This is clearly subjective, but some words really sound like the thing they describe (personal favorites: puffin; bulbous; fidgeting). Do you have an example of such a word (or, alternatively, of a word that sounds like the exact opposite of what it refers to)? What do you think creates this effect?
Isn’t the English language amazing? The width and depth of it amazes and fascinates me on a daily basis. Other languages have their benefits too but I grew up speaking only one language (although I know a small amount of Spanish). One of my favorite words to use is discombobulate. Say it outloud slowly – pausing with each syllable: Dis-com-bob-u-late: it means literally to disconcert or confuse. It just somehow sounds like a jumble, like a mess. “I feel so discombobulated today”.
Why not just say I feel so disconcerted today? Or I feel so confused today? Because discombobulate is just out and out fun! It rolls off the tongue, bounces around your head and leaves you a little disoriented. It’s almost a picture word, describing with each syllable, what it’s doing out there in the world – bouncing around randomly.
Years ago, when I took my first literature class in college, I was already fascinated by words thanks to a long line of teachers, and two successful spelling bees. But one part of literature I had not really explored up until that point had intimidated me completely: poetry. All I knew of poetry was Shakespeare and I struggled with it, albeit to a lesser degree, like my college classmates. My college professor, Mrs. Cook, opened my eyes to a whole new world with one simple, elegant poem that even now, over 15 years later, still sticks in my head as the ultimate in poetry.
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
(c) William Carlos Williams 1962
My entire college class was befuddled but I was utterly fascinated. I still am. My very first poem was written in the same minimalist, pictorial style and published eight months later in the college magazine. It was my first experience with enjambments (this is a common WCW technique – the meaning runs-over from one poetic line to the next, without terminal punctuation.)
To me, that poem just SOUNDS right. I can explain the meaning behind the words, the depth of it all day long, but to me the poem rolls off my tongue like the sweetest music and fills me with warmth. To my ears, it SOUNDS like poetry.
Unlike some other types like certain free verse poetry (that just sounds like prose to me no matter how it’s read), this is poetry for me. Over the next few years I delved (another great word) into poetry with a fervor (ANOTHER great word). And I’ve been fascinated by words ever since – wordplay and puns are some of my favorite ways to play with others (sadly most people don’t get it).
The sad part is in our modern pop-obsessed culture people are losing touch with language. I learned in college to read and savor every word, to choose carefully because words have incredible power, for good and for bad. And I’ve built a large part of my career around words.
I think part of the reason behind the effect is the human imagination. It’s vast and varied within each individual. It creates and destroys. The human imagination is a powerful tool that is too often underutilized and criticized.
So what about you? What’s your favorite words? I’ve used a number of mine throughout this post. Can you spot them? How do they make you feel as you read them?