Daily Archives: May 29, 2009


A word made to be murmured, whispered, rustled with the lips pursed, purred. Such a simple set of sounds and symbols: three soft hisses and a retroflex or trill joined by three vowels of decreasing definition (though the stress is on the middle one). Such a set of little lines, too, a row of low verticals interrupted only by three curves, so much like the unintelligible pseudo-script used in cartoons to represent whispering. It practically begs for an extra us on the end – or one less su at the start – to set the symmetry. This word has a Latin source, of course. It appeared in English in the 19th century. Meanwhile, its synonym (or near-synonym) susurration has been in our tongue since about 1400. That word, though, can have negative overtones (or should I say undertones): not just careless whispers but malicious ones, but less so now than in earlier uses of it. There is also a verb, susurrate, and an adjective, susurrous. Another verb, susurr, seems to have been cut short – in time, I mean: no one uses it anymore. Susurrus is not much spoken, either… but go to a library and you’ll be sure to seem to hear it everywhere.