Words That Taste Good On Your Tongue

Posted on 29/11/2011 by


Claire: Payback. That’s not a nice word.
Me: Sure it is. I also enjoy ‘blackmail’ and ‘extortion’.

Actually, quite apart from it’s meaning ‘extortion’ is a lovely word. Fun to say. I am unreasonably fond of whole groups of words for the sound of them alone, the taste of them on the tongue, the way they feel falling out of your mouth… Words like anaconda, chicane, Messerschmidt, frisson, carnal…

I also sometimes like words because of the meaning they convey. ‘Adorkable’ for instance, is an awesome word that isn’t even a word at all, and yet has a clear intention. As opposed to ‘sprezzatura’ which has a precisely defined definition, only nobody knows what it is.

Then there’s ‘tatterdemalion’ which I like for the simple reason that I stumbled across once it in a book clearly aimed at younger readers and was delighted by its sheer existence there. I hate when writers talk down to their readers, no matter their age. So it was lovely to see a writer prepared to throw words like that on the page and let their readers deal with or not as they chose.

Not that I’m advocating an orgy of needless polysyllabism, but sometimes it’s nice to use a word that has the precise gradation of meaning that you want. German is a lovely language for that. I’m particularly fond of ‘backpfeifengesicht’ which means ‘a face that badly needs a punch’. Unfortunately I can’t spell it without looking it up, let alone pronounce it. And even if I could I’m not positive I know anyone who would understand it. Although if you’re reading this you could consider it warning that if I suddenly use a word that sounds like I’m trying to hack up a lung, it might be this one.

I’m also unreasonably drawn to words that were created for ridiculous reasons. Floccinaucinihilipilification (the action of describing or estimating something as worthless) is a word that was basically made up as a joke and currently has the distinction of being the longest non-technical word in the English language (one letter longer than antidisestablishmentarianism). Or hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia which is the entirely ridiculous version of sesquipedaliophobia, which is the fear of long words. And… well, the wrongness and the humour in that should be obvious.

Of course, my favourite word for a while now has been ‘copacetic’ because it is lovely to say, has an excellent meaning behind it, is moderately well understood and stands apart for being a word that my father was at one time convinced didn’t exist (to my endless delight — I swear to you, a large part of my fondness for Starship Troopers lies in the fact that the movie uses the word in its dialogue and I could play it on a loop to my father while rolling on the floor laughing).

…and I am going to stop fetishising words now. This is what happens when you lucubrate nolens volens.* Seriously. Stopping. I will go away now and be… away. Er, unless you wanted to share your favourite words with me?


* And now I wish you could somehow indicate when using a word, ‘See that meaning? No, not that one, the other one. The one about candlelight.’ I realise that’s what context is for but it doesn’t always work. I suppose this is why definitions migrate over time and certain words fall out of use. Nevertheless.


Posted in: Kandace