Sunday, April 11, 2010

"Words, words, words."

So says Hamlet to Polonius. So sings Eliza Doolittle to Freddy. So shouts the author glaring at the Blinking Cursor of Death.

Words are important. Words make us smile, make us laugh, make us cry, drive us absolutely crazy. And everyone’s got their favorite. I tend to be particularly fond of tricksy (a very cool word which, unfortunately, only Gollum can really get away with), complicated words.

For example, two of my favorites are exacerbate and extrapolate, both introduced to me through The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I simply love the way they sound – they roll off the tongue in a particularly pleasing way, I think. Those are words that seem to go along perfectly with a sardonic tone and a ridiculous atmosphere – hence why using them in H2G2 is so brilliantly entertaining. Complicated words are just FUN. Like Gloucestershire and flibbertigibbet and supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. They’re almost like mini-tongue twisters, and the walking-dictionary part of me feels a sense of accomplishment whenever I manage to fit them into a conversation. (Writing them is great. Saying them in real life is truly wonderful.)

Not all the words I like are complicated, though. I also love short, simple words that convey everything we need to know about their definition in only one or two sounds. Like fop. And snarl. And glomp (which is not a “real” word but it certainly belongs in the category of words that sound exactly like what their definition is, whilst still being short.) (Whilst is a good one too.)

More word geekery (another word that is most entertaining): I love words that sound like what they mean. For instance: billowy provides an excellent image of fabric blowing in the wind. Not rustling; billowing. The words have almost a different flavor – it’s like deciding which spice to add to a sauce. Rustling turns the phrase one way, while billowing turns it another. It changes the taste, the tone, everything – all because of one word that fits exactly the way you want it to. Which, on occasion, makes writing an infuriating process. I have occasionally been known to stare for hours (this is only a very slight exaggeration) at the Blinking Cursor of Death because I cannot for the life of me think of the right thing to say. Mostly, it comes to me eventually. Which is nice, and which silences the evil little chuckle of the Blinking Cursor.

There are also words I don’t like. In my opinion, the worst word in the entire English language is “woo.” Perhaps this is because I am a hopeless romantic, and I feel that a word which means “courtship” and connotes “love” should not sound so similar to something as disgusting as “goo.” The only person who has ever gotten away with saying that word without making me sneer with derision is Captain Jack Sparrow. And since very few people can attain that level of sheer awesome, I think the word should just go hide in a corner somewhere so we can forget about it.

But it’s more than just sounds, after all. I like words like ephemeral not just because they seem to glide across my mind, but because they seem to suit their meaning perfectly. If something is ephemeral, it conjures up images wisps of fog withering away in sunlight, or blowing away on the wind. At least, it does for me, which is why I like the word so much.

“Words, words, words.” We see them littered everywhere; it is like we are bombarded by words nowadays. Of course, by themselves, they sound cool and look neat. But string them together, and they become something even better. After all, we don’t read just to look at cool words and go “ooh, exacerbate!” We read the combination of cool words, and it is the combination that makes the writing great.

This is going to be my guest-blog for the lovely Choco! Go check out her blog and keep an eye out for me! :)


  1. Awesome post! I too love exacerbate, but my favorite is frigid. I use it every chance I get ;)

  2. Love words! I'm totally obsessed with supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

  3. Karla - exacerbate is SUCH a great word. ^_^

    Nicole - thanks! I'm totally obsessed with Julie Andrews, so of course I love that word!