Definition: A ‘hissing’ sound – used in phonetics to describe such an ‘s’ sound.
1660s – from Latin Sibilantem, meaning ‘to hiss’. Also possibly imitative origin of Greek sizein, also meaning ‘to hiss’. Also possibly from the Lettish language sikt – also meaning ‘to hiss’. Old Church Slavonic root svistati ‘to hiss’. Incorporation into modern English in late 18th century as ‘speech having a hissing effect’.
Why This Word:
This is a ‘must have’ word to add to the arsenal of the lexicograph. A technical term, it describes the noise made when a word demands attention to be paid to the ‘s’ sound. Thus, it does not apply to words that simply contain an ‘s’ – but, rather, to words – like kiss, bliss and miss – that require more than a casual dalliance with the consonant.
How to use the word sibilant in a sentence?
I could simply state that this word is a dinner party word – but I have a better usage in mind. Use it as an argument diffuser. Here’s a sample of how it could be used successfully in this manner:
Girlfriend (angrily): Just answer me – did you kiss her?!?
Boyfriend: Did you know that the technical term for the ‘s’ sound in the word ‘kiss’ is a sibilant?