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Welcome to issue #49  of  Words Matter , our bi-weekly newsletter .  Please feel free to share with a friend! 
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To B or not to B

Say this word aloud: number.

It's likely you took the visual clue and pronounced it phonetically, with the b sound: num-ber But words can behave like those op-art pictures that trick your eye into seeing two different images.  Did you pronounce number as the comparative of the adjective numb ("my arm felt numb this morning, but yesterday it felt even number")?

A funny thing about the word numb is that the b in the spelling became fashionable about a century after Shakespeare's time for no reason other than to conform with similar words that had a final but silent b.

The spelling num just doesn't communicate, does it-- as limb, lamb, jamb, womb, tomb, comb, and plumb would be non-sensical or misinterpreted as lim, lam, jam, wom, tom, com, and plum.

However, with all these words (other than numb), there actually WAS a sound and letter b in their original Greek or Latin roots.  As just one example, you are probably familiar from chemistry class with the symbol for the element lead (pronounced led, not leed--but that's another topic for another day). The element lead is represented by Pb, from the Latin word plumbum, hence our verb to plumb and the occupation of one who works on lead pipes--the plumber.  Yet the b falls out of the verb that means to fall like a lead balloon--to plummet.

Mme Anita, the revered native French teacher at a school where I taught, endearingly mispronounced plumber as plum-ber , on the pattern, she insisted, of timber, amber, lumber, limber, or slumber.  Anita also took issue with the words bomber and climber, too--wouldn't you?--but she was of course de rigueur with aplomb.

Have you ever heard a little kid say the word chimney as chim-ley, and even chim-bley?  That word (with the b) can be heard in adult British English as well--it's a variation of chamber.
If you're now confused about the b being pronounced or not, have fun today toying with just another of the many idiosyncracies of the English language.  And happy December! --R.D. "Doc" Larrick

This brief student video comes directly from WordBuildonLine Elements Level 2 . 
The root ST
The root ST

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