4

I realised a few years ago how many words there are that have 2 'o's next to each other that mean something circular or at least very close to circular, as if the shape of the object may in some way influence the spelling of the word to have a circular letter. It is probably just chance, but I thought I would sign up here and ask. The ones I have thought of are things like:

Loop Hoop Moon Spoon Snood Hood Boob Hoof Loo

Etc, etc.

I know there are also thousands of words that have two 'o's that don't mean anything circular, I just wanted to see if there was a link here at all.

Thanks!

  • 1
    Pure speculation on my part: you make a circle with your mouth when you say an oo. Might be something to it. – tmgr Sep 20 '18 at 10:53
  • "there are also thousands of words that have two 'o's that don't mean anything circular" Isn't that a huge giveaway? Also, the native word "ring" doesn't have any o's. Also note that the double o is kind of a modern English thing; Middle and Old English may simply have used only one o in these cases (mone, mona rather than moon), as with the case of plenty of "non-circular" words, which makes this supposed "pattern" pretty much a nonstarter. – Vun-Hugh Vaw Oct 17 '18 at 4:03
2

Your observation was astute, although it is the sound of the vowel rather than its shape (or doubling) where the correlation is found. The circular shape of the letter 'O' itself is likely a product of this effect, as it represents the shape of the mouth when making that sound.

In Linguistics, the association between vowels sounds and the visual shapes of objects is called the Bouba/kiki effect. Participants in experiments were shown two objects or drawings, one with jagged lines and the other with curves, and asked to associate each with the sounds "bouba" or "kiki". More than 95% of participants associated "bouba" with the curvy object and "kiki" with the jagged one. This experiment was first performed in 1929 (with different made-up words, but similar vowel shapes) and has been performed many times since across several cultures with the same high degree of correlation.

Bouba/kiki effect - Wikipedia

1

It's worth noting that while these words are all spelled with a double o now, they weren't all spelled that way in the past:

  • Loop: ME loupe, possibly from Old Norse hlǫup, hlaup
  • Hoop: ME hop, also hupe (northern)
  • Moon: OE mone
  • Spoon: originally referred to "A thin piece of wood; a chip, splinter, or shiver" (OED). Not round. Also originally spelled spon (OE).
  • Snood: OE snod
  • Hood: Actually spelled "hood" in earliest example
  • Boob: A shortening of "booby", which itself comes from "bubby"
  • Hoof: OE hof, also huf (northern)
  • Loo: etymology uncertain, but no theories have it coming from anything both round and spelled with two Os (OED lists the following possible origins: lieux, lieu, bourdaloue, Waterloo, gardyloo, ablution)

(For the sake of space I'm not listing every single old spelling of these words.)

Thus, if there is a connection, it's certainly not as simple as a double O spelling.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.