Daily Archives: November 28, 2010

stench, stanch, staunch

“Oyyy,” I said, stepping into Domus Logogustationis, local headquarters of the Order of Logogustation. “What’s the stench?”

“There’s been a little backup,” Maury said, gesturing towards the lavatory. “We’ve had to call for backup.”

A tall, angular fellow in overalls came out of the washroom. Seeing me, he took off a glove and came over, extending a hand in greeting. “Hi. I am Stan.”

“Stan,” I said, shaking hands with him. “From Stanley, taken from Old English for ‘stone meadow’.”

“No, in fact,” Stan said. “Taken from Zdenek. I am from the Czech Republic originally.”

Zdenek,” Maury said. “From Latin Sidonius, ‘person from Sidonia.'”

“Yes,” Stan said. “I anglicized. I began to tire of people mispronouncing my name. All these people who think they can’t say ‘zd’. Even though English is full of ‘st’.”

“Well, Zdenek,” I said, “are you able to stanch the stench?”

He patted me on the shoulder amicably. “I am your staunch ally. But stanching is not the solution, it is the problem. The pipe is blocked.”

“And the solutions in it are not draining,” Maury quipped. “They are stagnant.”

“In fact. But this is not something I can fix with a snake. I will need to bypass it with another pipe.”

“A stent,” I said before I could stop myself.

“That’s the extent of it,” Stan said. “I will affix it to a stanchion for support.”

“That’s quite the stunt,” I said.

“Well,” Stan said, smiling indulgently, “it is just because the pipe has been stunted. But let me finish the work now so that my stint here does not go too long.” He turned and went back to the washroom.

“Interesting,” Maury said, “the different effect of affricate versus stop at the ends of these words. Stench and stink come from the same Old English word, but stink seems more acute and stench perhaps more thoroughgoing.”

“I’m sure drench and quench and such words have some effect on stench,” I said. “Plus the wetness of the fricative portion at the end.”

“The vowels, too,” Maury noted. “The vowel movement between stench and stink is rather like that between stauunch and stanch, which are even more closely related, being actually different forms of the same word: verb ‘stop the flow of water’, adjective ‘impervious to the flow of water’, both from Old French and possibly ultimately related to the Latin etymon of stagnant.”

“The velar /k/ stop is stickier and, I would say, denser in feeling than the lighter alveolar /t/ stop,” I said. “Stint – ‘cease action’ or ‘a limited period of action’; stunt – ‘stop the development of’ or ‘athletic display’; stent – ‘temporary medical bypass or drainage tube’. None of them as strong in the sound as stink, stank, stunk.”

“Two from Old English and one eponym,” Maury said, reflecting on stint, stunt, and stent. “I’m not sure where the family name of the good dentist Dr. Charles Stent came from.”

An encouraging sound of gurgling came from the washroom. Maury and I went over to look. Stan appeared to have solved the problem. “That was quick,” I said.

“Well, gentlemen,” Stan said, arising, “when you are well trained, the draining takes over. So I have given you express service. But I hope,” he added, taking off his gloves and reaching for his invoice pad, “when you write a cheque to Stan the Czech you will be unstinting.”