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Machiel Vincent van Mechelen

vo-CA·b·u-LA·r·y or vo-CA·b·u·l·a·r·y
OF a-LLI·t·e-RA·ti·on

with  access  to  all  35  staves:
|H|, |I|, |J|, |K|, |L|, |M|, |N|, |O|-|OO|, |P|
|R|, |S|, |SH|, |T|, |TH|, |U|, |V|, |W|, |Z|
|A|-|AW|, |B|, |D|, |DH|, |E|-|EI|, |F|, |G|
(rotating in reverse alphabetical order)


This Vocabulary of Alliteration is a new aid in writing poems and songs, and in the study of phonetic or phonemic syllable divisions. Alliteration is one of several aural devices in literature making use of the repetition of single sounds or groups of sounds. It is quite often believed to be nothing else than the repetition of word-initial sounds, especially consonants. For such rough and ready alliteration a special dictionary would hardly be needed.

However, if alliteration is, in a more sophisticated and traditional fashion, interpreted as the repetition of speech sounds at the beginning of syllables, and of stressed syllables only, then word-initial consonance or assonance need not be alliteration and vice versa. (So that rough does not alliterate with a word like reward but with, for instance, ignoramus.) The first syllables of words often do not receive primary stress in the present language, not even secondary stress, and therefore specially prepared lists of words of which the stressed syllables start with the same sound or sounds will be of interest to anyone studying or creating aural effects and imagery in verbal communication.

After seven years, all twenty consonants that can play a role in alliteration and all fifteen vowels became accessible on the Internet. Another seven years later the Spelling and Stress Dictionary, with the same words and phrases as in this Vocabulary, saw the light. Together, these two reference works are part of one project, a project which will probably be never completely done and dusted.


The words and phrases entered in this dictionary have been selected and will continue to be selected on the basis of one or more of the following considerations:

  • alliteration (word- or phrase-internal): words and phrases of which a (primary- or secondary-stressed) syllable alliterates with another (stressed) syllable of the same word or phrase.
    Examples of words with internal alliteration are baobab (BA-o-BAB or BAO-BAB), intuition (IN·t·u-I·ti·on) and jaw-dropping (JAW=DRO·pp·ing); examples of phrases of several words with internal alliteration are past compare (PAST com-PARE), a mine of information (MINE of IN-for-MA·ti·on) and cut your coat according to your cloth (CUT your COAT a-CCOR·d·ing to your CLOTH). Sometimes there is double alliteration, as in the phrase no guts, no glory (NO GUTS, NO GLO·r·y).
  • basic vocabulary: words that belong to a basic vocabulary of about 2,000 words and whose first syllable is not stressed.
    For example, attack (a-TTACK) under |T| and eleven (e-LE·v·en) under |L|.
  • dialectal or pronunciational variation: words that have different stress patterns in different dialects or even within one dialect or sociolect.
    For example, hegemony, which is pronounced with primary stress on the first syllable (and entered as both HE·g·e-MO·n·y and HE·g·e·m·o·n·y under |H|) or with primary stress on the second syllable (entered as he-GE·m·o·n·y under both |D| and |G|).
  • grammatical interest: words that show an interesting syllabification or 'stress behavior', such as phrasal verbs or words whose stress pattern depends on their grammatical category or number (singular vs plural).
    For example, the phrasal verb zero in (ZE·r·o IN) under |I|; or compound under |K| (COM·p·ound) as a noun or adjective, and under |P| (com-POUND) as a verb.
  • poetic or literary quality or usage: all literary words and phrases, and all words that have a literary meaning or usage as well should eventually be included in this dictionary.
    For example, boon companion (BOON com-PAN-ion); assuage (a-SSUAGE), which may be considered formal or literary; and topless (TO·p·less), which is a poetic word in the sense of very high.
  • spelling: (1) words whose stressed syllables are spelled in a way which does not immediately and clearly show the first sound in pronunciation; and (2) words whose number of syllables in the spoken language deviates from the number suggested by the written language.
    Examples in the first category are knee (KNEE) under |N|, not |K|, and beyond under both |AH| or |O| (bey-OND) and |J| (be-YOND). An example in the second category is colonel, which may be supposed to have three syllables, whereas it has only two in the spoken language (COLO·n·el).

(It is safe to say that the phrase happy hour was not coined in a sober mood.) The repetition of orthographical consonants and/or vowels is in itself neither proof of rime nor of alliteration, and has had no immediate bearing on the selection of words and phrases entered here.


The pronunciation symbols chosen for this dictionary consist of simple, ordinary letters or combinations of such letters: lower-case if unstressed, and upper-case if stressed. When applied to whole words and phrases these symbols constitute a unique double-case phonemic transcription system -- unique in that it does not make use of the lower-case characters of the present bicameral script only, but of capitals as well. In the following lists, however, this double-case transcription is confined to single sounds and to syllabification and stress patterns, while the standard spelling of the words is maintained as much as possible. Where deviation from the standard spelling could not be avoided the phonemic symbol is put between vertical bars.

Ideally, one phoneme (the unit of speech used to express and recognize meaning) should correspond with one character, but such a one-to-one correspondence cannot be achieved with ordinary letters. Therefore, it is important that where a phoneme is represented by two characters, the speech sounds represented by these characters separately never occur in immediate succession within the same phonemic syllable. Two characters which would otherwise be separated by a syllable division must stand for one sound.

In this dictionary there are three two-letter symbols for consonants. |TH| is the symbol for the first sound in thin, while |DH| is that for the first sound in then, a difference similar to the one between |T| and |D|. |SH| is used as may be expected, unlike, perhaps, the one-letter symbol |J| for the first consonant in a word like yes. The one- or two-letter symbols for vowels correspond with the standard spelling in words such as the following: AH, AI[SLE], [S]AW, [B]E[D], [S]EE, [V]EI[N], I[N], [N]O[T] (if the |O| is not consistently replaced with |AH|), OH, OI[L], [T]OO and [P]U[T]. The vowel in can is transcribed as |AE|; the one in out as |AU|. The symbol used for a schwa (the first vowel in ago) is |a|; that for its stressed counterpart (the vowel in love and bus) is |A|.

Almost any phoneme can be a stave, that is, an alliterating sound binding together two or more syllables in one or more words. (It is only indirectly that a stave may be said to bind together two or more words.) The thirty-five staves are ordered alphabetically on the basis of the one or two letters of which their symbol consists:

Staves and initial sounds
Aup, oven (and err)
AEact, animal
AHah, arch
AIaisle/isle, eye/i, ice
AUow, hour/our, out
AWawe, all, or, ought
Bbee/be, brown
Dday, dry, genes/jeans
DHthee, they, than
Eex, any
EEeel, eat, eve
EIeight, age
Ffee, phrase
Ggo, glad, green
Hhe, whole/hole
Iin, if, English
Jyes, unit, euro, ewe
Kkey/quay, can, quite
Llee/lea, life
Mme/mi, mind
Nknee, no, gnaw
Oon, ox (if not |AH|)
OHopen, old
OIoil, oyster
OOoof, ooze, ouzo
Ppee/pea, print
Rre, write/right
Ssee, cent/scent, pseud 
SHshe, chef, sure
Ttea/ti, true, choice
THthaw, three, chthonic
Uoomph, umlaut
Vvie, very
Wwee/we, one
Zzoo, xenophobe

The vowels in  up and  err are treated as one phoneme |A|, since they never correspond with a difference in meaning. Note furthermore that |J| stands for one consonant sound and that the orthographical  j in a word like  job stands for two consonant sounds: |D| and |ZH|. Similarly, the ch in a word like choice stands for |T| and |SH|. Words of which a stressed syllable starts with such sounds are listed under |D| and |T| respectively. Two phonemes are missing in the above table: |NG| (as in long) and |ZH| (as in genre). They do not occur at the beginning of syllables, or only in foreign words and sometimes a word whose second syllable starts with su, such as c[a]esura, when |ZH| may occur in |ZHOO| or |ZHU| at the beginning of the stressed second syllable, provided this su is not pronounced as |ZJOO| or |ZJU|. (|NG| is common at the end of words, while |ZH| is common as a second phoneme after |D|.)

The words and phrases in this dictionary are represented in a way which is needed and which suffices to show their occurrence and possible use in alliteration. On the one hand this representation takes more pronunciational features into account than a standard spelling, on the other hand it looks more like a standard spelling than a phonetic, or even phonemic transcription, and is therefore easier to read for those familiar with only ordinary orthography. The following table should make this clear for the words vocabulary, of and alliteration:

voh-, va-KAE·b·ja-LE·r·ee
va-, voh-KAE·b·ju·l·a·r·i
OF, Of, of OF, of AHV, OV, av
a-LLI·t·e-RA·ti·on a-LI·t·a-REI·sh·an


-sharp division between syllables, as in AN-gle (angle, |AENG-gal|) and de-SERT (desert, if pronounced |di-ZA(R)T|)
·one of two fuzzy boundaries between two syllables, the consonantal sound(s) between the dots being their overlap, as in AN·g·el (angel, |EIN·dzh·al|) and DE·s·ert (desert, if pronounced |DE·z·a(r)t|)
CAP  (part of a) stressed syllable (which is not at the same time part of another, unstressed syllable)
| |beginning and end of one or more sounds represented in a way deviating from the standard spelling, usually x replaced with |k-S|, |K·s| or |g-Z|, sometimes a sound not represented in the standard spelling at all, such as |J| or |W|
+space between two words pronounced together (in the variant concerned)
:a hyphen in the standard spelling
=sharp, hyphened division between syllables of one word (the equivalent of -:)
$the following letter must or may be capitalized in the standard spelling


adj   as an adjective
advas an adverb
litword or phrase which is (especially) literary or poetic
l& word or phrase with a literary meaning or use as well
l/f word or phrase whose use is literary (or poetic) or formal (or technical) for the same meaning(s)
nas a noun
preas a preposition
vas a verb
varone of several dialectal or merely pronunciational variants (which do not immediately succeed each other in this dictionary)


As the function of this global dictionary is to list the words and expressions which alliterate on the basis of their syllabification and placement of stress, deviation from the standard orthography could not always be avoided. Yet, of any entry in this dictionary anyone can find out the 'correct' spelling by following a number of simple, fixed rules. These rules must be applied to the complete form of an entry, which means that it should contain, first of all, all syllables and overlaps between syllables. Thus, in e|g-Z|IST/-Z|I·st·ed the complete forms are e|g-Z|IST and e|g-Z|I·st·ed. Furthermore, entries containing an apostrophe (') which represents the optional elision of a vowel, resulting in a reduction of the number of syllables, will have to be replaced with the preceding form in which that vowel is both written and pronounced. Thus, the complete form of both DI·ff'·rent and DI·ff·er'nt is DI·ff·e·r·ent, with the possible exception of poetry where the apostrophe may be maintained to indicate the number of syllables with which such a word should be pronounced. Given these complete forms (with or without an apostrophe) the algorithm to derive the or a standard spelling is:

  1. turn all capitals into small letters;
  2. delete all dots (·) and hyphens (-);
  3. replace any = sign or colon (:) with a hyphen;
  4. replace any + sign with a space;
  5. replace |gz| or |ks| with x, and |kw| with qu;
  6. delete all other vertical bars with the letters in between;
  7. replace any letter preceded by a $ sign with the corresponding capital letter.


It is this same policy which is followed in this dictionary and which should explain why, for example, advertize, rime and thru are entered first, while advertise, rhyme and through are added as alternatives.

Sometimes a word or phrase, such as love-letter or love letter, is found in two or three orthographical variants of the following type: as one word without a hyphen, as one word with a hyphen and as two words. In such a case it is only the variant with the smallest number of words and hyphens that is entered, unless there are more differences in spelling between the variants. In this Vocabulary love letter is therefore represented by LOVE=LE·tt·er instead of LOVE LE·tt·er or LOVE+-LE·tt·er, but both the variant all right and the variant alright are represented in the entry al[l+]-RIGHT.


Those interested in literature may also want to visit:

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