Column: I vowel to define vocalic


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

I have never been a science guy. While I admit Earth is round (or so the media would have me tell you), I never developed a deeper understanding of biology, chemistry or physics.

As a result of this, when I began college, I opted for the easiest science course I could find. This was the early 21st century, and online courses were a bit of a novelty. Enter yours truly, the science goof-off who decided to take “Volcanoes and Earthquakes (Online)” at the University of Oklahoma.

I’ll skip the part about not doing any of the homework (since only the four tests counted toward our grades in the class), and let you know that I needed to get an “A” on the final to get a “C” in the class. I did it. I became a last-second master of all things volcanic.

When I first saw the word “vocalic,” my brain saw the word “volcanic.” Especially now that I’m an expert in mountains blowing their tops, I like to unleash my volcanic wisdom on anyone walking by. In fact, “vocalic” has nothing to do with volcanoes; it is a word that relates to vowels.

Since I’m not about to discuss “spy glyphs” or “nymph myths” today, I want to stick to traditional vowels: a, e, i, o, and u. After all, in the Wordle era, we all want to master our vowel movements.

A “univocalic” word is a word that contains only one of the vowels. It can have only one vowel, like in the word “ash,” or it can have one vowel used multiple times, like “lava” or “magma.” Did you know that the molten gooey stuff in a volcano is magma when it’s inside the volcano and is considered lava once it erupts?

My favorite volcanic univocalic word is the Hawaiian word “aa” (or a’a). It precedes “aardvark” in the dictionary, which makes it one of the best words of all time. According to the U.S. Geological Society, aa is “a Hawaiian term for lava flows that have a rough rubbly surface composed of broken lava blocks called clinkers.”

If a word has more than one of the vowels, we call it “plurivocalic.” Examples of plurivocalic words include volcano, erupt, tectonic and pumice.

I hope you have learned something about vowels today. If tomorrow’s Wordle puzzle throws you a plurivocalic word, please try your best not to blow your lid.