My colleague Alice asked me yesterday to come up with some verbs beginning with ‘th’, not including think, for a pronunciation exercise she was contemplating. I suggested theorise, but since the subject of the verb was a cat and a dog, that didn’t work. She went with think as more plausible (although if my cats are not theorising when they look out of the window hour after hour, then I don’t know what they are doing).
I provisionally concluded that there are not that many verbs in th. Think and theorise, and that’s about it. Then I thought of thump. A bit later thrill popped into my head. Then much later, throw. How could I forget throw? Then later still, thrive. Then thwack. Then theatricalise, thin, thicken, thunder, thatch, threaten, thieve, and of course thwump.
By this time I had understood that I clearly do not store verbs beginning with ‘th’ together (although I should point out that when I asked my ten-year-old son the same question at dinner he rattled off half a dozen in short order). The process of retrieval was painfully slow, and probably explains why I’m not much good at crosswords. Words pop up instead by odd association, if I’m lucky, or not at all. And the context is rarely ‘find words in th‘.
Which makes me wonder how I am asking my students to store their vocabulary. I am reluctant to shower them with phrasal verbs (insane!), but I certainly do ask them to think in terms of thematic groups (natural enough) and by commonality of form (not natural at all). Thus perceive and receive and conceive and deceive share a noun in -eption. But is that useful to know? Perhaps if you are cramming for your CAE, but not if actually want to, y’know, speak English.
Or perhaps a bit of cross-training is no bad thing. Group perception and reception and conception, by all means, but also group reception with phone, and perception with public, and conception with immaculate (and perhaps note in passing receipt and percept, and concept).
But that’s not really how I seem to store my words. I mostly seem to store them wherever there happens to be a scrap of space, on the nearest bit of unlabelled mental shelving. Open a cupboard of the mind, and who knows what lumber will tumble out – which perhaps explains why I had taught my group of first-day students horse-drawn carriage and gregarious within five minutes of meeting them yesterday morning, and why Alice later felt the need to have those same students memorise something about theorising cats thwumping thieving dogs.