Increase your English vocabulary by learning of words like abstruent and retroject

Bear with me but one opening paragraph. I promise this will not dwindle into a phonology lesson.

Obstruent (ob-STRU-ent) is nowadays a technical term in that part of linguistics which studies the related sounds of a language and the history and theory of its sound changes, namely, phonology. In phonetics, an obstruent is a fricative or plosive speech sound. A fricative is a type of consonant made by blowing breath through a narrow opening. The f in father and the th in thirsty are fricatives. Sibilants or s-sounds are fricatives. For example, the s in English noun sip, a sip of hot coffee, is a voiceless coronal sibilant, whereas the z in zip is a voiced coronal sibilant. But that’s only a technical meaning of obstruent.

Say the word aloud (ob-STRU-ent).  

A most pleasant, Latin-based, English term, obstruent used to have a common medical meaning of obstructive but that use is now largely gone. Besides, English has already the adjective obstructive with its apt sound, the clatter of its internal consonant clusters a sonic barrier sometimes even to pronouncing the word.

I opt for wider dispersal of the word obstruent as an adjective or noun because its form, a present participle, suggests the obstruction is still going on, whereas the word obstructive sounds like some past impediment or unique hindrance. Let me offer exemplary sentences to demonstrate.

Obstruent to any betterment of American jurisprudence is the ongoing, right-wing dominance among justices of the United States Supreme Court.

Boulders crashed down into the spring freshet of the stream and proved obstruent to the onrush of its waters.

A fool for a helmsman is obstruent to an efficiently charted voyage by yacht.

Marked rare or very rare in some dictionaries, the verb to retroject something is to project or throw it backwards. The Oxford English Dictionary contributes a useful addendum “to apply or attribute (a concept, state of affairs, etc.) to an earlier time or situation.”

Do not retroject into ancient religions spiritual notions from the twenty-first century.

A rabbinical interpretation has been retrojected into this biblical text.

It may be difficult for modern readers to retroject themselves into an ancient Greek consciousness.

A reader gains little by retrojecting Jungian interpretations into postmodern fiction.

The verb was formed in English but using good Latin roots. Its noun retrojection appeared first in English; later came the verb. Retro is a Latin adverb that means ‘backward.’ Today the Latin adverb, as an English short form, is an adjective by itself. That fashion design is strictly retro. Retro’s common current meaning is ‘old-fashioned, belonging to a past style.’ Fred’s take on the duties of a politician is very retro.

The adverb retro is in several everyday, compound English words. In retrospect (‘a looking backward in time’) our early arrival was a mistake.

Retrograde too is an adjective alive in the language. Retrograde means ‘moving backward, reverse, rearward.’ These racist scum advocate retrograde legislation that would return segregation to public schools.

In retrograde amnesia, a patient remembers nothing of his or her past.

But the neglected term is retroject. There is a pronunciatory vigour in the verb. To retroject into something is indeed an intrusive thrust.

See if you can help give new life to abstruent and to retroject by using them in written work this week!

Bill Casselman, August 30, 2017

Text Copyright 2017 by William Gordson Casselman


At the Wording Desk

Bill Casselman