No more plosive consonants: flay your fart!

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A video by Peter Prowse has been making the rounds:

You might recall a similar French-language video last spring, which Mark Liberman shared in his May 1 post, "Rire la Rémumligne!" In fact, there were several versions of this floating around, all based on a text originally shared on Facebook by the physicist François Pla under the pseudonym Sam Anchman. (More information here and here.)

In a Guardian article about the video, Prowse, a retired PR consultant and translator from Surrey, acknowledges that the French video was his inspiration.

It came about after a friend sent him an audio clip of a French comedian doing a similar skit. “I listened to it and it was hilarious. I thought it would be great if somebody translated that into English, but it’s untranslatable really so I just sat down and wrote something based on the same concept,” he said.

As it happens, in the comments on the May 1 Language Log post, commenter Julian provided a decent translation of the French original. And here's an English adaptation posted by Amy Isard in November.

The idea has also been tried out in other languages — see, for instance, this German version.


Prowse's deadpan Anglophone rendition works quite well, such as when he explains that "the whole fofulation, even members of farliament, will all have to flay their fart in this." (I'm reminded of an old Benny Hill sketch where he recites a poem written on a typewriter missing the "H" key, resulting in such lines as "Sow me a little carity, you sall ave my last farting.")

As for research findings that might support these video spoofs, see Victor Mair's post from September, "Some COVID-19 research with a linguistic angle," linking to: Asadi et al., "Aerosol emission and superemission during human speech increase with voice loudness" (Nature, Scientific Reports, volume 9, 2019). See also the followup from the same researchers: "Effect of voicing and articulation manner on aerosol particle emission during human speech" (PLOS One, Jan. 27, 2020).

Both of these articles predate the COVID-19 pandemic, but they have become more relevant for obvious reasons. Some international media accounts have seized on the idea that plosive consonants, particularly aspirated ones, might contribute to the spread of coronavirus. See, for instance, this Japanese TV report (shared in the comments on the September LL post), claiming to show how English speakers with their aspirated consonants are more likely to spread the virus. But the research from Asadi et al. may not quite bear this out, since they find that voiced plosives (unaspirated in English) have a higher emission rate than voiceless ones (aspirated in initial position). Better to be safe and avoid all plosives.


  1. john v burke said,

    December 22, 2020 @ 6:21 pm

    In Mark Harris' 1959 epistolary novel "Wake Up, Stupid," a character named Abner Klang, a literary agent, has a typewriter with a broken "f" key. In two letters, separated by several weeks, he writes the following:

    A business man is kissing his wi e goodby at Penn Station on his way to close a big Miami deal and sees over her shoulder a gal kissing her husband goodby. Needless to say she is beauti ul. On the train the man and the gal all into conversation. They have a drink together. They have supper together. She is also going to Miami. They discover that their roomettes or whatever you call them because I haven’t been on a train in years are right next door. So the irst thing anybody knows they are between the sheets together and when he is done he sits up and begins to cry. She says why are you crying and he says he is crying because I never be ore engaged in extra marital delectation and am thinking about my beauti ul wi e and three children back home in New Rochelle orty- ive minutes rom Broadway. She also begins to [here the fragment ends]

    Researching around in my Files I located the end oF the joke you mention and send it along herewith. I hope you didn’t lose the First part. I still laugh.

    cry and he says why are you crying and she says she is crying because she likewise never be ore engaged in marital delectation and is thinking about her husband and three children back home in Greenwich across the state line where the taxes are cheaper. Both o them are now crying their eyes out. In act all the way to Miami they cry and cry and uck and uck. Ever yours,

  2. Maurice Waite said,

    December 22, 2020 @ 7:22 pm

    And here's a variant in which certain letters are omitted solely in speech: a sketch (search for E55lG3ZV0EQ on YouTube) about the letters E and U being banned in Brexiting Britain. A couple of the best bits were "rfrndm" and "last bt not last". Ben may recognise former colleagues among the extras!

  3. maidhc said,

    December 22, 2020 @ 9:39 pm

    I seem to recall The Two Ronnies also doing a sketch about a newsreader with a broken typewriter that substituted one letter for another.

  4. Steven Swift said,

    December 22, 2020 @ 10:00 pm

    I believe the original meme comes from Dalton Edwards in "National Easy Language Week -or- MEIHEM IN CE KLASRUM", 1946. One of my favorites, I have "performed" this to an astounded audience by passing out printed copies just before my "speech" (without indication of what is to follow) and then reading it aloud. By the time we get to the last paragraph, they were totally following along!

    Many copies on-line, here is one:

    Read it out loud and Enjoy!

  5. Graeme Hirst said,

    December 22, 2020 @ 11:26 pm

    And then there was the Monty Python sketch about the man who couldn't say the letter "c" and always substituted "b" until someone pointed out that he could use "k".

  6. Tristan Miller said,

    December 23, 2020 @ 3:55 am

    To add onto the pile of antecedents, there's also "A Plan for the Improvement of English Spelling", which is apocryphally attributed to Mark Twain. (There are claims circulating online that it originally appeared in The Economist, in a letter penned by M. J. Shields, though the earliest version of it I've personally found is in one of Willard R. Espy's books.) The short text reads in full:

    For example, in Year 1 that useless letter "c" would be dropped to be replased either by "k" or "s", and likewise "x" would no longer be part of the alphabet.

    The only kase in which "c" would be retained would be the "ch" formation, which will be dealt with later.

    Year 2 might reform "w" spelling, so that "which" and "one" would take the same konsonant, wile Year 3 might well abolish "y" replasing it with "i" and iear 4 might fiks the "g/j" anomali wonse and for all.

    Jenerally, then, the improvement would kontinue iear bai iear with iear 5 doing awai with useless double konsonants, and iears 6-12 or so modifaiing vowlz and the rimeining voist and unvoist konsonants.

    Bai iear 15 or sou, it wud fainali bi posibl tu meik ius ov thi ridandant letez "c", "y" and "x" — bai now jast a memori in the maindz ov ould doderez — tu riplais "ch", "sh", and "th" rispektivli.

    Fainali, xen, aafte sam 20 iers ov orxogrefkl riform, wi wud hev a lojikl, kohirnt speling in ius xrewawt xe Ingliy-spiking werld.

  7. Cervantes said,

    December 23, 2020 @ 9:04 am

    Let's do Billy!
    Billy, Billy, bo-gil-ly, bo-na-na
    Fanna, fo-fil-ly,
    Fee fi mo-mil-ly, Billy!

  8. Batchman said,

    December 23, 2020 @ 12:41 pm

    Yes, "the Name Game" as popularized by Shirley Ellis' 1965 pop hit, which lasted only until someone tried to apply it to the name "Chuck"…

  9. Steve Jones said,

    December 27, 2020 @ 6:16 am

    Here I merely promote all the erudite work on LL by observing the significance of the topic for stammerers!

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