What is Clang Association?

clang association
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Clang association is word choice determined not by logic or meaning but by a word's similarity in sound to another word. Also known as an association by sound or clanging.

Clang association sometimes influences semantic change. For example, originally the noun fruition "meant 'enjoyment, pleasure' before its association with fruit developed the sense 'fulfillment, realization'" (John Algeo in The Cambridge History of the English Language: 1776-1997).

Clang Association and Semantic Change

  • "Similarity or identity of sound may likewise influence meaning. Fay, from the Old French fae 'fairy' has influenced fey, from Old English fæge 'fated, doomed to die' to such an extent that fey is practically always used nowadays in the sense 'spritely, fairlylike.' The two words are pronounced alike, and there is an association of meaning at one small point: fairies are mysterious; so is being fated to die, even though we are all so fated. There are many other instances of such confusion through clang association (that is, association by sound rather than meaning). For example, in conservative use fulsome means 'offensively insincere' as in 'fulsome praise,' but it is often used in the sense 'extensive' because of the clang with full; fruition is from Latin frui 'to enjoy' by way of Old French, and the term originally meant 'enjoyment' but now usually means 'state of bearing fruit, completion' (Rex, 1969); fortuitous earlier meant 'occurring by chance' but now is generally used as a synonym for fortunate because of its similarity to that word." (T. Pyles and J. Algeo, The Origins and Development of the English Language. Harcourt, 1982)

President George W. Bush's Clang Associations

  • "[George] Bush's spontaneous public statements also suggest that he listens to and uses words based on their sound, not on their meaning--a practice known in psychology as 'clang association.' This accounts for many of his famous malapropisms: commending American astronauts as 'courageous spacial entrepreneurs,' referring to the press as the 'punditry,' wondering whether his policies 'resignate with the people,' warning Saddam Hussein that he would be 'persecuted as a war criminal' after the fall of Iraq." (Justin Frank, Bush on the Couch. Harper, 2004)

Clang Association in the Language of Schizophrenics

  • "[E]arly investigations into the language of schizophrenics (see Kasanin 1944) came upon the phenomenon of a spate of talk being touched off by the sound of some word in a prior utterance (so-called 'clang association'), a phenomenon which students of conversation will recognize as not uncommon in ordinary talk. But having found it through the close examination of schizophrenic talk (talk which could be so closely examined by virtue of its speakers' disgnoses), it was taken as specially characteristic of such talk. So also with children's talk, etc."
    (Emanuel A. Schegloff, "Reflections on Talk and Social Structure." Talk and Social Structure: Studies in Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis, ed. by Deirdre Boden and Don H. Zimmerman. University of California Press, 1991)

The Lighter Side of Clang Associations

  • "'All right,' Cranberry said. 'Your trouble is, you can't pass a word up. You're a compulsive punner. . . .'
    "'There is something we call Klang associations. It's a sort of chain punning, and is characteristic of certain encysted types. Your pattern is a complex and refined variation of these word salads.'
    "'It is also,' I answered coolly, 'if I am not mistaken, the method by which James Joyce constructed Finnegans Wake.' . . .
    "At length, my habit cleared up. . . . [W]hen a dinner companion exclaimed that she had glimpsed three wedges of southbound geese over her rooftop in one day, I [did not] succumb to the temptation to murmur, 'Migratious!'"
    (Peter De Vries, "Compulsion." Without a Stitch in Time. Little Brown, 1972)
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Nordquist, Richard. "What is Clang Association?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/clang-association-word-meanings-1689846. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). What is Clang Association? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/clang-association-word-meanings-1689846 Nordquist, Richard. "What is Clang Association?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/clang-association-word-meanings-1689846 (accessed March 30, 2023).