A sense of four boating

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Frazz for 12/11/2023:

Three of the four substitutions are phonetically similar but not identical, at least in most varieties of American English: vogue for vague, intending for impending, and proverbly for probably.

However, for speakers with flapping/voicing of intervocalic non-pre-stress /t/, four boating is phonetically identical to forboding. Though it's an interesting example (like latter/ladder) of a pair that many speakers (me included) have a false feeling that they somehow pronounce differently.


  1. Stentor said,

    December 12, 2023 @ 9:08 am

    I feel like there's a slight difference in emphasis – forBODing vs FOUR BOATing. That may depend on context. It's hard to say for sure because I'm having trouble thinking of a sentence in which I'd naturally say "four boating."

  2. jin defang said,

    December 12, 2023 @ 9:11 am

    not sure about that, Stentor-san. One of my students recently turned in a paper speaking of "a sense of eminent danger." When I corrected her, she didn't reply that it was a typo.

  3. jin defang said,

    December 12, 2023 @ 9:15 am

    PS: since students don't read as much as we used to, they have a tendency to spell things the way they hear them (and not necessarily correctly pronounced), which is often not the way they're spelled.

  4. Peter Taylor said,

    December 12, 2023 @ 9:18 am

    @Stentor, it might change the emphasis again, but you can use boating as part of a larger noun phrase. E.g. This weekend I want to try out four boating tips I saw in a magazine."

  5. Mark Liberman said,

    December 12, 2023 @ 11:42 am

    @Stentor: "I feel like there's a slight difference in emphasis – forBODing vs FOUR BOATing."

    MW specifies a pronunciation with a secondary stress on the first syllable:

    And the OED does as well, for American English and as one of the British options:

  6. Daniel Barkalow said,

    December 12, 2023 @ 12:21 pm

    I think I'd have equal stress on the relevant syllables with "four boating", which distinctively messes with the prosody. On the other hand:

    A: "Why is everyone else on this bus wearing a lifejacket?"
    B: "For boating"
    A: "It sure is!"

    would be exactly the same for me.

  7. Benjamin E. Orsatti said,

    December 12, 2023 @ 1:00 pm

    Testifying from Western Pennsylvania — seems if you mapped it on one of those fancy voice graph thingies, you'd see the "oa" in "boating" pronounced quicker than the "o" in foreboding, and the "t" in "boating" would be just ever-so-slightly tapped against the tooth, while the "d" in "foreboding" would be just a smidge more of a true "flap".

  8. Terry K. said,

    December 12, 2023 @ 2:48 pm

    I can't say much on how I'd pronounce "Foreboding" since it's not a word I'd used, but I can say that sometimes "four boating" would have a pause between "four" and "boating" that "foreboding" would not have between those syllables.

  9. Chris Button said,

    December 12, 2023 @ 3:15 pm

    It's not John Wells' self.ish versus shell.fish length issue (where syllable breaks are all important) because of the accent placement.

    Having said that, if we're keeping the nuclear tone constant, I wonder if we do get a reduction of the long vowel in "four' (unfortunately it usually goes unmarked in phonetic transcription of GenAm) and a shorter vowel in the "for" of "forboding".

  10. Seth said,

    December 12, 2023 @ 3:38 pm

    Note, it reads to me like the kid did in fact study for the vocal cab you bury test, and maybe didn't get enough sleep because of that. It does sound like he tried, though perhaps didn't succeed.

    This reminds me of the effect where some people interpret the spoken phrase "sickle-cell anemia" as "sick-as-hell anemia".

  11. Coby said,

    December 12, 2023 @ 6:03 pm

    Pop songs often have "4U" meaning "for you", but I don't think "for you" is ever pronounced the same as :four you".

  12. Chris Button said,

    December 12, 2023 @ 9:53 pm

    I'm thinking you could possibly get




  13. Anthony said,

    December 12, 2023 @ 10:24 pm

    And then there's the fairly rare word immanent, when spoken often rendered as im-MAY-nent so as to differentiate it from imminent.

  14. Chris Button said,

    December 12, 2023 @ 11:48 pm

    Or rather, that should be:

    fɔːɹ \boʊd.ɪŋ (four boating)

    fɔɹ\boʊd.ɪŋ (forboding)

    With \ denoting the falling nuclear tone.

  15. Philip Taylor said,

    December 13, 2023 @ 5:22 am

    Coby — I don't think "for you" is ever pronounced the same as ["]four you" — in my head, they sound identical, although I cannot think of a sentence containing "four you" as I write. But in 19" rack systems, where the unit height is termed "1U", one frequently encounters "4U" (e.g., “4U 19" Data Rack / Patching Network Cabinet 375mm Deep Black”), and in my mind the "4U" therein sounds identical to the "for you" of "for you are my true love and ever shall be".

  16. Ryan said,

    December 13, 2023 @ 11:35 pm

    If I offered the kids at a summer camp choices of activity and wound up with six nature, four boating and two doing crafts, the pronunciation would be identical to foreboding.

    Meanwhile, the phrase for boating is completely different for me. The first word would be a homophone of fur.

  17. wanda said,

    December 14, 2023 @ 3:00 am

    What a coincidence. Today I had to correct myself. I nearly asked in an email whether funds had been dispersed instead of disbursed.

  18. Philip Taylor said,

    December 14, 2023 @ 5:42 am

    After reading Ryan’s comment (two above), I can now think of a sentence containing the sequence "four you", although I am not sure that anyone would actually use it as-is : "What were the final scores, Coby?". "Three me, four you, so you win by one point".

  19. Chas Belov said,

    December 15, 2023 @ 1:03 am

    Hmmm, I think I say foreboding with a "d" sound and for boating with a glottal stop.

  20. Keith said,

    December 15, 2023 @ 8:37 am

    This was a something of a bugbear for me, when my children were still in school.

    I would ask "what did you do at school today" and the answer would be "riding". I would ask if that was on a horse, a bicycle, or some other animal or contraption.

    "Oh, daddy! In a book, of course!"

  21. Terry K. said,

    December 15, 2023 @ 3:52 pm

    @Philip Taylor

    Curious that for you the "for you" of ""for you are my true love and ever shall be" and the "4U" of "4U 19" sound the same in your head. For me the stress pattern is very different when I say them in my head. "you" has stronger stress than "for", whereas 4 and U are evenly stressed.

    In actually speech I'd likely also have a reduced pronunciation of "for" but not 4, but that doesn't really happen hearing in my head (at least not distinctly).

  22. Philip Taylor said,

    December 18, 2023 @ 9:36 am

    I agree, Terry. The words sound the same (for me) but the stress pattern is different. I have been unable to come up with a sentence in which both "for" and "you" have equal stress when juxtaposed, unlike the stress pattern found in "4U rack mounting".

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