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The Word: Blesiloquent

Emily C Lowe

Origin: ½ Latin: locu-, loc-. Other ½ unknown. Bles is potentially Old English. Maybe Norse. Or Latin (again).

Meaning: To speak with a lisp or stammer. Not blesiloquent yourself? Just watch your tongue.

Try saying it out loud a few times. Blesiloquent. It’s such a classy word, for a lisp, that is. I like its ring—soft and smooth—a little like melted chocolate. I always pause before I pronounce it, and I run through its consonants in my head. Sometimes, if I say it right, it sounds like “bliss.” It doesn’t sound too bad to be blesiloquent, unless you are blesiloquent yourself. Then saying the word is a nightmare.

And, for me, it sometimes is.

The truth is I never actually had a speech impediment. I was the lucky one in my family. My sister was the one that had to go to classes every Wednesday for three years and learn how to say her T’s and S’s and Z’s. For the letter W, the therapist told her that she had to close her mouth into a tight circle—as if she were drinking from a teeny-tiny straw—and quickly make a “Wah” sound. I used to look at the colorful handouts she brought home, left on the kitchen counter. There were pictures of lips with little arrows indicating how your mouth should move when you pronounce certain letters. I would stare at them for hours, trying to figure out how letters were supposed to be said. Yet I personally never understood the physics of speech therapy.

It began this past February. When I first noticed myself lightly hissing at my words, I was in the midst of that early semester hell week, and had just finished a midterm and handed in a problem set, so when I spoke and noticed the tiny buzz on my S’s, I figured I was tired and had forgotten how to speak. But after a week of solid rest, words with S’s were still hissing as they slipped out of my mouth. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, so I told myself to stop. But it sounded more like this:

Sssssssstop.

So I got angry and bit my tongue. Now this was bothering me. Lisps didn’t just develop out of nowhere. Maybe it was something I had bypassed as a kid, and it had finally come out to say hello, or rather haunt me now. Kind of like chicken pox and shingles. I wondered if Groundhog Day had anything to do with it. Six more weeks of winter. Did that mean six weeks of lisp?

It wasn’t until I was sitting in my Spanish tutorial, learning about Bourdieu’s signifiers and signified en Español (as if it wasn’t difficult enough in English), that I developed hypothesis #2. I realized that my wonderful hissing could potentially be due to my professor. The man was from Spain, and therefore spoke in the true Spanish manner—with a lisp. Was this the culprit? After just one month in his class, I had developed a speaking style native to Spain. That was great. I was ecstatic. Until I realized that the lisp only manifested itself in English. I kept trying to hiss as I spoke in class “Sssí sseñor,” “ssupongo que,” “asssí.” He just gave me a sstrange look every time.

A friend told me that if you kick yourself, you can lose your lisp. So I walked around kicking myself for the next few days. I wasn’t convinced that Spanish was why I had a lisp. It seemed too sudden.

A little later, I had to admit the true reason. My lisp, in fact, developed (and I now admit this with a tinge of embarrassment) consciously. Last January, on a service trip in Nicaragua, I befriended another American girl who happened to have a lisp. She didn’t buzz or hiss her words too strongly. Rather, it just gave her a girly air as she spoke. And honestly, it seemed fun. So in my attempt to mimic her cuteness, I began sticking my tongue between my teeth as I spoke. Ssssss, ssssss, ssssuddenly, I was hissing too. And months later, I ssstill am.

My mother would yell if she ever heard this story. There was a reason she took my sister to a speech therapist for years. But it’s startling how quickly I picked up the habit. I’ve debated going to that speech therapist and putting a Cheerio on my tongue as I try to learn how to pronounce words again, but I’m too lazy for that, so now I’m kind of stuck with it.

It’s scary how contagious this blesiloquence was. I never realized that speech styles can change so suddenly. So my remedy, and potentially spiteful retaliation, has been to pass it on through this test on contagion. Are you lisping now too? Did your brain hiccup at the sight of that s?

Yessss.

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