Being home sick has its disadvantages. Well, being home sick without cable has its disadvantages. For those of you who have cable, imagine this: at that point of the day when the only thing your weakened mind can handle is TV, you find that you only have 5 channels to choose from and the only worthwhile one is PBS.

Not that I don’t like PBS. Friday night programming can be pretty good: Washington Week followed by NOW (without Bill Moyers now, but give David Brancaccio a break, he’s got some big shoes to fill). NOW used to be followed by that awful Tucker Carlson show on my public TV station, but not anymore. Last night they had the third installment in MGM’s self-congratulatory retrospective, That’s Entertainment III.

But ANYWAY, one of the (post-)WWII-era musicals noted in this retrospective was Till the Clouds Roll By (“The mammoth musical of Jerome Kern’s dramatic life story!”), featuring lots of big MGM stars (Judy Garland, Lena Horne, Dinah Shore, Frank Sinatra, …). And one of the songs in this musical is called Cleopatterer (sung and danced by Ray McDonald and June Allyson).

Now the only bit of this musical I’ve seen was the few seconds of Cleopatterer shown last night, so I don’t know the reason for this spelling of the Egyptian Queen/Pharoah‘s name, which I’ve always known as Cleopatra (or, alternatively, Kleopatra). One guess (due to my wife Karen) is that the patterer part is supposed to be an not-so-oblique reference to (her) dancing; this makes sense given the final third of the lyrics (slightly edited here):

She danced new dances now and then
The sort that make you blush
Each time she did them, scores of men
Got injured in the rush

They’d stand there gaping in a line
And watch her agitate her spine
It simply use to knock them flat
When she went like this and then like that

At dancing Cleopatterer
Was always on the spot
She gave these poor Egyptian ginks
Something else to watch besides the sphinx

Marc Antony admitted
That what first made him skid
Was the wibbly, wobbly, wiggly dance
That Cleopatterer did

Of some interest to phonolobloggers is the final r, which is justifiably an instance of the (allegedly hypercorrective) intrusive r in several varieties of so-called “r-less” English (though I’d like to listen to the song more closely to see if this r pops up in all those pre-consonantal positions). Although I’ve also had some interest in this phenomenon, the reason I’m blogging about this has more to do with the last two posts by Lisa and Bob about the production of non-native clusters in borrowed words. The other odd thing about Cleopatterer is that e between t and r. The difference between this case and the ones discussed by Lisa and Bob, though, is that tr is a perfectly permissible onset cluster in English. (It’s also not word-initial, like Lisa’s and Bob’s examples are, but I assume that this difference is at best secondary.) Perfectly permissible, and yet a little Googling shows that it’s not at all rare to see an “intrusive vowel” here.

intrusive a intrusive e intrusive i intrusive o intrusive u

Granted, many of these hits (see especially the top hits in which the intrusive vowel is spelled o) are from non-English sites, but still: it’s pretty clear that some English speakers pronounce Cleopatra with some sort of reduced vowel(-like element) between t and r. And it ain’t just Cleopatra, neither — check out what I found for Sumatra.

intrusive a intrusive e intrusive i intrusive o intrusive u

Interestingly, the relative numbers are pretty much the same in both cases: highest for intrusive e (which is what I first searched for), followed by intrusive a, then intrusive i, and lastly intrusive u. (The discrepancy with intrusive o needs to be looked at more carefully; the top hits in this case are mostly non-English in both cases, and it was the last vowel I searched for because I guessed — incorrectly — that it would be least well represented.)

Like some of the borrowings Lisa and Bob talked about, these are not high-frequency words (unless you’re a history buff or work at Starbucks, I suppose). But now look at mattress.

intrusive a intrusive e intrusive i intrusive o intrusive u

Two things to note here: first, the intrusive o cases are again mostly non-English; second, the intrusive u cases are inflated due to the fact that maturess apparently (also) refers to older women on Internet porn sites (!).

I’d keep thinking of words to look up, but I’m still feeling sick and it’s almost time to just watch TV again. But I’m still interested in this, for two reasons. One, because tr is a perfectly respectable English onset cluster with no apparent need to be broken up by a vowel. Two, because the result of breaking tr up is, I would think, highly perceptible: t is typically assibilated in a tr cluster (in such a way that it sounds like [tʃ]) while a t is typically flapped before a reduced/stressless vowel (as discussed at great length here just last week): [ˌkʰli:əˈpʰætʃɹə] vs. [ˌkʰli:əˈpʰæɾɚɹə].