“What does ‘slink’ mean?” Robert asked me. (Apparently he was trawling through the entire list of English irregular verbs.)
As usual, I’m unable to give a straight answer / translation. The word immediately conjures up a picture in my head: feline, silent, sinuous, leopard print, black leather… that old Shania Twain video…
“Like this,” I said, slinking in and out of the room. “Kinda sorta, desplazarse sinuosamente, furtivamente, sigilosamente…”
We looked ‘slink’ and ‘slinky’ up in the English-Spanish.
slink (move furtively) escabullirse
slink (move provocatively) caminar de manera provocativa
“But it’s more than that,” I whined.
And then I was off on my rant about the expressiveness of English and in particular sl- words and how so many of them seem to embody a particular flavour of unpleasantness, which just does not come over in translation or explanation but is somehow expressed by the sl- sound itself.
Slob slobber slut slovenly slime sleeze sloppy slurp slippery slug slush
When you come to think about it, this is strangely fascinating. Is there anything inherent in the sl- sound that makes us cringe, shudder or turn up our noses?
Slash? (not the guitarist, whom I love). No. That feels different: surely it belongs with crash, smash, bash, mash, trash, lash, gash, gnash…
This is seriously fascinating.
Aren’t words and letters supposed to be arbitrary signs: isn’t this one of the basic principles of the science of linguistics?
In fact, some linguists are on to these ‘magic letters’, as Margaret Magnus has called them, and the phenomenon has a name (or several): sound symbolism, phonaesthesia or phonosemantics, which refer to the idea that vocal sounds or phonemes carry meaning in and of themselves.
Now there’s something on the tip of my tongue.
It’s coming: Alan Rickman in ‘The Barchester Chronicles’, the 1982 BBC series based on the first two Barchester novels of Anthony Trollope. I only recently watched the DVD. Rickman brilliantly played that utterly slimy and obnoxious cleric… what was his name?
The Reverend Obadiah Slope.
There you go.