I noticed that in the English language words ending in "ip" often suggest a brisk, quick movement, as with clip, flip, skip and tip. In other terms, the closing part of these words seems to be suggestive of the meaning itself. Presumably, that circumstance helps advertisers in promoting their products, as, for example, one can see in the picture below.

I'm wondering if there is a name for sounds, like the above mentioned, which seem to express a particular quality whatever words they appear.

Obviously, there are a lot of other cases.

For example, it seems as if "sk" at the start of words such as scoot, skip, scuttle expresses the quick movement implied in all of them, while "sl" suggests either a falling or sliding in movement as in slip, slither, slouch, or something slimy or slushy, as in those words and in sludge, slobber, and slobby.

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    Ship, hip, lip, scrip, chip; tulip, Philip, catnip, gossip; turnip, slip, unequip; worship, pimpship, neighborship; dealership, dictatorship, sultanship, musicianship; wardenship, censorship...
    – RegDwigнt
    Aug 2, 2012 at 18:43
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    @Carlo_R. I didn't vote to close, but the one big flaw in yor question is that the premise isn't true. There are some "-ip" words that connote quickness, but lots that don't. It is a coincidence. Aug 2, 2012 at 19:24
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    I recommend that you ask this question over on linguistics.se as I suspect that these patterns exist in most languages. It might be related to the bouba/kiki effect, or similar. Aug 2, 2012 at 19:57
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    @coleopterist is right: if Carlo_R.'s theory is true, it's out of scope because it has nothing to do with the English language, per se. — Also, Carlo_R., "it seems to me" is not a defense and is notorious for introducing a lot of crackpot theories. I'm not saying you're wrong. You might be right. Maybe one day you'll earn the Nobel Prize. They laughed at Galileo, right? But they also laughed at Bozo The Clown.
    – MetaEd
    Aug 2, 2012 at 20:11
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    There's more information at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias
    – MetaEd
    Aug 2, 2012 at 20:42

2 Answers 2


It sounds like you are noticing something along the lines of the phonosemantics hypothesis, specifically, clustering. From that wikipedia article:

Words that share a sound sometimes have something in common. If we take, for example, words that have no prefix or suffix and group them according to meaning, some of them will fall into a number of categories. So we find that there is a group of words beginning with /b/ that are about barriers, bulges and bursting, and some other group of /b/ words that are about being banged, beaten, battered, bruised, blistered and bashed. This proportion is, according to [Margaret] Magnus, [author of a book on phonosemantics,] above the average for other letters.

Another hypothesis states that if a word begins with a particular phoneme, then there is likely to be a number of other words starting with that phoneme that refer to the same thing. An example given by Magnus is if the basic word for 'house' in a given language starts with a /h/, then by clustering, disproportionately many words containing /h/ can be expected to concern housing: hut, home, hovel, habitat...

Clustering is language dependent, although closely related languages will have similar clustering relationships.

  • Interesting stuff! Cheers :) Aug 2, 2012 at 20:15
  • @coleopterist learned about it trying to answer this question
    – Charles
    Aug 2, 2012 at 20:20
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    The word hypothesis deserves way more emphasis there, lest OP and future visitors alike take something from this question that might or might not be actually true. It can be argued that the example in the quote is contrived in much the same way as those of the OP himself. (For one, hut and habitat were borrowed, so it's not the phonosemantics of English that is at work there. We also borrowed apartment, wigwam, residence, villa, tipi, tent, trailer — how's that for T to be expected to concern housing, rather than H).
    – RegDwigнt
    Aug 3, 2012 at 15:17
  • @RegDwightАΑA good point. I've added that word to my answer
    – Charles
    Aug 3, 2012 at 16:07
  • @RegDwigh: The theory may be that words with h- were more avidly borrowed and more frequently retained because they start with h- and thereby prime "house". Jan 16, 2013 at 19:24

Yes, such sounds are called phonesthemes.

The term phonestheme (or phonaestheme in British English) was coined in 1930 by British linguist J. R. Firth (from the Greek φωνή phone, "sound", and αἴσθημα aisthema, "perception" from αίσθάνομαι aisthanomai, "I perceive") to label the systematic pairing of form and meaning in a language.

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