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If you mutter something you meant to murmur, you're going to have a bad time

Mutter, mumble and murmur may look similar, but don't be fooled.

Think of it this way. If someone you're dating tells you they  love you for the first time, which would you prefer?

1) "I love you," he murmured.

2) "I love you," she mumbled.

3) "I love you," he muttered.

Okay, none of these scenarios instill a lot of confidence when it comes to long-term relationship potential, but one certainly seems worse than the others.

When you read these examples in your head, how do they sound? Chances are they all sound kind of low and indistinct, but think about tone of voice. 

Maybe #1 sounds a little bashful, like he's not quite sure how you're going to respond. Maybe #2 sounds like she thinks that's what you want to hear, but isn't sure if that's how she feels quite yet.

That guy in #3 is totally grumbly. Shut it down and move on.

Though these words share some similarities in definition, their connotations make them distinct.

Sometimes, connotation makes all the difference. We're looking at you, #3.

This week , Anne Curzan helps us understand the origin of these three similar words and how they came to develop their distinct meanings.

Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.
Rebecca Kruth is the host of All Things Considered at Michigan Public. She also co-hosts Michigan Public's weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.
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