I’d like to say a few words.

Posted by on Sep 11, 2018 in Blog | 0 comments

What’s your favorite word?

I don’t much care about rare and fancy words, unless they offer a precision I can’t find elsewhere. I’m not charmed by adorable collective nouns, either. I like descriptive words that seem like onomatopoeia, like slither and glimmer, that invoke an instant image or emotional response, words whose sounds and shapes on the page seem united with their meaning.

My favorite actual onomatopoeia is howl. What a great word.

Words like pulchritudinous bother me, because the sound and meaning are so much at odds, and you can see the nuts and bolts holding the word together. I don’t know if this is a real phenomenon, or if it’s familiarity, because I haven’t done a count of Anglo-Saxon vs Greek words here, but I think it’s real. Some words seem to me to have directly emerged from a thing or idea in an Edenic way, and some seem like robots artificially constructed to serve a function. I do like robot words in humor writing, because their lack of affinity with the thing itself creates an ironic distance.

I read this particular Discworld passage with a sense of recognition and joy. As often happens with Pratchett, it described a thought I’d been fumbling with for years (I was like, “You know, words that sound like what they mean, like ‘gloom’.”) As a side note, look how many words it took me to describe this, and how few it took him:

“Just for a moment there was an unusual feeling of bliss. Strange word, he thought. It’s one of those words that described something that does not make a noise but if it did make a noise would sound just like that. Bliss. It’s like the sound of a soft meringue melting gently on a warm plate.”

– Terry Pratchett, The Truth


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