Daily Archives: November 26, 2008

bungle

If this word stays in the jungle, it’s alright by me, but it’s more likely heard in a bungalow, perpetrated by some blundering dumb bunny. So where did we get this word from? Well, it seems that it just sounded right. It fits in comfortably with bumble, brangle, boggle, fumble, mumble, stumble, rumble, tumble… The -le could be taken as the frequentive ending heard in such words as suckle, but with the nasal and voiced stop it’s rather more reminiscent of the kindred words just mentioned; finagle comes to mind, too, and especially tangle – all words that involve messes, trips and things getting shaken like marbles or going like a string of Christmas lights all balled up. The vowel in bungle, represented in phonetic transcription by a caret or schwa, is often associated with dullness and dumbness, especially in context with nasals and voiced stops. The bung has that hollow sound you might hear when a cork is jammed into an empty barrel… by the head of somone tripping. There is little resonance from a front-vowel sibling such as tingle – far too bright and sharp. This mid-central unrounded vowel (heard as a mid-high back rounded vowel in some dialects) seems to group with back vowels, such as in bongo – and perhaps Congo, though the influence of other sounds carries Bangalore too close to torpedo. Bugle is hiding in the form of this word, but you might not notice it, while you probably will think of bangle. But one thing’s for sure: when a bungle’s done, you’re left with a shambles.