After yesterday’s entry on sisear and hiss, it seems reasonable to point out that another sibilant sound word—along with sibilante/sibilant itself—is Spanish susurro, which means ‘a whispering or murmuring sound.’ For example, in 1828, Mariano Cubi i Soler translated the second of a certain Mrs. Barbauld’s lines “Oft let me hear thy soothing voice / Low whispering through the shade” with the soundful phrase “con bajo susurro por la sombra umbría.”

Spanish susurro is an adaptation of the similar Latin susurrus, which literary English has borrowed outright. To susurrar/susurrate, from the Latin verb susurrare, is ‘to whisper; to murmur; to make a soft rustling sound.’ The present participle of the Latin verb has given us the adjective susurrante/susurrant, and in addition English has the even more sibilant susurrous. As an example of the word’s usage, take this sentence from “My Diary in India,” by William Howard Russell, published in 1860: “I was aware during the ceremony, that behind a latticed window, high up on the same end of the hall, there were eyes peering through, and a gentle, susurrous whispering; but that was all we were destined to see or hear of the court ladies.” And that is all you are destined to see or hear in this column about the pleasant-sounding but rare susurrous.

© 2010 Steven Schwartzman

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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