If we look at this "sound family" of words, we see that they all seem to be about things going wrong:

crumble, tumble, rumble, fumble, bumble

(Perhaps there are others, although I exclude humble, mumble, grumble as not very similar.)

Is there an etymological connection here — for example, some kind of pejorative suffix in older forms of English or the source languages — or is it coincidence?

  • Crumble, tumble, rumble, fumble, bumble are all onomatopoeia. About humble, I know nothing. Feb 11, 2021 at 18:02
  • @Cascabel (whose deleted comment pointed out that "humble" is positive) Agreed — when used of a person's character, anyway. But note that "to come from humble beginnings" means they're nothing to speak of... Feb 11, 2021 at 18:03
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    (Plus ca change...! :) Does this answer your question? Are the "umbles" etymologically related? Somewhat surprisingly, it turns out this is not my "specialist subject"! Feb 11, 2021 at 18:10
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    There are only 13 simplex words in English with the rime /-əmb/, which is lower than the threshhold of 20 that I used in analyzing rimes, so I didn't treat them. But the /-əmp/ rime is highly coherent. Feb 11, 2021 at 18:21
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    There's a duplicate, but I had already written an answer. It took me some time because I'd forgotten the method of posting an answer to a closed question... so I had to find a solution. :) Feb 11, 2021 at 18:21

1 Answer 1


I don't know anything about their etymological relationship; however, they all seem have a common 'phonaestheme' -umble which is associated with failures/ things going wrong (as the OP pointed out).

A phonaestheme is a particular sound sequence that suggests a certain meaning, for instance, words beginning with gl- are often associated with light reflection or vision as in glitter, glisten, glow, gleam, glare, glint, glimmer, gloss etc. The study of phonaesthemes is called phonaesthetics (or sound symbolism). (I have explained phonaesthemes in another answer to a question asking about the gl-.)

According to this article (Sound Symbolism in English: Weighing the Evidence by Barry J. Blake) on Tandfonline, most words with the sequence -umble can be said to refer to lack of success such as bumble, crumble, fumble, jumble, stumble, tumble etc.

Also from How to spell the meaning of words by Trevor Lloyd, the -umble words, bumble, crumble, fumble, grumble, humble, jumble, mumble, rumble, stumble, tumble have a common semantic theme of mild disparagement.

According to Complex Words in English, -umble also links words having to do with noise: grumble, rumble, shumble, stumble, but fumble, mumble, stumble and tumble suggest 'repeated awkward movements'.


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