Word in Language (22): English Course (1)

In the previous article we looked at word connections made between words containing the same letters, be they in the same or a different order. We will now look at word connections made by changing the vowels and the consonants according to phonetics (how the sounds are produced in the mouth).

The easiest changes to make to letters are to the vowels because they are like water, they flow. Voice passes through the mouth and is not obstructed by the flesh, the lips or tongue. We sing. When a doctor examines our throat, we go ‘Aaaah!’. Air passing through the mouth, with or without voice added to it, that is obstructed by the flesh, the lips or tongue, forms the consonants. They are the building blocks of language, so to speak. The difference between vowels and consonants is that with consonants the passage of air is cut off (by pursing the lips, by lifting the tongue) and then released like a projectile, with greater force.

Vowels are not produced in the mouth in the same order as they appear in the alphabet: a, e, i, o and u. From the back of the mouth (the throat, where language originates) to the front of the mouth, they appear in the following order: u, o, a, e and i. Note that the ego – the I – situates itself right at the front! So we have back vowels (u and o), a central vowel (a) and front vowels (e and i). We also have close/high vowels (u and i) and open/low vowels (o, a and e). The way the vowels are produced in the mouth forms a V-shape:

u                                        i

o                    e


It is very common, therefore, to make a word connection by changing a to e (we saw the example of EARTH in reverse being THREE). This is perhaps the most common vowel change, but also common are e-i (MEET and TIME) and e-o (ENEMY and MONEY). We also studied the progression of human life from the A of Creation to the I of the Fall to the O of repentance – AIO – and how this is present in language, both between and inside words.

When the passage of air (with or without the addition of voice) is obstructed by the flesh (the lips or tongue), we form the consonants. There are seven pairs of consonants and they are very important when it comes to making word connections. These are pairs of consonants pronounced in a similar part of the mouth, and very often one of them is voiced (has voice added to it) and the other is voiceless. You can feel which consonants are voiced by placing your hand on your throat as you pronounce them and feeling the vibration of the vocal cords. The seven phonetic pairs are:

b-p     d-t     f-v     g-k     l-r     m-n     s-z

There are also seven complex consonantal sounds made by the combination of one of these letters with the letters h or g: gh, for example, as in bridge, kh as in church, ng as in song. Unfortunately symbols are used in the International Phonetic Alphabet to represent these complex consonantal sounds, which disguise their relationship with the seven phonetic pairs, but we are not going to worry about them at the moment.

I add an eighth phonetic pair: b-v-w. This is because these letters are pronounced very close together, as we can see in languages such as Modern Greek (where b is pronounced v), Spanish (v is pronounced b), Latin (v is pronounced w) and German (w is pronounced v). This enables me, through v, to connect f with b/w.

Have a go at making connections with the following words by applying a vowel change:

DEAF   DRAMA   FAITH   (a-e)

SEED   (e-i)   NINE   STRIKE   (i-o)

or one of the phonetic pairs:

BABEL   TABLE   (b-p)   DREAM   (d-t)

DIFFER   (f-v, l-r)   ANGLE   (g-k)

HEAL   SOUL   TEMPLE   (l-r)


EROS   (s-z)   BLESS   BREAST   (b-v-w)

These are my answers.

DEAF in reverse reads FEED. I find this remarkable. It is as if, within our limitations, we are called upon to help each other. It reminds me of Christ on the beach at the Sea of Tiberias telling Peter to ‘feed my sheep’ (Jn 21:17). Christ knows our weakness – our excess of pride in our youth, our physical weakness in old age – but still he expects and wants us to minister to his sheep, to provide help to those in need. A similar connection can be found between BLIND and BUILD (physical pair n-u).

In the previous article we found confirmation for Shakespeare’s saying ‘All the world’s a stage’ in the connection EARTH-THEATRE. There is another saying – ‘Life is but a dream’ – which forms the title of a play by one of Spain’s most famous dramatists, Calderón de la Barca, Life Is a Dream (La vida es sueño). Again, we can find confirmation in the connection DRAMA-DREAM. Both of these analogies – life as a play, life as a dream – seem to refer to our limited understanding of life as we know it, human beings on a planet spinning through space. As I have said before, I believe that the world is a spiritual womb on which we are placed to grow spiritually. Our individual physical birth (from our mother’s womb) is followed by a collective spiritual birth (from the earth), which forms the body of the Church. When we are born in this world, we are not yet ready for the latter (spiritual) birth – we need time to grow. The mistake we make is in thinking that this world is self-enclosed – is all there is, a kind of free for all – when it represents an opportunity to grow.

FAITH in reverse reads THIEF. We may be afraid of having our faith stolen, but I think this connection refers to the faith shown by the Penitent Thief next to Christ on the Cross, a passage that appears in Luke 23:39-43. The Good or Penitent Thief believes in Christ and asks him to remember him in his kingdom. Christ replies, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’ So in a sense the Good or Penitent Thief is the first person to be saved – because he showed faith, because he believed.

But some of us seem to have a problem with the concept of resurrection, of rising from the dead. I don’t know why. There is a perfect example of such a resurrection right in front of our eyes, and that is SEED, which DIES in the ground only to resurrect in spring.

EARTH is planet number THREE in order of increasing distance from the Sun, but in our solar system there are said to be NINE planets in total (forgive me, I am of a certain age, and Pluto for me is and will remain a planet) with the Sun at the centre, which represents the number NONE. I have reiterated that I think we should teach our children in school to count from zero, 0, not from 1 – not to start with the ego (I), but with the eternal figure of God (O). This would then form the basis of all their thinking – not to view life in terms of the individual, but in terms of the Other, of the collective. We really have to get past the idea of money, of all exchange coming with a price tag, as if the things with which we bartered were our creation. They are not. They simply pass through our hands because we are translators. This is why single-digit numbers are not 1-10 (as we teach our children to count in school, or as we learn a foreign language) but 0-9. This is reflected by the Sun and the number of the planets.

In a similar way, we do not launch a pre-emptive STRIKE against our enemy (this attitude is again based on the idea that things belong to us and we have to fight over them). Rather we show love to our neighbour. We count down from the ego (I) to God (O), as we did with LIVE-LOVE and SIN-SON, and turn the aggressive STRIKE into the more tender and appropriate STROKE.

Language is telling us how to live our lives. It also confirms what we read in the Bible, which should not surprise us because Christ is the Word – we would expect language to confirm his message.

There are two moments of discord in the Book of Genesis. The first is the Fall – represented by the APPLE – in which man separated himself from God (though I have given a more positive interpretation of the Fall as the way we could have children and form the body of the Church). The second is the Tower of BABEL, where man was separated from man by not being able to understand the other’s language (at this point, the role of the translator came into force, but we are all translators because nothing begins with us). It is remarkable that these two moments of dissension are connected by the phonetic pair b-p.

Word connections can be quite mundane. At a party, we might eat standing up, holding a plate in our hands. At a campsite, we might eat on a stool, balancing a plate on our legs. But the normal thing is to be seated at a TABLE and for the PLATE to be on the table in front of us. That is why a table is such a basic piece of furniture – it is for eating at. A chair is for sitting on, a desk for writing at, a window for looking through (a book for reading!).

But if life is a dream, as the saying goes, then all this MATTER we hold in our hands (isn’t matter made up of atoms flying about, with plenty of space?) could also be considered a DREAM. Certainly we will have to leave it behind when we depart from this planet, we cannot take it with us – only our good deeds.

I talked about the world as the womb of the Church. The FATHER would GATHER us together (alphabetical pair f-g). He would bring us together in love. What would the DEVIL have us do? He would have us DIFFER. Here we have to apply two phonetic pairs: f-v and l-r.

The most perfect example of an ANGLE I can think of is that formed by the ANKLE. Word connections can be very visual, and this is one example (compare LICE-RICE and NAIL-RAIN – phonetic pair l-r – are they not visually alike?).

In order to HEAL, we must HEAR (the Word of God). Here are another two examples of language confirming the stories of the New Testament. At the Presentation in the Temple, Simeon says to Mary, ‘And a sword will pierce your own soul too’ (Lk 2:35). SOUL is connected to SORROW (the letter r has been doubled, the u turned into its corresponding semi-vowel, w). We feel sorrow in our souls at the state of the world, the poverty and suffering; we also feel sorrow at our own corruption (our propensity to lust, greed, anger). Sorrow is a word that is intimately linked with soul (and the voice of our conscience). Of course, it is also in SWORD, and SWORD contains WORD. Words can be cutting. Saints are depicted with swords – they protect themselves with the Word of God. Paul says as much in his letter to the Ephesians: ‘Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’ (Eph 6:17, my italics). Word connections are rarely isolated, and we will find confirmation for WORD-SWORD in the connections ARROW-WORD (addition of a/d) and SPEAK-SPEAR (alphabetical pair k-l, phonetic pair l-r).

Similarly, when Christ enters the temple and drives out the moneylenders, accusing them of turning his Father’s house into a den of thieves, we see an example of righteous anger. We find confirmation of this New Testament story (the cleansing of the Temple, Mt 21:12-7) in the connection TEMPLE-TEMPER. The chief priests and scribes, however, show a different kind of anger. They are angry with him for healing on the Sabbath, for doing ‘amazing things’ (Mt 21:15).

Christ is without sin. He has no need to repent. But our own anger can all too often be self-motivated. We are angry because our boundary lines have been crossed, our comfort zone has been invaded. For this kind of TEMPER, we need to REPENT – and there is the word to tell us.

The word ‘sin’ in Greek is hamartia, which means to miss the mark. We are not aiming as we should, we are not pointing in the right direction. Our gaze has been misdirected, most often towards the things of this world (and owning them). This is why SIN in reverse reads MISS (the s has been doubled). It also reads NICE (c-k/s, addition of e). Sin can seem nice. It can seem an act of freedom. This is the devil’s greatest trick – to make us think we are having fun, we are asserting ourselves, while all the time we are in fact destroying our existence, becoming spiritually dead. Anything that is centred on the self is not from God. It should be centred on him and, through him, on our neighbour.

I have said that the world is a spiritual womb, a nursery, in which the body of the Church is being formed. It is a kind of template – and in the word TEMPLATE we find PLANET (repetition of e and t). In fact, this is one of those strings of word connections that occur sometimes:


AM (God) created a countable noun, a separate being, AN – that is to say, he created A MAN (a combination of AM and the indefinite article AN). MAN is a LAND animal (l-m, addition of d). We use the LAND to PLANT things – food for us to eat, trees for us to breathe, flowers to make the world a prettier place. Without every kind of PLANT, our PLANET would be unrecognizable (and very barren). Our PLANET is a TEMPLATE, a trial run, a testing ground, not our final destination.

Language turns somersaults, whispers secrets in our ears. Can you hear me? Will you pay any attention?

The only word connection I have for s-z is EROS-ZERO, which I take to be a confirmation of the saying in 1 John 4:8, ‘God is love’.

I am now going to move on to the eighth phonetic pair (which isn’t really a pair at all): b-v-w. This pair enables me, through v, to connect f-b/w.

I have done down the SELF. I have connected it to FLESH in reverse (it goes the way of all flesh), to FALSE and SLAVE (its passions deceive us, its demands enslave us). But I have shown another way, how SELF can be connected to SERVE, if we will only change our direction. And here is a remarkable connection, because SELF can also be connected to BLESS. God blesses us, he doesn’t bless some abstract notion, he blesses each one of us, calling us to greater things (the deaf to feed, the blind to build!). The self, if properly directed, is a blessing because it will direct us towards him. We cannot know the Father without our self. We cannot form part of the body of the Church without being our self. MIRACLE is to RECLAIM that self from the deceptions of the devil, from the lust and anger, from the water of the well that never fills, and to fill it with living water, the water that never runs out, Christ himself. This is a blessing. BLESS-SELF.

There are three forms of nourishment in this world, and they are connected: BREAD-BREATH-BREAST. A baby without their mother’s milk, without drinking from the BREAST, will STARVE. But STARVE is contained in HARVEST, just as FAST is in FEAST (and so we come back to BREAST):


Another string of word connections. There is paradox in Christianity, in the CRIME there is MERCY. We are given this time to come to our senses. Time is a gash in the side of eternity.

Jonathan Dunne, http://www.stonesofithaca.com

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