The spelling of /t/ is usually <t> or <tt>, but we also often see <ght>, <th> in Thame, and a silent-letter combinations <bt> in debt. The /k/ sound is usually <c>, or <k> initially and <ck> medially or finally. We also see <qu> in toque. The homograph inter makes pairs with inker and incur.
The contrast is between two voiceless plosives, well separated in the mouth. It may be a problem for some learners, especially when final in the syllable.
Pairs involving taboo words are cot/cock, trap/crap, shat/shack and phut/fuck.
Interesting pairs include:
The mean density value is 3.3%. The list makes 424 semantic distinctions, a loading of 52%.
This contrast features in Chapter 22 of Samuel Butler's novel The Way of All Flesh, which should be compulsory reading for all pronunciation teachers and speech therapists, indeed all teachers.
In the course of the evening they came into the drawing-room, and, as an especial treat, were to sing some of their hymns to me, instead of saying them, so that I might hear how nicely they sang. Ernest was to choose the first hymn, and he chose one about some people who were to come to the sunset tree. I am no botanist, and do not know what kind of tree a sunset tree is, but the words began, "Come, come, come; come to the sunset tree for the day is past and gone." The tune was rather pretty and had taken Ernest's fancy, for he was unusually fond of music and had a sweet little child's voice which he liked using.
He was, however, very late in being able to sound a hard "c" or "k," and, instead of saying "Come," he said "Tum tum, tum."
"Ernest," said Theobald, from the arm-chair in front of the fire, where he was sitting with his hands folded before him, "don't you think it would be very nice if you were to say 'come' like other people, instead of 'tum'?"
"I do say tum," replied Ernest, meaning that he had said "come."
Theobald was always in a bad temper on Sunday evening. Whether it is that they are as much bored with the day as their neighbours, or whether they are tired, or whatever the cause may be, clergymen are seldom at their best on Sunday evening; I had already seen signs that evening that my host was cross, and was a little nervous at hearing Ernest say so promptly "I do say tum," when his papa had said he did not say it as he should.
Theobald noticed the fact that he was being contradicted in a moment. He got up from his arm-chair and went to the piano.
"No, Ernest, you don't," he said, "you say nothing of the kind, you say 'tum,' not 'come.' Now say 'come' after me, as I do."
"Tum," said Ernest, at once; "is that better?" I have no doubt he thought it was, but it was not.
"Now, Ernest, you are not taking pains: you are not trying as you ought to do. It is high time you learned to say 'come,' why, Joey can say 'come,' can't you, Joey?"
"Yeth, I can," replied Joey, and he said something which was not far off "come."
"There, Ernest, do you hear that? There's no difficulty about it, nor shadow of difficulty. Now, take your own time, think about it, and say 'come' after me."
The boy remained silent a few seconds and then said "tum" again.
I laughed, but Theobald turned to me impatiently and said, "Please do not laugh, Overton; it will make the boy think it does not matter, and it matters a great deal;" then turning to Ernest he said, "Now, Ernest, I will give you one more chance, and if you don't say 'come,' I shall know that you are self-willed and naughty."
He looked very angry, and a shade came over Ernest's face, like that which comes upon the face of a puppy when it is being scolded without understanding why. The child saw well what was coming now, was frightened, and, of course, said "tum" once more.
"Very well, Ernest," said his father, catching him angrily by the shoulder. "I have done my best to save you, but if you will have it so, you will," and he lugged the little wretch, crying by anticipation, out of the room. A few minutes more and we could hear screams coming from the dining-room, across the hall which separated the drawing-room from the dining-room, and knew that poor Ernest was being beaten.
"I have sent him up to bed," said Theobald, as he returned to the drawing-room, "and now, Christina, I think we will have the servants in to prayers," and he rang the bell for them, red-handed as he was.
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Credit: John Higgins