In the popular Christmas song, the tune appears to take a breath on the fifth day, as it all slows down for the gift of five gold rings. Now whilst some may argue over the significance of the rings and what they represent, like the Books of Moses, I’m more intrigued by the way gold is pronounced.

At this moment you’re playing the song in your head and unless you’re American (they tend to sing, ‘golden rings’) you will have added an extra ‘o’ between the existing ‘o’ and the ‘l’, splitting the word into two syllables to create, go-old rings. Weird, but keeps the flow of the song.

Not to be confused

The technique is not to be confused with melisma, which is defined as an expressive vocal phrase or passage consisting of several notes sung to one syllable. Whitney Houston was a great exponent, with an early ‘I’ in I Will Always Love You taking nearly six seconds to sing.

It became so familiar that shows like X Factor, looking for new singing talent, warned hopeful singers from trying to emulate it, as it featured in the repertoire of almost all the popular female artists of the time, like Beyonce, Christina Aguilera and Mariah Carey, to name but a few.

We have a word for it

No, what we have with our ‘go-old’ rings is a phonological process called Epenethesis, the term used to describe the addition of one or more sounds to a word, especially to the interior of a word.

Epenethesis can be split into two distinct actions:

  • The addition of a consonant, which is also known as excrescence
  • The addition of a vowel, which is also known as anaptyxis

A good example of excrescence would be the word hamster, which typically receives an added ‘p’ in the middle, with most people pronouncing the word as ‘hampster’; perhaps most notably by Jeremy Clarkson when referring to little Richard Hammond.

Anaptyxis is often evident in the chants of England football fans, when they really give the word England some gusto and an additional ‘e’ between the ‘g’ and the ‘l’ to produce the familiar ‘En-ge-land’, heard in stadia across the world – unless we’re losing.

Proud of our language

Whether anaptyxis is the right term or not and some may argue ‘go-old’ rings is just another example of melisma, I’m happy that the English language not only recognises these phonetic phenomena, but has terms for them all.

Perhaps next time I think too long about the subject when I should be working, I’ll look at few more of the beautiful and unique aspects of our language; fortition, lenition, fricative, approximant, plosive and elision are just a few more deserving of their moment in the spotlight.

It’s a song we learned as children and ‘go-old’ rings was sung without explanation or thought for the phonetics at work, but it still sounds right to our ears and just makes sense, which is the true nature of good communication – make sense.

Check out our previous instalments to read our takes on the 12 gifts

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