What does ‘murmurous’ mean?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: murmurous….

Today’s word comes from a book of short stories, The Shell Collector,  by Anthony Doerr. Published in 2002, it predates his spectacular, Pulitzer Prize winning novel, All The Light We Cannot See, by more than a decade. (I’ve written about that book in a previous post.) Still, even this early collection displays his vast grace and skill as a writer.

I already know the meaning of the word, murmur, but I like the way he uses it in its less familiar adjectival form:

His voice hummed, sang, became a murmurous soprano. “You want my brothers to be bitten, also?”

Murmur, which means to speak quietly or indistinctly, or can refer to sounds in nature such as a murmuring brook (shown above), is a word displaying onomatopoeia — that is, the word sounds like what it describes. I think this is because in order to create the M sound, you must press your lips together, causing the air to be blocked from leaving your mouth. In other words, you must murmur to say the word murmur. Furthermore, as the sound is voiced,  the vocal cords vibrate while producing it, also enhancing the gentle tone.

The etymology of the term is Old French, from the 12th century word murmurer meaning “to murmur, grouse, or grumble.”

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