Harsh consonants

David Pogue, Technology/Circuits columnist for The New York Times, has a review of the new Apple laptop with the Intel Core Duo chip, called the MacBook Pro. Apple’s high-end laptop line has for a long time now been known as PowerBook, and Pogue has this to say about the “inexplicable” name change:

Why do Mac fans despise the new name so much? Partly because all those harsh consonants — K, K, P — make the name uglier and harder to say.

For the record, I’m a huge Mac fan — my brother works for Apple, and I’m sooooo jealous — but I don’t despise the name change. In fact, I don’t mind the name at all, much less the fact that there’s been a name change. This new laptop is so significantly different from those that have come before that I think a name change was completely warranted, and to me, MacBook Pro is as good a new name as any.

ANYWAY, what about the “harsh consonants” business? First of all, kudos to Pogue for noting that the first two of these are both [k] even though the first is spelled ‘c’. (I wonder, though, if knowledge of the some phonetic alphabet influenced Pogue’s choice of ‘K’ to represent this sound, or if it was avoidance of the Soviet-esque ‘C, C, P’ that would have otherwise resulted.) But what exactly is “harsh” about these voiceless stops? PowerBook also has [p] and [k], though admittedly only one of the latter … is it the sheer number?

Of course not. I’m guessing that the perceived problem is that there are two stop clusters in the new name: [mækbʊkpɹo:], whereas the stops in the old name [paʊɚbʊk] are all either prevocalic or word-final. But would I describe that as “harsh”? Probably not, but I guess I can see why some people might.

2 thoughts on “Harsh consonants

  1. Anonymous

    Clusters of velar and labial stops in either order are marked cross-linguistically and are pretty rare in English (tautomorphemically, “napkin” and “pumpkin” are just about the only examples). I think this is what Pogue is reacting to. The metrical structure HH’H is a little objectionable, too. It might work for tic tac toe, but it doesn’t sound good as a name for something that costs $2000.

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