An example of abnormal sound-sequence in American slang is the verb shlurp, "to drink noisily or sloppily", an intensive by-form of the verb slurp. The sound sequence /Sl-/ occurs in no other English verb. And among nouns it is only found in such German loanwords as Schloss or the Yiddish Schlemiel. Another example is the noun oomph, "vivacity, energy or sexual magnetism". Not only is the intial /u/ abnormal here (before two consonants initially), but so is the sequence of /mf/.
The commonest type of vocalic alternation in American slang is that which occurs grammatically in such English verb paradigms as sing-sang-sung. It is the vowel change called "Ablaut" or gradation. Examples are gidget~gadget "samall device" and gazinkus~gazunkus "contrivance", and ,of course, the word slang itself, if seen as derived from sling.
If anything, however, consonantal apophony (=sound alternation) is even more common in American slang than vowel alternation. The reason for this may simply be the phonetic fact that English vocalic contrasts are confined to two types - high vs. low, and front vs. back - whereas consonantal contrasts are of various kinds. Dimensionally, to be sure, vowels and consonants are equally biaxial, and their sound contrasts can be minimally described in terms of degrees of horizontal and vertical movement on a phonic plane. But in English, as in most other languages, the vertical dimension is categorially divisible into far more consonantal than vocalic types. Thus while English vowels can be vertically contrasted at only three distinctive levels (high, mid, and low), consonants may be opposed in an almost indefinitely fine-graded manner (as occlusive vs. continuant, obstruant vs. sonorant, oral vs. nasal, fricative vs. smooth).
Examples of voice alternation in American slang (voiceless-voiced): kookapoo = kookaboo "lunatic" (labial) tizzy "disorientation"- dizzy "disoriented" (apical) cheez! = jeez! "Jesus" (frontal) kange = ganje "Negro" (dorsal)
Alternation according to manner: oral - nasal: gab=gam "chatter" continuant - obstruant: gad! = golly! "God" vibrant - lateral: belch = burp "to eruct"
Alternation according to position: labial - frontal: zip = zilch "nothing" labial - velar: rumpus = ruckus "uproar" labial - dorsal: fooey = hooey "nonsense"
Overrepresentation of certain sounds There are a few cases of consonant alternations whose frequency is so high as to require special comment. Foremost among these is the mutual convertibility of the voiced frontal affricate /j-/ and the voiced spiral fricative /z-/ as in jig = zig "Negro" jit "semen" - zit "pus" jillion = zillion "a huge number" jag = zag "a drunken spree"
Roger Wescott (1976: The Phonology and Morphology of American English Slang. LACUS 3:100-119),to whom I owe these examples, guesses that /j-/ and /z-/ tend to be equated in slang because originally - in Old English - they could not occur initially and, phonemically, in any position. The fact that in the Middle Ages they occurred in foreign words - jealous/zealous - may then have marked them as special sounds, appropriate to special language like slang.
Among phonemes, in any case, /z/ has taken on a special marked status as particularly representative of slang, since its frequency in slang is out of all proportion to its frequency in formal speech. Examples from American slang: zig "Negro zap "to strike" zuch "informer" whiz "genius" jazz "hot music" fuzz "police" zorch "very good" razz "heckle" fizzle "failure" snazzy "fascinating"
The same is true of /uw/. Examples: ook "seducer" ooch "to move over o na sofa" oof = ookus "money" oodlum "darling" oolydrooly "puppy-love" oochimagoochy "carnival performer" blooey "going to pieces" hooey "nonsense"
Examples of /z/ and /uw/ in sequence are: zool "attractive specimen" mazoo=mazzola=mazzoma "money" bazooka "comic trombone" gazoony "naive homosexual" booze "liquor" floozy "prostitute" foozle "blunder" gazoozle "to cheat" lollapalooza "extraordinary specimen"
Sound Repetition The most striking kind of sound repetition is probably palindromy, the occurrence of forms so structured that their phonemic sequence does not alter when reversed. The simplest kind of a palindrome is the reversible word, such as tit "nipple". The commonest, however, is the reverisble morpheme such as the base of zazzy "sexy". And the most arresting is the word that contains two reversible morphemes, such as lalligagging "idle".
Sound repetition is also illustrated in the many reduplicatves with which slang is crowded. Reduplicatives involve partial or total repetition of a single morpheme or word. Examples would be tom tom, ding-dong, and higgledy-piggledy. Such reduplicatives are characteristic of slang. Samuel Johnson in his 1755 Dictionary of the English Language took special note of such "low", "vile cant" as the aforesaid higgledy-piggledy or twittle-twattle. They were, he claimed, "too gross and vulgar for the delicate". But such formations were not new then. Hotchpotch goes back at least to 1292, hurly-burly to 1530, and higgledy-piggledy to 1598. Three different types of reduplicatives can be distinguished: - identical reduplication - ablaut reduplication - rhyme reduplication
Examples of identical or simple repetition are beep beep, goody-goody, or din-din, etc.
Ablaut reduplication has already been referred to: gidget-gadget, gazinkus-gazunkus. In English it most commonly inolves a vowel shift from /i/ to /ae/ as in shilly-shally or zig-zag, though other possibilities exist: e.g. see-saw, hee haw.
The third type of reduplication is based upon a change of consonants rather than vowels and such reduplicatives usually rhyme. Examples include hocus-pocus and mumbo jumbo. And we should again mention the examples from college slang, the names for the courses. Nils Thuns (1963) and Alan Dundes (1974) found out - by careful statistical observation - that strange laws seem to apply in this category. They found that /h/ is the most popular initial consonant in rhyme reduplicatives. Flexner already had noted that /w/ is the most common inital consonant in the second portion of the reduplicatives. Dundes then showed that, although /h/ is the most common initial consonant in rhyme reduplicatives, it rarely occurs as the intial consonant of the second member of a reduplicative pair. And that /w/, which is the most common initial element in second members of reduplicatives, rarely occurs in those instances where the intial consonant of the first member is an /h/. We may add that it may well be that the various patterns identified by these folklorists are based upon a number of underlying phonological distinctions. For example, it may be that stops and continuants are contrasted. Thus, if the first member of a reduplicative begins with a stop, the second member is likely to begin with a continuant (e.g. Turkey-Lurkey) Similarly, if the first member begins with a continuant, the second will begin with a stop (e.g. lovey-dovey). Another possible principle at work is a definite movement from back to front (referring to the point of articulation), e.g. Henny-Penny. For those cases in which the first member begins with an /h/ Thuns has worked out statistics that suggest that in the majority of cases, the second member will again begin with a stop:
/h/ : /p/ hanky-panky, hoi polloi, hocus pocus, hokey pokey, hodgepodge /h/ : /b/ hurly-burly, hubble bubble, hustle bustle, hell's bells, hillybilly /h/ : /d/ humdrum, heyday, hoodoo /h/ : /t/ hoity-toity, hotsy-totsy