Still working out the finer details of how this Hallowe’en thing works

Here's an excerpt from a conversation on the subject of Hallowe'en which I had with my niece some time ago. Let's call her "Cathy". (This is a different Cathy from last time.)

"Cathy, what do you do on Hallowe'en?"

"You get all dressed up and people give you candy."

"What do you say when people come to the door?"


Comments (31)
  1. Brian Tkatch says:

    From the mouths of babes. An excellent comment on current society. :)

  2. Alexandre Grigoriev says:


    I have an excellent suggestion. Use as many archaic spellings in your next post as you can find.

  3. kip says:

    Interesting fact: most adults don’t realize that the "t" sound in "tr", for most English speakers, is an allophone to the "ch" sound.  So "choo choo train" is alliterative, it could be written "choo choo chrain" and the pronunciation would be the same, but you’d have a hard time convincing some people of that.  Many kids do notice this when they are acquiring language, but "learn it away" as they become proficient.  Anyway, this explains part of how a child could hear "trick or treat" and backform it to "chuck-e-cheese", obviously a word they are more familiar with. :)

  4. GoDucks! says:

    But usually you say it when you go to someone else’s door, not when they come to yours.

    [Poorly phrased on my part. I should have written “… when people come to answer the door?” -Raymond]
  5. Boo says:

    Uh, kip, perhaps you should go back to primary school.  the /tr/ sound is NOTHING like the /ch/ sound.  CHRAIN?  Please.

    [In most American dialects, “train” and “chrain” are pronounced the same. This rule may not apply to your particular dialect, however. -Raymond]
  6. GoDucks! says:

    Only after a few beers are they pronounced the same in my dialect.

  7. Boris says:

    I always felt I have a problem with the tr and dr sounds in English because they sound like ch and j to my ears when I say them, but not when I hear other people saying them. I have taking to russifying the r sound in these combinations to make sure I say them differently. It’s probably one of the only vestiges of my accent. Now I wonder if the problem was in my head all alone.

  8. Derlin says:

    Does "chr" using "ch" as in "chocolate" exist in English?  Normally I think of "chr" as "kr" as in "Christmas".

  9. kip says:

    @Boo @GoDucks! Like I said, you’d have a hard time convincing some people of it.  But it’s true for most native English speakers.  Maybe not if you are slowing down and enunciating, but I bet if I recorded you in casual conversation saying "choo choo train", and isolated the "t" and the "ch" sounds, they’d be pretty much identical.  @Derlin I can’t think of any examples.

  10. Josh says:

    @Derlin: Nothing in /usr/share/dict/words on my machine starts with chr without being pronounced as a "kr" sound.  Therefore, such a word does not exist. :-)

  11. Mark Sowul says:

    Boris: I have the opposite problem with Russian, and I ended up making the same observation as kip when trying to figure out why.  Quite trudno.

  12. Ens says:

    I’m from southern Ontario.  When I try to say chrain, the beginning isn’t as "crisp" as train.  There’s a kind of hiss to chrain compared to a pointed cracking sound in train.

    If I say "choo choo chrain" it aloud and listen to myself, I sound to myself like a very young child trying to say train.

    I also tried putting my hand over my mouth and saying the words.  With chrain I kind of blow out into my hand as I’m saying it, and my lips kiss my hand, whereas there’s barely any movement when I say train.

    I conclude that in my dialect (the One True Dialect from which all other dialects deviate, of course), there are subtle but real differences between chrain and train.

  13. Neil (SM) says:

    Using my own personal unscientific experiment as a reference,  my tongue appears to interact with the roof of my mouth *almost* exactly the same for the words for "Train" and "Chrain".

    There is a slight difference, though. With TR, only the very tip of the tongue touches the roof, whereas for CHR a portion of the top of the tongue slightly below the tip touches momentarily first. Its quite subtle, and I’d imagine extremely difficult to detect audibly.

    I’m from the northeast/mid-atlantic. I certainly don’t have a radio-quality voice or anything though — there’s always the possibility I’m doing it wrong.

  14. Jondr says:

    Huh, not in the dialect of Colorado, “tr” and “ch” are distinctly different unless one has a speech impediment. I recall that when learning the Northern dialect of Vietnamese the difference was much less so that Trung sounded really close to Chrung (which is not a word) and Chung. (Sorry no diacritical marks here).

    [It’s not that “tr” and “ch” are pronounced the same, it’s that the “t” in “tr” is pronounced like “ch”. Say “chiree” without the “i” and it sounds like “tree”. -Raymond]
  15. Thomas says:

    I’m 45 years old, I’ve lived in 12 states and visited a few more, and I’ve NEVER heard train pronounced even remotely like chrain, EVER.

    [You’ve never heard it pronounced like this? -Raymond]
  16. Archaic says:

    The word is spelled Halloween. Don’t go out of your way to be wrong.

  17. kip says:

    I didn’t meant to start a linguistics debate here!  I don’t think I was quite clear enough.  It’s not that the "t" in "tr" is *identical* to "ch".  It’s that "tr" and "chr" are interchangeable in English.  The reason is that English doesn’t use the "chr" sound, so when a native English speaker produces "tr", sometimes it will actually come out "tr", but usually it will come out as the very similar "chr" sound.  And most people don’t even realize they are doing it!  And other native English speakers will interpret the "chr" sound as "tr" without realizing it either.

    Things like this are what give people accents when they learn another language.  If an English speaker learns a language where there is a clear distinction between "chr" and "tr", then they’ll have a tough time not hearing all the "chr" sounds as "tr", and it’ll be tough not to produce the "tr" sounds as "chr".

    As an example going the other way, many languages don’t use the short "i" sound, so when learning English they have difficulty hearing the difference between "bit" and "beet".  To their ears, they both sound like "beet", and they will pronounce both as "beet".  Another example would be languages that don’t distinguish "w" and "v" sounds; those speakers might have trouble saying "welcome" instead of "velcome" when learning English.

  18. Gabe says:

    Archaic: I believe the spelling has been covered already:

    Long story short: it’s a valid, if unusual, spelling.

  19. porter says:

    Sheesh, modern kids can’t even engage in blackmail or protection rackets these days without stuffing up.

    They should watch the financial news to learn how to do it properly.

  20. Thomas says:

    >You’ve never heard it pronounced like this?

    To me that sounds like a hard t at the beginning.

    [A hard t would sound like the word “terrain” (with the “e” elided). In “train”, the “t” has some “sh” mixed in, making it more like a “ch”. -Raymond]
  21. Anonymous says:

    Choo choo chrain…

  22. tsrblke says:

    Pronuciation is a whole lot of fun.  99.9% of the time I don’t think we even realize (or think about) how we pronounce things, unless we happen to be around people who pronounce them differently.

    (At the risk of sounding discriminatory, especially people raised in other–specifically different language speaking–countries, as they often have problems with certian sounds we take for granted.  It goes both ways though, I can’t roll my “rr”‘s in spanish.)

    It’s even more amazing when you factor in dialects and accents.  I remember once I was in spain (a particually British heavy vacation spot) and was talking to a British Family.  They commented that I had no accent.  Not “No american accent” or “No british accent” just absence of an accent all together.  Being from the midwest, I never did figure out if they just expected all Americans to sound either like southerners or New Yorkers of if I actually lacked some tonality to my voice that distinguished me in some way.

    [As I noted earlier in passing, native speakers are really bad at noticing allophones in their own language. -Raymond]
  23. Mar says:

    Train and chrain are bound to sound similar, as the tongue simply moves from an alveolar or palato-alveolar position to a post-aveolar position.  This is not something the English ear is good at discriminating.

    Hallowe’en (incidentally the more commonly prescribed spelling in England) is one of those contractions where people still know the full version, like Pick ‘n’ Mix or ma’am.  You generally only change spelling when it’s necessary for pronunciation (wotcha) or when the original meaning is obscure (goodbye).

  24. Falcon says:

    @tsrblke: And don’t forget that native speakers aren’t always perfect, even if that’s a rare event. Example: my first language was Serbian/Croatian, which has the same/similar "r" sound as Spanish, yet I can’t pronounce it correctly – it comes out like the French "r".

  25. Gabe says:

    Mar: what does "wotcha" mean and how is it pronounced?

  26. porter says:

    > Wotcha

    Means "Howdy", pronounced same as "watcher"

  27. Trevor says:

    > Wotcha

    What Cheer

    A shakespearean word.

    I always find that American ‘English’ always sounds lazy compared to British English. For instance, the glotalised ts in words such as ‘butter’ sound awful.

  28. Mark says:

    Trevor: I suspect you don’t mean glottalised.  Or you actually mean Inner London/Country Yokel accent.

  29. It’s "wotcher", not "wotcha", but yes, it’s short for "what cheer."

  30. Robert says:


    Instead of glottalized, you should have said flapped.

    I don’t get how that’s lazy while failing to pronounce the letter ‘r’ unless it’s followed by a vowel isn’t.

  31. DWalker says:

    One of the kids who came to our door yelled out "Happy Birthday!"  The kid’s parents and I gort a chuckle out of that.

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