Language is made up of three elements: breath, water and flesh. The first element to come out of the mouth is breath, without breath there can be no voice. Breath in language is represented by the letter h, which is silent in some languages and can be dropped colloquially. Then come the vowels: voice. A vowel can be said to flow (f-v, addition of e). Hold a vowel for long enough, and water will collect in your mouth, as any dentist will tell you. The vowels proceed from the throat in the following order: u, o, a, e, i. Since h on its own is not a word, the first word we can form by breathing out and adding voice is hu. Hu is Sanskrit for “invoke the gods” and is given in the dictionary as the root-word of God. So by the mere act of speech we are calling upon God. Hu is also the first element of what we are – human, God-man, man in God’s image – and yet the dictionary will tell you that human derives from the Latin word for man, homo. I think it is an accretion of hu and man.
Then come the consonants, when we block the flow of air and (sometimes) voice by using our lips or our tongue. These represent the flesh of language (the lips or tongue). We have seen the seven phonetic pairs that represent simple consonantal sounds: b-p, d-t, f-v, g-k, l-r, m-n, s-z. There are another seven consonantal sounds that are complex and that can be represented by seven of these letters with the addition of h or g – dh-th (breathe-breath), gh-kh (bridge-church), sh-zh (wish-vision), ng (song) – but in charts showing the International Phonetic Alphabet the relation of these seven complex consonantal sounds to the fourteen simple consonantal sounds is hidden by the use of symbols.
The three elements of speech – breath, water and flesh – are also the three elements of the creation account given in the Book of Genesis. We should hardly be surprised since God spoke the world into being (“And God said…”), through the Word – and world is precisely a combination of word and lord. So we find in chapter 1 of Genesis that “a wind from God swept over the face of the waters” (my italics, NRSV translation), and we have the six days of creation followed by the seventh day of rest. In chapter 2 of Genesis, the creation of man, “a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground – then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being” (my italics). These three words that make up the act of speech and creation – breath, water, flesh – can all be connected, by applying the rules we have been discussing, to a single word: father (f-v-b; f-v-w, addition of h; l-r, s-t, addition of a).
I would like now to look at word connections made by the addition of letters. We have already seen the example of flow-vowel (f-v, addition of e). It should come as no surprise to find that the two most common letters used to make word connections by the addition of a letter are h and e, which together form he. If we add the letter h, we can connect water-father (f-v-w), debt-death (a-b), die-hide (as creatures are wont to do when they feel their time has come), ego-echo (g-k-c, we may get tired of listening to ourselves), live-while (v-w, life as we know it is only for a time), lover-mother (l-m, t-v in the alphabet, the usual result of being a lover is to become a mother), oil-holy (i-y, oil is used to anoint), self-flesh (I must go the way of all flesh), starve-harvest (word connections often seem to be opposites), trade-dearth (trade leads to a dearth of products for some and a surplus for others) and perhaps my favourite connection by the addition of h, love-other (l-r, t-v, we are commanded to love God, theos in Greek, and to love our neighbour).
By the addition of e, we can connect flow-vowel (f-v), bat-cave (b-c, t-v in the alphabet), birth-thrive or writhe (b-v-w), can-make (m-n, c-k, what we are called to do, but we preferred to add the ego, I, and to create Cain; meanwhile Abel gives able with the letters rearranged), doubt-devout (b-v), fast-feast (and feast is in starve, f-v, addition of r), first-strife (the competition to be first leads to strife, first contains fist), lamb-blame (Christ the Lamb of God took the blame for our sins on the Cross), low-love (v-w, the humbleness of love), plot-topple (repetition of p), stay-yeast, virus-survive (repetition of v), swan-raven (r-s, v-w in the alphabet, two opposite ideals).
The other letters most commonly added in word connections are all grammatical: s, d-t, l-r, n. The English language is relatively simple to learn. Verbs hardly change according to number and person; in the present tense, we add an s to make the third person singular (learn, learns), this letter is also used to make a plural (book, books). To form the regular past, we add ed (learn, learned), which is usually pronounced d or t (learned, looked). The past participle is also formed by adding ed or n (know, known). The letters l and r are very commonly found as suffixes at the end of words to make adjectives or nouns (vocal, regular), the base forms of which (vox, regula) are often Latin.
So we might add s and connect blue-pulse (b-p), die-shed (h-i in the alphabet, when we die, we shed our outer skin and abandon the body), dream-stream (d-t), free-serve (f-v, this goes contrary to popular thinking, which sees the idea of service as a form of slavery and freedom as doing whatever we like, but I think this is a lie and real freedom consists in turning to God and serving the other), oil-soil (again, we think of oil as a source of wealth in today’s world, but perhaps the real wealth around us is soil, from which we get our food), reach-search (Christ: “Seek, and you will find”), repent-serpent (we were tempted by the serpent in the Garden of Eden and must now repent of our sins and turn to God).
By adding d-t, we can connect air-bird (a-b in the alphabet), evil-devil (though different roots are given for these two words in the dictionary), fan-hand (f-h in the alphabet), heart-hatred (we mustn’t keep hatred in our heart), man-land (and land can be connected with plant, plant with planet and planet with template), soil-solid (where we step), sow-word (r-s, see the Parable of the Sower), work-world (k-l in the alphabet), then devil-divert (l-r, the devil would divert our attention), die-tide (like the tide, we are swept away), fish-shift (as they dart in the water), I and me can be found within the limits of time.
With l-r, we find bosom-blossom (word connections can undoubtedly be erotic), God-gold (Christ: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”), roof-floor (opposites again), save-slave (if we are a slave to God’s will), seed-sleep (d-p rotated in appearance, seeds have been known to sleep in the ground for many years), then ego-ogre (go on, it can be), thaw-wrath (what our anger should do), time-merit (have we done enough?), walk-crawl (l-r, c-k, from baby to toddler), white-winter (h-n in appearance, at least it is in my part of the world), womb-world (b-d in appearance, l-m in the alphabet).
Finally, by adding n we can find bake-knead (b-d), eagle-angel (repetition of e, eagles are considered the most majestic of birds), orgy-groin (when we lose control of ourselves and become subject to the will of another), work-crown (a reward for our efforts).
I mentioned the addition of g and will give two examples that for me represent the seeming paradox of certain word connections: local-global (b-c, what happen locally affects us globally) and alone-belong (a-b, by turning to Christ we can feel alone in the world because we belong to a community that cannot be seen, this is similar to apart and a part).
Can you make any other connections by adding letters to the following words?