A brief history of African click words

In much of southern Africa, it can be more polite to click

Singer
(Image credit: (Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis))

You probably know what click sounds are. Some languages of southern Africa are famous for having them, thanks in part to being featured in such cultural vectors as the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy and Miriam Makeba's song "Qongqothwane," better known as "The Click Song." They're sounds that English speakers make — but not as part of words. We use them as sounds on their own for such things as expressions of disapproval ("tsk"), or to imitate knocking, or to encourage a horse.

Imagine, now, if we started using clicks in our words like other sounds. And I don't mean borrowing words from one of the languages that use them. I mean sticking them in the middle of words we already have. What if we replaced the c in coffee with a click? Or the t in tea?

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