A mysterious phenomenon in which certain consonants move -- or drift -- out of their correct lexical order.

Consonantal drift appears to strike certain words more often than others -- mostly in oral communication. The word 'ask' is a frequent victim. The word often comes out as 'aks' -- i.e., "don't axe me again".

Sometimes the drift rate is so high that the consonant disappears from the word altogether, such as in 'library' - whose virulent form is 'lie- berry' with the first 'r' having moved on to parts unknown.

Linguists have long wondered where these missing consonants have moved on to - they're getting a bit annoyed by having to say 'parts unknown' all the time. Researcher Nivek Llieno of the Finnish Institute for English Studies believes he's found a clue: the word 'renown'. Says Llieno, "In 'renown' we have one of the first documented cases of a consonant not disappearing, but showing up unexpectedly. Everywhere we look we're seeing 'reknown'. It's exciting."

Dr. Herman Shore, lexicographer emeritus at MIT and co-author of Loss of Vowel Control:A Messy Problem, disagrees. "It's an interesting hypothesis, but it doesn't explain Hawaii - where consonants are practically extinct. We call this the Hawaii Test."

To meet the 'Hawaii Test', Dr. Shore and others believe that a grand unified theory of vowels and consonants is needed. "Until we have one theory that can explain both 'pu'u huluhulu' from Hawaii and 'Wrthawrthmlml' from Ojibwa, we're just pissing in the wind."