Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
Paul Spalding-Mulcock
Features Writer
1:02 AM 28th October 2023

Word Of The Week : Sibilant

Sibilant noun

Etymologically, ‘Sibilant’ comes to us from the Latin word sibilans, the present participle of sibilare meaning to hiss, or whistle.

When employed as an adjective, we are describing the making of a hissing sound as in, ‘his sibilant whispering’. The recondite world of phonetics undergirds our usage in that as a noun, sibilant is the name for a specific speech sound whereby fricative consonants are produced by directing a stream of air with a speaker’s tongue towards their teeth.

In English, s, z, sh and zh, as in the sound of the s in pleasure are pure sibilants, with the affricates ch and j also considered modified sibilants. As such a sibilant is a phoneme which combines a plosive with an immediately following fricative, or spirant sharing the same articulation.

Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash
Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash
A lisp is a common speech impediment causing a person to misarticulate sibilants. As an Australian child in a snotty English school, I suffered from both a lisp and an incongruous accent…enforced elocution lessons were recalcitrantly endured!

Eschewing the dusty world of phonetics, think of this adjective as suggesting soft, hissing sounds…

A sibilant murmuring briefly pervaded the room…the thin, serpentine form quietly raised itself by dint of a rectilinear slither. A puny arm reached for the water glass sat before it on the grandiose lectern – “H eth 2 has been cancelled upon my order”. A glistening forked tongue flicked briefly into sight before disappearing into the dark environs of the PM’s smirking maw.