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Much to my surprise, affricate does not mean to become a citizen of a country in Africa. I should have guessed that from the fact that the “a” is not capitalized and there are two “f”s rather than one.

Have you ever read a definition in the dictionary and not understood a word it said? That may be an exaggeration, but what I’m trying to say is to say that you don’t understand even the gist of the definition. That was the case when I came to affricate in the dictionary.

According to the New Oxford American Dictionary that comes bundled with Mac OS X, affricate means, “a phoneme that combines a plosive with an immediately following fricative or spirant sharing the same place of articulation.

According to The New Penguin English Dictionary (1986), affricate means, “a composite speech sound consisting of a stop and an immediately following fricative.

Um, OK. Maybe I’m more illiterate than I realized, but I didn’t know what a plosive is. I’m hoping that it’s not just a short form for explosive, because affricate apparently has something to do with speech and I don’t risk blowing people up when I talk to them, but before I check on plosive’s meaning.

In the interest of public safety, I’ll break my rule and look up the word plosive ahead of when I would normally get to it in the natural flow this project.

Whew. Explosion averted. A plosive is a consonant sound that is made by stopping the airflow using some portion of your mouth. Well, that’s a load off my mind.

The Penguin dictionary doesn’t use plosive in its definition of affricate, but it adds the word fricative, another word I didn’t know: fricative. I know what fricassee is, but fricative? I haven’t a clue. I assume the two words aren’t related, but who knows?

Fricative doesn’t raise the same sort of concern for me as plosive (what do I care if I unwittingly talk about stewed meat), so if you’re relying on me to tell you what it means you’ll have to wait until I get to the words starting with “f” because I don’t plan to educate myself on it until then.

That still leaves us with an incomplete definition of affricate. Oh, well. We can’t always get what we want. But hopefully we can get what we need. And that doesn’t include a more complete definition of affricate.

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