider area than intended or allowed
streak long thin line or band; row of similar happenings; character trait
stream narrow river or waterway; flow of something in a certain direction
street long straight surface for vehicles to move along
strenuous requiring the channeling of all one's energy
stress sustained pressure on material objects or mental tension in humans
stretch pull on something so it becomes taut, or longer and narrower than it already is
strew scatter or spread all over a surface, perhaps a very wide area
strickle narrow straight-edged bar to level off exact measure of grain, etc.
strict adhering to or enforcing on others a straight and narrow pattern of behavior
stride walk in a narrow path straight ahead with long, firm steps
string length of narrow cord or twine, and on music instruments wire or catgut
strip a long, narrow and usually flat piece of something
stripe a long narrow strip differing in color from surfaces on either side
strive make a sustained effort to achieve something over time
strobe light flashing at narrow intervals
stroke sweep one's hand gently over the surface of something
stroll walk or saunter leisurely and with a sense of freedom
strop leather strip for sharpening razors
struggle put up a sustained fight against hardship or restrictions

 

cl-   fl-   gl-   gr-   sl-   sn-   sp-   st-   str-   sw-   wh-   wr-

 

sw- words connote various kinds of movement, often purposeful in nature
swaddle throw a garment around an infant and wrap it tightly
swag sag heavily and sway from side to side
swage tool for bending metal
swagger walk arrogantly or with a sense of self-importance
swallow move one's oesophagus, usually to down food or drink; a fast-moving migratory bird  
swamp inundate an area with a sudden onrush of water
swap move goods between two people in a mutual exchange
swarm many insects moving together in a widespread cloud
swash [archaic] strike violently; swagger
swat hit something hard with a rapid movement of the arm
swathe throw a garment around something and wrap it tightly
sway move back and forth irregularly like a tree in a gale
swear let the tongue loose with profane or indecent expletives
sweep move like a broom across a floor
swell move toward enlargement or increase in size
swerve move suddenly in an effort to rapidly change course
swift fast-moving; a fast-flying bird resembling a swallow
swig move lots of drink down your throat in large draughts
swill move water over or through something in order to rinse or flush it
swim propel the body through water by moving arms and legs
swindle dishonestly remove money from another person's pocket
swing move to and fro while in suspension
swipe hit something hard with a sweeping arm-movement
swirl move or carry along with a whirling motion
swish move through the air with an audible swinging sound
switch move position or from one thing to another
swivel a coupling that allows a part to rotate independently
swoon fall toward the ground in a fit of fainting
swoop descend rapidly after eying something on the ground
swoosh move with the sound of a sudden rush of air or liquid

 

cl-   fl-   gl-   gr-   sl-   sn-   sp-   st-   str-   sw-   wh-   wr-

 

wh- words are frequently associated with sounds caused by rapid movements of or through air
whack a resounding blow
wham the sound of a forceful impact
whang the sound of a heavy strike or blow
whaup particular cry of a curlew (a species of bird also known as a whaup in Scotland)
wheeze to breathe with an audibly chesty sound
whew sound of air rushing through lips to express relief or surprise
whicker a very gentle whinny made by a horse
whim, whimsy a sudden bout of capriciousness, perhaps accompanied by a sigh
whimper a soft whine or feeble, frightened cry
whinchat a small songbird
whine the drawn-out wailing sound of an unhappy dog; feeble or undignified complaining by humans
whinge to whine constantly and irritatedly, so that it gets on other people's nerves
whinny the softer neighing sound characteristic of a contented horse
whip a lash on a handle producing a high-pitched sound as it passes through the air
whir, whirr a constant, rapid buzzing sound, such as that from a helicopter's rotor blades in motion
whirl to swing something round and round, probably causing an audible whirr
whirligig a fast-spinning or whirling toy
whirlybird [colloq.] a helicopter
whisk a sudden sweeping movement that creates a rush of air
whisper to speak without using the vocal cords
whistle air forced through nearly closed, rounded lips to produce a shrill but variable sound
whiz, whizz the sound made by an object flying through the air at high speed
whiz-kid,  whizz-kid a highly successful young person who whizzes up the career ladder
whoop a sharp, wheezing sound accompanying the intake in of breath, as in whooping cough
whoosh the sound of something rushing through the air

 

cl-   fl-   gl-   gr-   sl-   sn-   sp-   st-   str-   sw-   wh-   wr-

 

wr- words mostly involve bending or twisting, either physically or metaphorically
wrack a wreck or wreckage
wrangle mind-bending altercation or rowdy dispute
wrap to fold a soft material such as paper or cloth around something
wraith a mind-bending spectral apparition or ghost
wrath mind-bending anger or rage
wreak to cause (wrack and ruin, damage, chaos, etc.)
wreath flowers or leaves flattened and twisted into a ring
wreck, wreckage usually a heap of twisted metal after a crash or explosion
wrench a violent twist or tug at a slanting angle, usually to pull something off of something
wrest to wrench or force something out of someone's hand
wrestle to grapple with and body-twist a fighting opponent so that he or or she ends up on the ground
wretch a pitiable unfortunate whose very existence has been twisted awry
wriggle to move along in twisting, writhing movements like a worm
wring to twist wet clothes to squeeze the water out of them; to kill by twisting the neck
wrinkle a crease in the skin
wrist a highly flexible, rotatable link connecting your hand to the rest of your arm
write to hold a pen and with fine, twisting movements of the hand put words to paper
writhe to twist one's body and roll around, as if in pain
wrong mistaken, unjust, abnormal, out of place or awry
wrought of metals flattened or beaten into shape through hammering
wry, awry contorted or distorted; a wry facial expression is one twisted in disapproval or mockery;
and if something is awry it has been knocked askew or twisted out of normal alignment

 

cl-   fl-   gl-   gr-   sl-   sn-   sp-   st-   str-   sw-   wh-   wr-