Every now and then I remember how much I love certain words. Usually when they have one of these silly surveys going on where the great British public is asked what the most beautiful word is in the English language. Invariably it is something cliché like ‘love’ or ‘peace’ or something, and invariably I am disappointed, because there are so many words in the English language which are much more wonderful than ‘love’. But I guess most people pick words based on what they mean, whereas I mostly pick them on how they sound, or how you can make them sound, or other daft reasons. There is no current most beautiful word survey going on, but despite that I was thinking of this recently, and I thought it merited a post.
So, without further ado, and in no particular order, here is a list of some of the words in the English language I really like, and why. Be warned, some of them are naughty.
Doohickey – This is one of those fantastic words that can describe pretty much anything you like, provided you can’t think of what it’s actually called. It’s mostly an American word, since Brits are more likely to use thingummy or thingamajig, but although I like both those words too, doohickey is still the best. This is also the word that brought this post on – my American friend used it during her visit a few weeks ago, and since then I’ve been making notes of all the words I could think of that I felt had to be included in this list.
Quaint – Ahh, the many nuances of the word quaint… To me, quaint conjures up images of little villages in the English countryside with tiny cottages built out of some local stone and faded flowery curtains. It has a certain level of condescension built into it, and an undertone of ‘aww, isn’t it lovely?’ Or, if you’re Rincewind, it means fever-ridden and tumbledown, as told in The Colour of Magic.
Twee – This word comes in more or less the same category as quaint, but it has more of a derisory, pejorative feel to it. If a village is quaint, it’s charming. If it’s twee then it’s a bit naff, a bit overly saccharine. Me and my husband spent about ten to fifteen minutes trying to explain to my sister exactly what twee meant, it’s that kind of word. I love it.
Fuck – I cannot stress enough just how much I love this word. I know that to many English speakers (especially the older generation) it is offensive, but I don’t think there is anything I don’t like about this word. You can put real feeling into it when you’re saying it, and it’s versatility is amazing. If you’ve never seen it, just watch this video explaining exactly how versatile. (And ignore the spelling mistakes in it, even though they’re atrocious.)
Cock – Another word I love just for the way you can pronounce it. I love the aspiration at the start, and how you can put someone down just by using one simple, posh-sounding syllable. Dutch doesn’t have aspiration*, but words like these make me wish it had.
*In case you don’t know what aspiration is, it is the faint ‘h’ sound you insert after a ‘k’, ‘t’ or ‘p’ sound. Just listen to the difference between ‘dock’ and ‘cock’ and you should hear it.
Peripatetic – Now there’s a word I had to look up the first time I came across it. It’s one of these words that make you look like a total arse if you use it in conversation, but which you could find on any page in any of Jack Vance’s books. I’m still waiting on the right moment to use it for describing my books. ‘My main characters lead a peripatetic life.’
Svelte – This is one of those words that’s virtually always used in conjunction with suave and sophisticated. Probably because it’s nice and alliterative like that. I never actually realised that there is an element of slenderness included in svelte; to me it simply meant, well, suave and sophisticated, but then I actually looked up the meaning after I did my post on English vs. Dutch in March, and was enlightened. As the old adage goes, you learn something new every day!
Circumlocution – I think I like this word mainly because of how it sounds. It has a nice ring to it, and it always reminds me of that Blackadder episode with the dictionary guy, where Blackadder tries to make him think that he’s forgotten to include a load of words. “Leaving already, doctor? Not staying for your pendigestatory interludicule?” Circumlocution sounds like interludicule; a word that doesn’t actually exist. Except this one does.
Mahogany – This one goes way back to when my English teacher asked in class what our favourite words were, and at the time I said mahogany. Again, just because of how it sounds, no other reason.
Pathetic – Another word that you can infuse with so much feeling. “Oh, you’re absolutely pathetic!” It’s even better if you can combine more than one beloved word: “You pathetic cock!”
Peruse – This has been a favourite ever since I found out what it meant, and since then it’s been a sort of game to try and use it in conversation. Usually the sentence ends up being something like ‘I shall peruse it at my leisure’.
Purveyor – What better way of making you sound posh than to use the word purveyor? I’m not just a supplier, no, I’m a purveyor. I don’t just supply anything, you know!
Ubiquitous – I did actually use this word in conversation last week, and my colleague looked at me as if I’d grown another head. And I didn’t even intend to sound like a twat that time. I think I learnt this word from a Dead Can Dance song, called The Ubiquitous Mr Lovegrove (great song btw), and as usual I had to look up what the hell it meant. Then I liked it, and it stuck.
Snazzy – Not sure why, but probably because the word snazzy sounds snazzy. It’s onomatopoeic without actually being onomatopoeic. Which isn’t a word I like too much, since it’s bloody hard to spell.
Unctuous – I opened a Twitter account two days ago, and one of the first people I decided to follow was Stephen Fry. One of the first tweets I saw from him mentioned unctuous mayonnaise. At first I was a bit bemused, since I’ve only ever seen the word unctuous used to describe glib, oily, creepy people, but then it clicked that unctuous actually means greasy or oily, so is therefore actually perfect for mayonnaise. Thank you, Stephen Fry, for broadening my horizon yet again.
Sustenance – The final entry in this list, not because I have no more words I like, but because these are all the words I could think of for now. Maybe I’ll do another one in future once I have another load. Anyway, sustenance is another one of these words which just rolls off the tongue really nicely. ‘I require sustenance.’ Okay, it’s less pretentious to just say ‘I’m hungry’, but it lacks that je ne sais quois.
So, if you now have an image of me being a pretentious, overly loquacious twat who uses posh words just because she can, you’re probably right. Still, I prefer that over being a semi-illiterate chav whose every sentence ends in ‘innit?’
I am curious to hear what everyone else’s favourite word(s) is (are), so I would love it if you left a comment and told me the words that you have a love-affair with, either secretly or openly. Enlighten me please!