Unlike my usual questions picked up from newspaper sources, this question regards literature.

I was asked by one of my friends who is an English enthusiast about the meaning of “speak through one’s nose full of b's and d's.”

The phrase appears in the following sentence in the section of ‘Love and the Ridiculous’ of Agatha Christie’s Autobiography. I checked the definition of the phrase in Merriam Webster Dictionary and Cambridge Online Dictionary in vain.

Can somebody explain the meaning of ‘Speak through one’s nose full of b's and d's’, specifically what does ‘b and d’ represent?

Anyone can admire somebody for being handsome or amusing or charming, but that bubble is soon pricked when a trace of ridicule comes in. I should give as my advice to any girl about to get married: "Well now, just imagine he had a terrible cold in his head, speaking through his nose all full of b's and d's, sneezing, eyes watering. What would you feel about him?" It's a good test, really.

  • It's a great pity Christie chose to use apostrophes for plurals there. It's simply "a mouth full of bs and ds", it's that simple. Apostrophes are never, ever used for pluralism of any kind.
    – Fattie
    Jan 11 '16 at 4:02

When one has a cold, with a stopped-up nose, the letters m and n (and v and others) are not nasalized and so come out as b or d or other sounds. Nasalized, non-stopped phonemes can get dropped entirely, like the l in the following sentence.

I hab a co'd so I ca't talk. [I have a cold so I can't talk.]

In the following sentence, the n becomes a d and the m sounds turn into b sounds:

Whed are you beeting be for breakfast? [When are you meeting me for breakfast.]

And so on.

  • 1
    Robusto-san. Thank you very much. Transition of sound (m to b, n to d) in case of caching a cold, it’s beyond imagination for non-native English speaker, unless being told.
    – Yoichi Oishi
    Mar 6 '11 at 23:12
  • 1
    I just wanted to say I understand and respect your sentiment. I've deleted the question. However, I think you should keep in mind that prurient questions, as bad as they can turn out to be, do draw readers, and hopefully eventual users. Cheers.
    – Uticensis
    Mar 7 '11 at 9:43
  • Notice that "all full of 'b's and 'd's" refers to him, not to the nose!
    – Colin Fine
    Mar 7 '11 at 15:21
  • @Billare: As your comment refers to another question entirely, please introduce such a comment in chat, with a reference to the question you are actually responding to.
    – Robusto
    Mar 7 '11 at 15:23
  • 2
    @Colin Fine: I'd say it refers to the entire phrase "speaking through his nose."
    – Robusto
    Mar 7 '11 at 15:25

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