Word Of The Week, cant


That is all.

Such a tiny word. A monosyllable. Surely not enough to write anything about. Really?

Challenge accepted!

Let’s reflect first on the sounds of this word, such as they are. The opening “c” is a harsh /k/ clicking away in the back of the throat; the vowel is the short /æ/. It sounds like a cat coughing up a furball; or an old man choking on his false teeth. It is one of those combinations of sounds that just reeks of disdain; one of those sounds beloved by English teachers trying to drum the notion of alliteration for effect into students’ minds!

But this is odd. The origin of the word is the Old French chanter. Chanter. Which opens with such a soft /ʃ/ and long sensuous vowel /ɔː/. Such lengthy and soft sounds in a word has somehow mutated over time into to the harsh and spiky sounds of our cant.

And the meaning has mutated as much as the phonology. Chanter meant to sing; cant means an insincere and meaningless babble, often deriding one profession’s jargon based language.

The lawyer’s cant sounded incomprehensible to the ears of their clients, making as much sense as the squeaking of a badly oiled hinge.

The question then pops into my head: has the sound changed because of the altered meaning; or has the meaning varied in response to the increasing sharpness of its sound. Cause and effect? Egg and chicken? Is the Darwinian language of evolution apt to language? Pressure leading to mutation? I think so. Memes suggest so. Oh well it will serve!

Cant is what the Plain English Campaign would deride and mock. A jargon used to exclude people who don’t belong to your group. I suppose the difference between cant and jargon is that at times jargon can be what us (ex) lawyers might call terms of art and actually be vital for describing specific shades of meaning that are usually unnecessary.

… Hmmm I wonder what the Plain English Campaign would make of my blog…

… Consider yourselves invited, guys!

… Hurriedly spell checking post to ensure no offence has been caused by unexpected autocorrections!


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