Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Do You Have a Favorite Word?

            I love words.  But it’s not just because I’m a writer, or because I score higher on verbal tests than I do on math tests.  And I’m betting you love words, too, for the same reason: It’s how they sound.
            But before I share my favorites, let’s also acknowledge that we all have words that creep us out, words that evoke ugly or negative images, unwelcome words that clomp into our minds and leave mud everywhere.  I know a woman who gets physically ill if she even hears the word “vomit.”  So I guess that’s her least favorite word.
            St. Bob’s least favorite word is “obligate.”  He just doesn’t like the sound of it.  But it’s hard to detach the meanings and only listen for the sounds, which is why so many people hate the words “taxes,” “bankrupt,” “crash,” “excruciating” and other words we’d like to avoid.
            I have several least favorites, mostly because they’re gross, or at least they sound gross.  See if you dislike these as well: belch, bulbous, curdle, dank, goiter, gullet, infarction, magma, mucus, ointment, phlegm, pustule, rickets, scab, spittle, and undulations.  Eww, right?

            And then we have our favorites.  If you could compile a list of the words you like most, they paint a sort of portrait of who we are.  Bob’s are intricate, fun, energetic, and have great flourishes here and there—kind of like Bob himself.  He likes panache, flabbergasted, hummingbird, chameleon, surreptitious, conundrum, escapade, esplanade, bungalow, epiphany, insouciance, lagniappe, mellifluous, buttermilk, and triskaidekaphobia.  He even likes the sound of nemesis and sigmoidoscopy, even though nobody wants either of those.  You could almost guess the kind of music he likes, and the ring tones he’d pick on his cell phone, after reading that list. 
            My list of favorites are soothing and romantic, the sort of perfumey, feminine words a little girl would compile.  I like frosting, shimmer, snowfall, chantilly, halcyon, effervescent, chimes, serendipity, luminous, lyrical, ethereal, heavenly, gossamer, onomatopoeia, and chrysalis.  But my list also includes words that amuse me, like pollywog, funnybone, hullabaloo, hoopla, and skedaddle.  Even “fiasco”  and “curmudgeon” are fun words, despite their meanings. And, sure enough, I have harp music for my ring tone, and my favorite music includes both sweeping symphonies, dreamy vibes, and the bouncy theme songs of several cartoon shows.
          I’ll tell you who will have the best lists—people who speak more than one language.  Now they can choose from two or three times the list I have.  Our daughter, who’s serving a mission in Norway, tells me her favorite Norwegian word is Udødelighet, which means immortality.  But it sounds sort of like “Oh doodley het” and you’ve gotta love anything with “doodley” in it.
          Try my theory, and see if your list of favorite words jibes with your list of favorite music.  We simply like certain sounds.
Did I mention that one of my favorite sounds is my pen, scraping the back of a check as I endorse it for deposit?  Yep, and you can create that sound from wherever you are in the world, just by purchasing my books here.  Wow.

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