dwindle

A curious little word that twines itself around your tongue. It has little overtones of win and, with more gust, wind, but the phonaesthetic kick of the dw onset may come through more strongly, with echoes of dweeb, Dwight, Dweezil (for Zappa fans), and perhaps even the similar tw onset in twerp and twit. The stronger part, though, is the indle, which has the frequentive le ending we see in suckle, sparkle, sprinkle, fondle, handle, and on and on and on, with special echoes from the rhyming spindle and (for those who know it) brindle. You can’t really say this word without blowing a kiss, but that initial pucker and whistle (a vocal gesture that can be slightly modified to make water-drop sounds) ends with the lips spread and the articulation moving back – the tongue stays touching from the n on, but at the end there’s that velar raising to make what linguists often call the “dark l.” None of which really gives an  immediate clue to its sense of diminution, and yet somehow the word nonetheless seems apposite, presenting a picture of a pile gradually being blown away by the wind. And its source? An Old English word, dwine, meaning to waste away – which is related to the same Old Norse root that also lies behind die.

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