My friend and I subscribe to different word-a-day lists. I think his might be cooler.

Here’s today’s “word”:


Pronunciation: [‘jee-chet?]

Definition: "Did you eat yet?" in hurried US English.

Usage: It is easy to believe that each word we say comprises one sound that conveys a meaning. Today’s ‘word,’ however, is a single phonological word (linguistic sound) that corresponds to an entire sentence. This is not the result of random slurring; it is the result of regular English sound change rules:

  1. Since "did" is not ordinarily accented, the vowel tends to disappear, so that the two [d]s combine into one, just as "probably" becomes "probly," "suppose" becomes "s’pose," and "police" becomes "p’lice."
  2. [t] and [d] combine with [y] to become [j] and [ch], so "did you" reduces to [jê](elsewhere [dijê]) and "eat yet" become [eechet]. The same thing happens with "mature" [mêchur] and "verdure" [vêrjur] where a [y] sound follows the [t] and [d].

Suggested Usage: One reason we can’t determine the number of words in a language is because a phonological word (the sound part) does not always directly correspond to a semantic word (the meaning). "I would have" comprises 3 distinct sounds and meanings but "I’d’ve" is a single two-syllable phonological word that matches the same three meanings—one word or three? Speaking a language involves a complex set of mental activities in different parts of the brain that follow rules that allow us to plot the output of one onto that of another in a surprising variety of ways.

Etymology: The etymological point of today’s ‘word’ is that the sound changes you see in it are one of the sources of the historical changes in language. However, the central word in "jeechet?" is "eat," which shares a source with German "essen," Latin "edere" (whence our word "edible"), and Russian "est’, ed-." The Russian word for "bear" is medved’ from medu "of honey" + ed’ "eat(er)."

—Dr. Language,


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